Trip Start Apr 16, 2007
88Trip End Jul 2008
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The official language here is Khmer but English and French are widely spoken. The local currency is Riel with 4,000 to the $1 USD, however dollars are also widely used and accepted - so much so that when we visited the ATM's they even paid out in US dollars not Riel - bonus!
Many of the buildings along the water front are colonial buildings, recently redeveloped and are filled with streetside cafe's and restaurants serving every different type of food you can imagine.
We visited a museum called S-21 or Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which used to be a high school but in the time of the Khmer Rouge in 1975 - 1979, was turned into the a secret prison where thousands were starved, tortured. When the Vietnamese Army invaded in 1979 the S-21 prison staff fled, leaving thousands of written and photographic records. It was a very moving and upsetting museum to visit.....of the 30000 people imprisoned here, only 12 are known to have survived. Most were former Khmer members or soldiers and their families who were accused of betraying the party or revolution.
We also watched a documentary about the Khmer Rouge to educate ourselves a bit more about the history of the country. During their time in power, the estimates of the number of dead range from 1.7 to 2.3 million out of a population of around 7 million, shocking.....
After visiting the hard hitting museum, we decided against visiting the Killing Fields.....
The country is slowly pulling itself together after the ravages of the Khmer Rouge empire. Not surprisingly, many of the pictures of Pol Pot and his henchmen which were on display at the S-21 museum were either missing or defaced. The trials for some of the KR are meant to be going on now but some doubt these will ever be truely fair trials as there are still KR sympathisers in the government. (The governament refused a petition to allow these trials to take place at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands.)
As you can see from the above and as you are no doubt aware, Cambodia has a very traumatic and sad history, however it is clearly evident that Cambodia is moving on and appears to have overcome its difficult past....We found Phnom Penh to be a very friendly city full of smiling locals. There was a thriving backpacker community located near the lake in the center of town....and the River Front in Phom Penh (where we spent most of our evenings) was lined with trendy bars and restaurants where we had some excellent meals and not to mention cheap and very tasty Anchor lager, not bad at 2,000 Riel a can or $0.30 for draft in a nice bar!