Cambodia's assault on senses

Cambodia's mix of modernity and ancient tradition is a sight to behold.
Cambodia's mix of modernity and ancient tradition is a sight to behold.

THE river reminds me of cabbage stew.

Whiffs of fermented fish for making fish sauce assault my nostrils every now and then.

Fishing boats dot the expansive river and on them, families huddle at the back napping.

I am on a speed boat travelling from Chau Doc in Vietnam to Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

It is a pleasant five-hour journey cruising through the soup that is the Mekong River.

The Mekong Delta is enormous. The scenery of poorly built wooden houses on stilts, where sights of children bathing in the river next to women doing their washing at the beginning of the journey transform to paddy fields towards the end.

As the boat approaches Phnom Penh, the horizon changes again - it is now occupied by rising skyscrapers.

Evidently, foreign money is pouring into this former French colony that sits on the banks of three major rivers, once known as the "Pearl of Asia".

I walk through the streets that hug the riverfront and observe my surroundings.

A tuk-tuk driver dries his vehicle of rain water before soliciting new customers.

Girls, no more than six-years-old, carry baskets of hand-woven bracelets and CDs, looking for purchasers.

A mix of locals and tourists walk along the promenade chatting, laughing and taking photos.

It's hard to fathom that behind this vibrant waterfront is a city steeped in unspeakable pain.

Former Khmer Rouge leaders are today still awaiting trial at a UN-backed tribunal in Phnom Penh for their violence and inconceivable brutality.

The Pol Pot regimen of cleansing those who posed a threat to their party (notably those who were successful, educated, skilled or opinionated) saw a quarter of the country's population exterminated in a matter of days with tens of thousands more tortured and killed over the years.

The scene today is of locals living the best way they know how, but memories of anguish remain raw and very much alive.

The faces around tell a story of the unshakable sorrow and misery they once had to endure.

From the gloom of Cambodia's past, I head into the maze that is Central Market where a treasure or ten can be found. Clothes, accessories, gadgets and gizmos, fresh food and kitchenware occupy the many isles that form the market.

High-pitched calls of "you buy something?" become the theme song as I stroll through.

As a visit here should be equipped with energy, good bargaining skills and patience, all of which I left back at the hotel, I go on a leisurely cyclo tour to visit the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, Wat Ounalom Pagoda and the Post Office.

Not only is this the best way to get oriented, it keeps this traditional mode of transportation alive.

Faced with competition from tuk-tuks and taxis, cyclo riders are being phased out, which is a great shame as they contribute to the city's romantic charm.

For great sunset views, I head to the FCC.

The French Correspondent Club may be overpriced and food less than average, but it is airy, clean and home to an amazing collection by celebrated photographers of yesteryear.

It is here that I mingle with others and continue my education on Cambodia's dark past, progressive present and bright future.



Footsteps in Asia is a specialist Indochina and South East Asia tour operator, featuring some of the best and knowledgeable local tour guides around.

Visit or call 1300 664 331.

Award winning low cost carrier, AirAsia X offers cheap flights to Phnom Penh via Kuala Lumpur.. For more inforamtion visit


>> To read more travel stories

Topics:  cambodia destinations french travel

Careflight called to Cunningham Hwy bus rollover

Ambulance, Emergency Services
Photo Bev Lacey / The Chronicle

EMERGENCY crews are rushing to a bus rollover.

Bail denied for alleged 18yo robber

No Caption

Police say he stole from a 74-year-old man.

Horse float bursts into flames on back road

The horse gloat caught on fire on Goomburra Rd.

Large horse float on fire outside Warwick

Local Partners

Australia Day Award nominations now open

ALL those who know someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the Warwick community is encouraged to nominate them for an Australia Day Award.

WATCH: NASA space station is live, see the view from above

In this picture taken from NASA's International Space Station from April 2015, the SpaceX Dragon is captured with the 57.7-foot-long Canadarm2 robotic arm before its installation to the Harmony module.

See the world from a new perspective as space station passes Rocky

Events you need to be at this week...

Some Australian sevens rugby squad members will be in Warwick this weekend.

It won't be all rodeo in Warwick this weekend

He's here for the Melbourne Cup of campdrafting

David Thorn from Cootamundra on Oh How Foxy.

David Thorn is here to make the most of the Warwick Rodeo.

Mariah Carey and James Packer discussing relationship

Mariah Carey and James Packer are discussing how to work things out

January Jones: Take time away from your phone

January Jones needs time away from her phone

Mel C won't return to Spice Girls for daughter

MEL C is adamant she won't reunite with the Spice Girls

60's British rock legends to return to Australia

The Troggs will play a string of dates across Australia in November.  Photo Contributed

We all remember 'Wild Thing' and now you can hear it live.

Depp jumps ship from agency of 25 years

Johnny Depp has signed to CAA after 25 years with the United

Orlando Bloom 'buried' Katy Perry in birthday flowers

Orlando Bloom "buried" Katy Perry in flowers for her birthday

Want to own one of Australia's best restaurants?

TOP GONG: Mooloolaba Spice Bar has been named in TripAdvisor's Top 10 Australian restaurants for 2016.

Here's your chance to pick up one of the Coast's favourite eateries

Tough times in CBD: Woolies says goodbye Ipswich

Woolworths in the Ipswich Mall.Photo: Rob Williams / The Queensland Times

The last day of trading will be January 1

Look at me! Kath and Kim home up for sale

Kath and Kim from the iconic Aussie TV series.

'Crack open the Baileys and grab a box of BBQ Shapes'

How to fit 100,000 new homes on the Coast

Property, real estate, housing, suburb,  August 2016

Fitting 2m extra people in south-east Qld in 25 years a balance

Hinterland horse stud passed in for $8.25 million

UNREAL: This Maleny estate is incredible.

12-bedroom hinterland horse stud still available

Ready to SELL your property?

Post Your Ad Here!