After a long, LOONG day, I finally arrived here in Hong Kong, but I miss Cambodia already! I left the hotel at around 12 AM, and the manager was very kind enough to escort my luggage to the tuk-tuk driver. The manager of the hotel is probably one of the most caring & friendliest human beings that I have ever met in my life, and the staffs of the hotel were also wonderful; now wonder that hotel became one of the top hotels in Siem Reap. Arriving at the domestic airport 1 hr. and 30 mins. before departure was really awkward, since I was the ONLY passenger there! I thought I was too early, and I regret that I have to leave the hotel so early. Time goes by, and other tourists came, but on the waiting area, it still feels awkward. There were only a few of us (below 30 I guess), so it still felt lonely. After 40 mins.,the plane landed in Phnom Penh earlier that I expected. Since I had about 4 hours to kill before my flight, I wanted to see Phnom Penh for a bit, but I'm still not sure about that because alot of tourist
attractions might be closed since its the start of Khmer New Year. I asked one taxi driver if there are any attractions open, and he wasn't sure too, but I still gave it a go.
My taxi driver was great; he knew all the tourists attractions in the city, and he even told me some of the landmarks that we passed by, like the Central Market & Independence Monument. The first stop was Royal Palace, and good thing it was open & there were alot of tourists. The entrance fee was USD6.25, and I think the price was pretty high for... oh wait, it's a palace; DUH! All I saw around there were different pagodas & stupas, so nothing much is there. Two of the temples there don't allow taking pictures and shoes inside. Inside the Silver Pagoda were just artifacts and about a 2 meter Buddha statue encased in glass at the middle. After the Royal Palace, I found out that I still have time left for 1 attraction, and I didn't even hesitate to think about the next attraction: the infamous Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
Visiting Tuol Sleng... is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Tuol Sleng
actually used to be a high school, until it became a prison (or S.21 Prison) during the Khmer Rouge regime, in which case, alot of innocent Cambodians & some foreigners were killed and tortured here. Whether it was a baby, child, or adult, they were all killed & only a few survived to this date.
Since I only had a little time, I didn't hire a tour guide anymore & I just went around the whole complex. Honestly, this is the saddest & emotional place that I've ever been so far. The first room that I went to was a gallery of some of the prisoners in the complex. And then, the second room... was filled with pictures of dead people's headshots. It was so gruesome, I can't even stare at it for 1 second; it was just painful to look at emotionally. As I was taking pictures of the prisoners, I felt that my consience was telling me to stop taking pictures of them, and I felt that I was disrespecting the victims, so I stopped for a moment & just observed the photos. Moving on, there's a room with different torture devices that were used to kill
the victims & the actual portait on how they were used. I heard that during the genocide, there was a painter who painted different scenes on how the prisoners were killed by rouges in Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields). I saw those paintings, and honestly... I was left speechless. There were 3 paintings which showed how babies were brutally killed in different ways, and it was heartbreaking & horrifying to look at. I felt so furious & I felt like kicking those rouges' asses so bad. There's also a room filled with some of the victims' skulls and clothes, and each skull has a description on how that person was tortured. I walked into a corridor which used to be jail cells, and it was very haunting since I'm the only one there. Outside the premises, there's a small graveyard, and another torture device called "The Gallows", which is used to lift the prisoners upside down until they lose consciousness. There were also jars by the gallows used to dip the prisoner's head in filthy water inside till they regain their consiousness, and then repeat the process. Just dispeakable.
At that time, I already felt like I was getting
weak and nauseous, probably from the heat or just thinking about the horrible past of the prisoners; who wouldn't get emotionally weak in that kind of place anyway? Everything that I saw there was just unimaginable; it was gut-wrenching but also a good learning experience about how modern Cambodia became. Before I left, I made a prayer to the victims of the Khmer Rouge to lighten up my mood & to also thank God for this opportunity. After that, it was time to go back to the airport; too bad I don't have much time to visit Choeung Ek anymore...
Overall, my visit in Phnom Penh was bittersweet. Sure, I only had a short time, and visiting Tuol Sleng got me emotionally drained, but in the end, it's all worth it. I'm so glad I have experienced these places and grown in awareness about our world. I'm so grateful that we don't have to perish the same thing that happened during the Khmer Rouge, especially to the Cambodians. :) Reflections:
Alot of people have told me that Cambodia is a dangerous country & I shouldn't go there because I could get killed, robbed, raped (haha lol), and
blah blah blah. FYI, before you say something like that, ask yourself first: have you actually visited this country before & experienced it? If you don't, you have no right to say something like that. Honestly, I did believe that it was a bit dangerous & there are alot of cunning people there, but surprisingly, about 95% of the people that I've met there were very nice & friendly. Yes, sure, alot of people (who have been there) have some negative stories to tell, but we always have to remember the one thing that we don't use very often: COMMON SENSE. (yeah, I'm not kidding)
Siem Reap is a very quiet city & not so much traffic. The biggest draw there are, of course, the temples around the Angkor Archeological Park. All of the temples there were really breathtaking, and watching the sunset in Bakheng Mountain and sunrise in Angkor Wat are moments that I will definitely cherish. The only problem that I faced there were the souvenir sellers who might annoy the hell out of you. The best way is to just ignore them; no eye contact, no rejecting (the hand sign), no talking; just pretend they're not
there. If you buy something at them, alot of sellers will then approach you. At night, Siem Reap is a very lively city, compared during the day. The best place to buy souvenirs is at the Old Market/Psar Chaa or Night Market, and the best way to buy souvenirs there is by bargaining. Seriously, I got an Apsara statue which originally costed USD 8 and became USD 5. I'm also really glad that my tour guide, Nuon Sochetra, not only gave me a very good information about the temples that we visited, but he also showed me some of the places shown in "The Amazing Race 13" (disregarding the gas station of course, ROFL). I'm a big fan btw, so yeah.
Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, holds a very painful past, but I'm really glad that life in Phnom Penh has been progressing. Everyone there looked like they have moved on from the Khmer Rouge regime, which is a good thing. If you really want to understand where modern Cambodia came from, visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, no matter how hard it is. I may not have any time to visit Choeung Ek (one of the main
sights during the Khmer Rouge), but I guess visiting Tuol Sleng is already enough for me.
I've always wanted to visit Cambodia, and now that I've visited it, I love it even more. Everyday was an eye-opening experience, and during the trip, I forgot every personal problems & instead, learned more about myself. Yeah, I'm going back there very soon for more. :)
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