Certain places by their name alone you expect to be scary and unpleasant. Grozny. Sarajevo. Phnom Penh. So when Phnom Penh turned out to be a pleasant leafy city filled with open-air cafes I was pleasantly surprised. Phnom Penh was also almost completely empty. It was the first day of Cambodian New Year so all the shops were shut and people were away in their home towns meeting their families.
The people who were left were congregating in the park around Wat Phnom where an exciting variety of games were going on, all of them played by adults. A popular one (a favourite with old men) involved kicking a shuttlecock-like device back and forth using various tricks, without it touching the ground. In another, everyone formed a big ring linking hands. Two pairs of people would run around the ring in opposite directions, invariably crashing into each other half-way round, to great hilarity.
Before I left Phnom Penh, I paid a visit to S21, he site of the Khmer Rouge's most notorious prison. 14,000 people entered S21 in the late 1970s: teachers, scientists and other "enemies of the State". Many were just children. They were tortured and killed. Only seven people left Tuol Sleng prison alive.
Some rooms had been left as they had been found: iron beds to which the prisoners were shackled and then tortured. Other rooms were filled with row upon row of pictures of those murdered here. A sobering place recalling Cambodia's recent violent past.
Read the next entry: Gods and demons in Angkor