I first arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2003. It was a very different place then. Its third-world status was quite evident, with limbless beggars and homeless street kids swarming tourists around any shops or restaurants where foreign frequented. Outside the tourist areas it wasn't quite so bad and I fell in love with the place. I considered staying indefinitely but I quickly discovered that elections were to be held within days. I had heard there was some violence and bombs exploded during the previous elections. Since I didn't understand the political situation well, I decided to visit Vietnam for a short while, and when the elections were over and things looked stable, I would come back across the border to Cambodia. Unexpectedly however, I feel in love with Vietnam even more, and it would be a couple of years before I came back to visit Cambodia. Then in 2011, I came and lived in Phnom Penh for a year.
Ten years after I arrived in 2003, elections have put Phnom Penh back in the news with big demonstrations, a bit of violence, and so far, unfortunately, at least one death. At least two more days of demonstrations are planned, but one wonders, given the tensions rising, whether they will go on much longer than planned.
Given the timeliness, I thought I'd share a few photos from Phnom Penh, particularly a few comparing things in 2003 and 2013.
Above is the ceremonial entrance to the royal palace as it looks in recent times. The smaller photo is 10 years ago. Not much has changed other than a coat of paint.
Above are examples of how the streets of Phnom Penh looked in 2003; most were unpaved and full of potholes. Crumbling buildings in the alleys fell into the streets. Now everything is paved and most structures, but a few French colonial buildings, are quite modern.
Above are photos of the Central Market in 2003 and then again in 2013, after it was renovated. For the most part it was a very nice improvement, though it did take away some of the adventure in shopping there. When it re-opened a lot of the more exotic food vendors, like these fried insect stalls, and the gory butcher stands intermingling with non-food items, were all gone, or at least cleaned up.
Quite honestly there's not much I would ever buy in here, however there are some good money changers as well as some great Vietnamese food in the take-away section in the back of the market.
The Raffles Hotel (left) and the Vietnam-Cambodia Friendship thingy
Above Top: The wall along the Royal Palace. Above Middle: The National Museum beside the Royal Palace. Above Bottom: At the Phnom Penh Waterfront.
Above and Below: One of the most remarkable changes since 2003 has been the border crossing between Vietnam and Cambodia. Pictured here in 2003 is the un-paved highway, with mud at times up to my thigh. What now is a pleasant, air-conditioned 5-hr drive, was then a 12-14-16-hr drive in in mud and bumper-to-bumper traffic. We often had to get out and push our van out of the mud. We, and our bags, were hot, sweaty and filthy when we finally arrived in Saigon. At the border there were no signs. The Cambodia side was a wooden hut. You had to walk across the border on foot, carrying your own bags, on a path through rice paddies, passing grazing water buffalo as you went. Now of course, there are modern border stations and the bus drives you across the paved roads, with big hotels, restaurants and even casinos on either side.