15
Jan
10

Jan 14-15: Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh

Hi All,

We’ve finally reached the final days of our time in Cambodia, and while I had a great time being here, I think I’ll be happy to leave tomorrow.

The Silver Pagoda

Yesterday we left the lazy beach town of Sihanoukville early and travelled back the way we came, to Phnom Penh, thecapital of Cambodia. Last night we visited the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. The grounds and buildings were beautiful, but I thought the Silver Pagoda was over-hyped, as the majority of the silver tiles on the floor are in poor repair and are covered by carpets. To be honest, I didn’t even know it was the Silver Pagoda until I stepped out and said “okay, now where’s the Silver Pagoda” and some guy told me “Uh, that was it”. D’oh

Today we took a tour of the Tuol Sleng (or S-21) Prison where there is a genocide museum dedicated to the victims of

Tuol Sleng (S-21) Museum. These rooms have been left exactly as found when the prison was liberated, minus the corpse that was found in the room. Shackles, torture instruments, and blood stains are evident in many of the rooms.

torture and imprisonment carried out by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, and the Killing Fields of Cheoung Ek. While it was very sad to see the photos and hear the stories, this is a very important part of Cambodian history and many Cambodians are happy to share their stories with foreigners.

For me, it was extremely hard to imagine the horrors that took place at Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields, especially when the day is hot and the sun is shining. However, the crimes of the Khmer Rouge live on in these places. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview one of only seven survivors of the S-21 Prison, and it was a humbling experience. I cannot fathom what those people went through, not only the ones who ended up at S-21 or the killing fields, but regular, middle-class people. I had no idea when I signed up for this trip, that Cambodia had such a horrid history. In school we are taught about the conflicts we were involved in – mainly WW1 and WW2 – but nobody teaches us about the other wars been fought around the world. We were told in school that by being taught about the atrocities of genocide it would make sure history does not repeat itself, yet it has.

More than 5,000 human skulls are on display in the commemorative stupa at the Killing Fields, where more than 17,000 people were killed and buried in mass graves. Skulls are arranged according to age, with the youngest being 15 years old.

WW2 sounded like such a long time ago, and I never believed that someone could do such a thing again, yet less than a decade before I was born, only 30 some-odd years ago, the Khmer Rouge left a scar on Cambodian history, and I never knew about it until now. In fact, I’m sure many westerners will never know about this little fact of history, and I encourage everyone to read the book I am in the process of reading, called “First they Killed my Father”. It is a very well-written memoir written from a young girl’s point of view, about her experience during the Khmer Rouge regime. She grew up in a middle-class home, similar to myself, although in another country, decade, and culture, but I still cannot imagine having to do what she did to survive. Although a few months ago  I may not have known much about Cambodia except that Angelina Jolie’s oldest son was born there, but I now feel closer to the country and it’s people than I could have imagined.

Right now we have an afternoon off before heading to a Thai Boxing match just outside the city. Our guesthouse is located on a side street about three blocks from the river, where there are many restaurants, shops, and bars, so the location is excellent. We were all worried we would be stuck in the middle of the city by the bus stop, which is hot, loud, chaotic, and a bit scary to be honest!

Tomorrow we will have a long day of driving, leaving Cambodia behind and arriving in the afternoon in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), which is the largest city in Vietnam. There we will get a new tour leader, say goodbye to some friends, and likely say hello to new ones.

I will attempt to post some photos later, or perhaps from Vietnam, as my USB cord is currently back at the hotel.

Bye for now,
Lexi

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