From Siem Reap we headed south to the capital city, Phnom Penh via bus. There are no public busses in Cambodia, just a variety of private companies with varying standards. We purchased a ticket for $3.50 each on an air conditioned bus for the 4 hour journey. Pretty good deal I thought, until an hour into the journey and it was clear that the air con was not turned on so my legs stuck to the vinyl seats with sweat. We arrived in Phnom Penh, hitched a tuk tuk ride with a German traveler, Ali, and made our way to “the lake” area and found a cheap room. The lake was a putrid fluorescent green colour and it was amazing to see that snails and fish still managed to stay alive and breed in it!
The following day we cruised around the sights of the city with Ali visiting the Royal Palace, Toul Sleng (S-21) museum and the Russian market. The Royal Palace reminded me of a mini version of the Royal Palace in Bangkok, similar architecture, but not as grandeur. The main draw to the palace was the silver pagoda, a temple with a silver tiled floor,
but again it was a bit of a let down because the floor was 90% covered in rugs.
Toul Sleng Museum
Toul Sleng (S-21 Security Prison 21) was a sobering place to reflect on the brutalities of what one person can do to another. The museum is located in suburbia and used to be a school. When the Khmer Rouge took power they transformed the school into a detention and torture center, the largest in Cambodia. As we wandered through class rooms now divided into 30 plus cell blocks a middle-aged Cambodian man exited the building turned to us and said, “This used to be my school room” as his eyes welled up with tears and he started to quietly cry. Here’s a link to pictures of the prison
when it was found. Warning:
The pictures are graphic.
It was an eerie feeling walking through room after room with black and white mug shots of literally thousands held captive and eventually killed. Led by Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge ruthlessly killed 1.7 million people, close to 21% of the population in a four year time frame. There were photos and a brief bio of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge posted
A metal box for bathroom duties and chains. These rooms with beds weren't used for sleeping. Rather, people were chained to them and tortured for hours until death.
on the wall. Most photos were vandalized and Pol Pot’s was removed, presumably because it had been defaced beyond recognition. Here are photos and thoughts
from former Khmer Rouge who survived the regime. From my understanding, the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and forced Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge into the jungle and civil war continued. Pol Pot was never brought to justice, nor have any other Khmer Rouge leaders, they seem to live out of the lime light until they die of old age. Yale University has started the Cambodia Genocide Program
to uncover the tragedies and they have an excellent website with history and photos. The Documentation Center of Cambodia
also has some good information and photos that were in the museum. It's much better information than I could provide and worth a look.
In the afternoon we headed to the Russian market and helped Ali bargain for souvenirs with a lovely Cambodian lady who had much to say about Jarrod’s intelligence when purchasing silk (thanks to our silk factory tour in Thailand we were savvy shoppers!) The day ended with a delightful meal with our new friend, Ali, as tomorrow he was heading home and then to a new job in South
Change of Plans
The next few days while we waited for the NFL playoffs to start we came up with a game plan to next visit north west Cambodia which was suppose to be untouched jungle with spectacular hiking and lakes. However, we both fell ill and no longer had the enthusiasm to endure the two day journey to get there. Change of Plans. Lying in bed we came up with a new plan to move on and head east to Vietnam. Next Stop: Ho Chi Minh City!
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