Fascination with Phnom Phen
Phnom Phen, the capital of Cambodia, had a pretty awful reputation when I visited in 2004. A sparsely populated city rebuilding itself after the Khmer Rouge leadership of the 1970s.
This brutal regime forced the citizens out of the cities to labor on communal farms in the countryside. Phnom Phen was left empty, except for the prisons where dissidents were tortured and executed. The most famous of these prisons was housed in a former school at the center of the, then empty, city.
Although the Khmer Rouge was finally overthrown in 1979, the country continues to rebuild from this horrific history. Many people from Phnom Phen died on the farms or directly at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Of those survivors, many chose not to return to Phnom Phen, due to the trauma they experienced.
Because of this, even in 2004, the city felt quite empty, and very much like a “wild west.” The fascinating mix of crumbling colonial and communist architecture set the stage for a small, youthful population rebuilding the life of an almost-lost city.
I absolutely loved it!
Pic from Phnom Phen 2004