Hello lady, hello sir, would you like a tuk tuk??
Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
31Trip End Jun 07, 2012
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7th March - we spent the day exploring the city, visiting a few of the temples, in some serious heat! It's the kind of hot humid weather where your clothes are literally soaked through with sweat after only 10 minutes in the heat, not particularly pleasant! We also took a stroll along the river front (mainly in hope that there would be some sort of breeze there)! The centre of phnom penh was really nice, Particularly the area housing the royal palace and silver pagoda. We were unable to pay them a visit that day as I was 'inappropriately' dressed, apparently scarves aren't an acceptable item of clothing to cover the shoulders, which I think is pretty ridiculous.
8th March - we visited the Killing Fields (genocidal camp) of Choeung Ek. This was an execution camp, where approximately 17,000 detainees were killed, this figure contributed to a total of around 1.7 million nationwide who were killed in a national genocide by Pol Pot. It happened under the Khmer Rouge rule from 1975 when the regime implemented one of the most radical and brutal restructuring's of a society ever attempted. Its goal was to transform Cambodia into a giant peasant-dominated agrarian cooperative. Within days, the entire populations of phnom penh and provincial towns, including the sick, elderly and infirm, were marched into the countryside and work as slaves. Intellectuals were systematically wiped out - having glasses or speaking a foreign language was reason enough to be killed. Khmer Rouge rule was brought to an end by the Vietnamese in 1979. It is hard to imagine when you visit the killing fields that such atrocities happened there. When the sun is shining and tourists happily wander around the leafy orchard site of the genocide camp, conceptualising prisoners being bludgeoned to death (to avoid wasting precious bullets) and children and babies being beaten to death against trees, just 30 years ago, proves extremely difficult. Yet, it is still a recent, and extremely painful memory for many still living in Cambodia, who either survived the genocide or who lost entire families at the hands of Pol Pot. However, the memorial stupa soon brings it home, displaying more than 8000 skulls of victims and their ragged clothes.
9th march - another pretty depressing day spent visiting Tuol Sleng Museum. Previously a school. Tuol Svay Prey High School was taken over by Pol Pot's security forces in 1975, who transformed the classrooms into torture chambers, and renamed the facility Security Prison 21 (S-21). At the height of its activity some 100 victims were killed every day. Like the Nazi's, the Khmer Rouge leaders were meticulous in keeping records of their barbarism, each prisoner who passed through S-21 was photographed. When the Vietnamese army liberated phnom penh, there were only 7 prisoners alive at S-21. Today the long corridors of the facility display haunting photographs of the victims. Tuol Sleng particularly brought the horrors of the genocide home, we were able to see the tiny cells where the prisoners were housed, many of which still bore blood stained floors. The torture rooms displayed horrific photos of the bodies found at S-21 by the Vietnamese, which were unidentifiable as humans. Two very sad days, but definitely worth the visit. The 'happy pizza' restaurants made a bit more sense after two pretty depressing visits. 'Happy' in Cambodia meaning 'high', and not just off delicious pizzas, but from the stacks of weed they contain! Don't worry, we weren't driven to such extremes! We're already stoned in love... :p
Phnom Penh was a mixed bag. It's recent history (which I don't believe has been made that readily accessible to foreigners outside of the country) makes Phnom Penh worth the visit. However, the constant hassle makes it quite a frustrating city to wander around, 3-4 days is plenty of time.