City of Darkness and Light

Trip Start Jan 24, 2007
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Monday, April 9, 2007

Phnom Penh is a city of extremes, extremely hot, extremely busy, extremely polluted. It has seen extreme violence, extreme genocide and extreme hope. It was a bit of an emotional time especially as Lauren's birthday fell right in the middle.
Thanks to Big G and Mrs P, we were able to stay ion a lovely 5 star hotel in the city, with pool, spa, bath robes and slippers, and jacuzzi-steam-bath-multijet shower thing! It was a lovely break so many many thanks to the folks in holywood.
We only had a day to see stuff of the city, so lauren's birthday was spent visiting the killing fields + genocide museum. Cambodia has had a chequered past but over the last century it has been at its most brutal. First many people were oppressed by the government, only to be further oppressed by their revolutionary rescuers. The Khmer rouge took power in 1975 and under Pol Pot, set out to turn the country into a maoist, agrarian state. This involved the torture and eradication of mainly intellectuals-professors, lawyers,doctors,teachers and senior officials, and their families. Anyone who may influence the poor masses were wiped out leaving only a huge working class, all conscrpited to work the land. Phnom Penh and other cities were emptied and countless people were interrogated, tortured and murdered. All-in-all an estimated 2,500,000 died under Pol Pot in just 4 years, many through starvation.
The killing fields of Choeung Ek is the site of the largest mass graves from the regime. It was an execution site, mainly of inmates from the high school turned interrogation and torture prison, where the genocide museum is now based. It was really upsetting to walk round these sites, hear about the history from guides who had immediate family murdered, see mugshots of the innocent people who were imprisoned and later killed, and detailed descriptions of the torture and killing methods.
When returning to the tuktuk the driver eagerly asked if we wanted to visit the firing range (where you can have a go at target practice with all manner of weapons)- we passed.
We didn't feel like doing much after that afternoon, but had been recommended a restaurant which we went to and had a nice french meal to finish off the day. But thats the thing about Cambodia - looking at it on the surface it seems to have reocoverd well, the people are so friendly and smiling and seem to be getting on with their lives, and it is possible to switch off from the atrocities that are only visible in the main tourist 'sights'. But from our time with Phil and Mariam we had heard about a darker side to the country,  a  paranoia and distrust that infiltrates daily  life and business, and widespread abuse - domestic and children. Is this the legacy of the country's turbulent history?
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