The visit to Choeung Ek was the last item on our itinerary for the day trip in Phnom Penh. It was still midafternoon when we were done with our Choeung Ek visit; apparently even though it was a very intense day emotionally and intellectually, we didn’t really spend a long time at each of our destination. Since our driver was available to take us around for the rest of the afternoon, I asked him to drive us around downtown Phnom Penh when we got back to the city. We had not been to the river front area yet, so I thought it would be nice to at least drive past the area to see the part of Phnom Penh that’s usually considered as the popular destination for the foreign tourists.
As we reached the river front area, our driver took us to an area called the Diamond Island. It’s a newly developed area where you could see many new real estate developments in the city. There was a huge convention hall that had been built there. Not far from there, a huge casino called Nagaworld was opened several years back, and it’s billed as one of the largest casinos in Southeast Asia.
As we were about to leave the Diamond Island, our driver brought our attention to a bridge that we’re about to pass. This bridge was the scene where less than two months before our visit a stampede happened during the Water Festival celebration there, and 395 people died on that bridge. A tragedy that you wish didn’t have to hit a nation that had endured so much. But life moved on — we wouldn’t know that was the site of the tragedy if our driver had not told us.
The area near the river front (Sisowath Quay) was pretty much like what we expected. It was a very dense area, full of choices of services for tourists. There were shops, restaurants, and lodging options for pretty much any budget level. It reminded me somewhat to the Khao San Road area in Bangkok – the main destination for tourists to go especially as the ‘happening place’ to meet other foreign tourists.
We also drove past the Wat Phnom area. Wat Phnom was a temple on the only hill in Phnom Penh area. Legend has it that this was the place where Lady Penh established a temple on top of the hill (thus, the city was named Phnom Penh — Penh’s hill). Our driver asked if we would like to stop there to visit the temple. We were already pretty tired, so we passed on the offer and asked to go back to the hotel instead.
The photo below was taken from our car as we drove through the Diamond Island and about to pass the bridge where Water Festival stampede tragedy happened. As you can see, life went on and it all looked normal.