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Text and pictures by Bernhard Heiser

    Part 4:  Three days Waterfestival in Phnom Penh
The next morning a pickup brings us to the harbour, where our speedboat leaves on time at 7 am. The place on the rooftop offers the best view, but unfortunately there is a strong wind today and it's quite wet there when the boats takes up more speed. The second part of the trip is more interesting,  when the Tonle Sap lake changes to a river again and a palmtree-lined riverfront comes into view. We reach Phnom Penh at 11.30 am, where we disembark near the Japanese bridge. I'm happy about the pickup service to Narin's guesthouse, where I planned to go anyway (recommended, 4$ double).
Bon Oumtouk, the waterfestival, begins tomorrow, so I plan to have a look at the touristical "must sees" today. Sitha, my driver takes me first to Cheung Ek, the Killing Fields. The short ride takes us through PP suburbs into the open countryside.

Choeung Ek was the burial ground for those arrested and tortured at the Tuol Sleng prison in downtown Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge refused to waste precious ammunition on their victims, most of them were simply beaten to death. Estimated 1,4 to 1,7 million people died under the terror regime of Pol Pot between April 1975 and January 1979.  The white marble memorial tower houses the skulls, clothing and other remains of several thousand victims that were unearthed in 86 separate graves discovered at the site. Behind the tower the open pits including bones and remnants of clothing underfoot still can be seen. 

Signs describe what has been discovered in the graves: "mass grave of more than 100 victims, children and women, whose majority were naked", "mass grave of 166 victims without heads"

We drive back to Phnom Penh to visit the Tuol Sleng museum, formerly known as Security Prison 21. In Tuol Sleng, about 20.000 people have been imprisoned, interrogated, tortured and murdered by the Khmer Rouge. Almost noone survived this concentration camp. 

The former classrooms  now display all kinds of torturing tools (picture above).

The walls of the ground floor are covered by thousands of black and white face photographs of helpless victims. Women, some  carrying small babies, men and children look into the camera with a very apethetic expression in their faces.

In the final room there is a map of Cambodia on the wall, fashioned entirely out of over 200 skulls of victims found in shallow graves within the complex.

When I leave Tuol Sleng, feeling depressed from all the cruelty, I hope that such will never happen again to Cambodia.

Our next stop is Wat Phnom. The small hill with a large stupa on top is surrounded by a park, where fortune-tellers, artists and quacks can be seen. The young girl in the picture sells wooden toys for children.

We have lunch in a nearby foodstall, before we drive on to the Boen Kak lake in the north of the city. I have a quick look at some guesthouses, that are very nice situated at the lake.

We return to Narin's, I pay Sitha for the ride and have a little rest, before I leave again on my own. I spend the afternoon walking around in the city and visiting the Kings Palace with the Silver Pagoda. I pay 12.000 Riel entrance fee. The palace will be closed during the next three days, so I'm glad to be here now.

In the courtyard of the Silver Pagoda are various statues and stupas, containing the ashes of former kings. It's almost like a garden, all the well-cultivated plants and trees shine in pure colours.
The palace is King Sihanouk's official residence after he was crowned for the second time in October 1993. It was built by the Fench end of 19th century for King Norodom.

The floor of the Silver Pagoda (picture) is covered with 5281 silver panels, each with the weight of 1 kilo. In show-cases precious ts of other heads of state are displayed. The world's probably most expensive altar includes a big Buddha, made of 90 kilo of pure gold and additionally set with 9584 diamonds.

The Silver Pagoda is surrounded by a wall covered by a painting, more than 500 m in length. It shows the history of Ramayana with Angkor temples and Khmer clothing integrated in it. The beautiful paintings, showing gods, monsters and various battles were restored by Polish experts.
On my way home I pass KhmerWeb at Sihanouk Boulevard #150, one of the numerous new Internet cafes in town. It takes almost one hour to answer all mails and I pay 4,50$.
I spend the evening with Hans (he's also from Berlin, small world) and we first drive to the Martini's. I don't like the place too much, perhaps it's still too early now. Next we have a few beers in the Heart of Darkness, a nice hangout for travellers and expats. The highlight tonight is the Monsoon, a huge colonial style villa with bar and dancefloor.
I sleep long today (well, it's Sunday...) and have a banana pancake for breakfast. At the Russian market I buy a new watch for 5$ and two CD's. At the riverfront there are already thousands of people walking around or watching the boat races on the river. They all seem to be in holiday-mode, enjoying the day together with the whole family and having fun. All the roads along the river are closed for traffic, hundreds of mobile foodstalls offer their services.
The Bon Oumtouk Festival happens every year at full moon end of October or November. It marks the reverse flow of the Tonle Sap river, that is now flowing from the big lake to the sea again. More than 200 boats participate in the races. Up to 30  oarsman sit or stand in one boat and race down the river. The boats are artisticly painted in all colours, the bow is decorated with flowers, statues and fruits.
In the middle of all this mess I suddenly see Willi. We first met in the Cambodian embassy in Bangkok, where we exchanged ideas about our planned trip here. He left Bangkok two days later and took the road to Battambang, then the train to Pursat and PP. Strange, I somehow was sure to meet him in Cambodia again. 

The best view is from the terrace of the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC), where I meet Hans and Tadek, an Australian guy, again.

At seven I walk over to the Capitol guesthouse to join Willi for dinner. Then we go back to the river to enjoy the festival, that seems to go on all night.

Later we take a moto (three on a small Honda dream is very usual here) to the Sheraton hotel, where the Casa Nightclub is inside. It's a typical hotel discotheque with a big stage and a gallery. No entry fee, but expensive drinks (small beer 3,50$). The place is packed with people, mainly (upper class?) locals and a few expats. There are  almost no taxigirls here. People dance to Khmer disco music. 

At midnight live rock music starts with two young, very western looking Khmer girls singing excellent. Next is a travestieshow with fancy dresses.  The show closes with Asian bellydance, performed by a really bib-bellied Khmer man. The audience is almost rolling on floor laughing, the text of the song must be funny, too. Finally a (British?) DJ appears and the party goes on. The club is run by the publishers of the Bayon Pearnik magazine. I take another moto to drive back home late at night. The city is really silent and dark now.

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