Coconut Express, Phnom Penh

I visited Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, for the first time recently. With a population of around 1.5 million, Phnom Penh is relatively small compared to other Southeast Asian capitals like Hanoi, Bangkok, and Manila. I walked around and did some tourist stuff, the centerpiece of which was a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Formerly a middle school, the Khmer Rouge converted the place into a “security” prison after they entered the Phnom Penh in 1975. Political prisoners and many others who displeased the Khmer Rouge for any reason whatsoever or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time were brought to the prison where they were tortured and murdered. Or tortured and then sent to rural killing fields where they were murdered. There were a few survivors whose horrifying stories are memorialized at Tuol Sleng. This was a disturbing way to spend a morning, and that is an understatement. I am glad I went; I took no photos. Otherwise, I found Phnom Penh appealing and relatively quiet compared to the bustle and congestion of larger and obviously more prosperous but also appealing Saigon or Hanoi. I might find myself there again, but Phnom Penh is not a place I will make into a destination.

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Pad Tad Ke Botanical Garden, Luang Prabang

Pad Tad Ke Botanical Garden is relatively new, a work in progress that has assembled plants from all over Laos and other parts of Southeast Asia. The garden project is a privately funded non-profit supported by corporate sponsors. A visit to the garden costs around $20, which is a bit pricey for these parts. Any surplus revenue beyond operating expenses is invested in training programs for Laotian and ethnic minority farmers. Experts visit villages to help farmers understand sustainable agriculture, among other things, teaching farmers who practice slash and burn agriculture how to burn without doing lasting damage to the forest, and how to cut down trees in ways that are sustainable.

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