Phnom Penh and Khmer Rouge - Welcome to Cambodia
Trip Start Jun 20, 2010
74Trip End Dec 23, 2010
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John bundled us into his tuk tuk and we soon arrived at our hotel. After bargaining with the owner we managed to get a good deal on the room – we had to chuckle though – can you imagine booking a hotel in London and then bartering the owner down £10 per night?
We decided to head out for some grub somewhere local and immediately noticed a few differences between here and Vietnam:
2. the food tastes completely different
3. the streets were dirty there is rubbish all over the place, plastic bags and wrappers blowing through the pothole filled streets.
4. DOMs – Dirty Old Men – they were everywhere. Old, fat, bald westerners with young Cambodian girls
The next day we went to Wat Phenom, the main temple and namesake of Phnom Penh. According to legend, a 14th-century woman named Penh found four sacred Buddhist objects in the nearby river and placed them here on the small hill. A temple was built to house the relics and the city was named for it - Phnom Penh means "Penh's Hill." We then visited the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. The Silver Pagoda has a floor made up of 5,000 silver tiles and a gold Buddha inlayed with hundreds of diamonds, including one that is 25 carats. One thing that Kate noticed was that there was a lack of security – so she is still working on a plan to get that diamond.
Day 2 was D day for us as we arranged for John to take us to The Killing Fields and then to the notorious S21 Prison. We travelled through rural Cambodia just outside of Phenom Penh to get there. In contrast to the city, the country side and villages seemed extremely poor. We felt incredibly uneasy and slightly ill, not from journey, but from the whole experience that was waiting for us.
When you arrive at the Killing Fields, you are confronted with a structure housing 15 stories of skulls organised by age and gender. As you walk around you can see huge holes where 80 out of the 120 mass graves have been excavated. If seeing skulls and reading some of the placards, telling how entire families were wiped out is not enough, when you look at the ground, you can see teeth, bone fragments and remnants of clothing. The clothing is everywhere – different colours, sizes, all poking up from the ground – almost pleading to be discovered. The Killing Fields are just one of many mass grave sites around the country. Outside the killing fields were amputees begging for money and likewise children begging for food – we had to get out and get out fast.
The journey to S21, a genocide museum that was once a Khmer Rouge Prison, was done in silence. Both Kate and I felt sick to our stomach at what we had just seen but also at the fact that there was more to come. Of the 20,000 prisoners who came through to S21 only 7 people survived. The 7 survivors were off to the killing fields when the Vietnamese came in and liberated the capitol. Tuel Sleng is an incredibly depressing place. It is an old school, where the classrooms were converted into prison cells and torture chambers
We decided to leave Phnom Penh and head to the countryside. I can’t say that I am going to miss Phnom Penh. As Kate pointed out, this place and its history bears a haunting resemblance to the atrocities committed by Mugabe and his regime in my country – Zimbabwe, the only difference is that it is all still happening there today! The extreme separation between the rich and poor here has been incredible to see but everywhere you go, you can't help but be in awe of how friendly the people are, despite their tormented history.