We woke up late this morning, so we had to rush around on our only day in Cambodia’s Capital.
After a quick breakfast we made our way to the Toul Sleng Museum, also known as S-21. In this complex, thousands of Cambodians were brutally murdered by the dictatorship of the late 70s known as the Khmer Rouge, controlled by leader Pol Pot.
The place was once a high school but in 1975, the Khmer Rouge used it to torture and kill those opposed to their vision of a simple farming, one class society where intelligence was frowned upon. This usually translated into one’s death. The small area was strange to say the least and the only reason for not breaking down in tears myself was the fact of being surrounded by others.
In one room there were photographs of the majority the were detained and killed there, it is hard to look at their faces \, making the mass of death feel very personal as if it had happened to someone I knew.
We next took a Tuk Tuk to what is known colloquially as the ‘KILLING FIELDS’ but is officially called the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre. As with many sites there were beggars missing arms or legs begging for money, although they were friendly enough.
We walked inside and the first site was a large temple. As you walk closer, you realise that it is filled with the skulls of those whom suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. The temple had 8,000 skulls in total. After looking at the temple, a monument to those killed, we walked to an area where text was written on what happened here. As I read, it was hard to continue comprehension of the sheer scale of what occurred in this country in just under four years. 2 million people, a quarter of the population at the time was estimated to have been victims of the Government’s murderous rage. Walking further, we look at the pits that many thousands were executed or buried alive in. As you stand there, it is all too easy to imagine seeing where someone’s head was smashed or the moans of hundreds slowly dying. The thought that humans are capable of this is unthinkable, especially for someone like myself who grew up in a safe and always war-free area of the world.
We made our way back to the city and Vietnam Airlines to check on whether our Visas for Vietnam would be fine on our return flight through Ho Chi Minh City to Sydney from Siem Reap. Lunch was on the menu next, and it was delicious. We decided to splurge and ate at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club for $US60. It was a great meal and it gave us a view over the Tonlé Sap River and its esplanade. Our next stop was to go into the massive and amazing looking Royal Palace. From the outside it looked spectacular, with intricate details and large temple-like structures rimmed with gold. Unfortunately they were closing early, just as we got there and I was not happy.
Next to the place there was the National Museum that held various artefacts from the Khmer Culture, most taken from the Angkor Wat area. It is hardest to see the look on people’s faces as they beg for money. It is very different to that of the poor in Vietnam. Very few in Vietnam actually beg, rather they sell products or services at prices to entice tourists. In Cambodia they are money hungry and desperate to get what they can from you without being friendly or smiling. One boy tried to sell me a 5 page newspaper for $10USD and I find this is in the norm. Despite Cambodia being much less costly (in theory) to Vietnam, everything has been more expensive.
Food, services, the people are not happy as much and money is theory one of the only respites from their lives. I understand the horrors they have endured have made them partly this way, but it is sad that they feel so resentful in a way as to try to rip everyone off.
I will definitely say Cambodia has a lot to offer, but it will be many years till they properly find their feet. I think Vietnam has a better sense of that and I guess they have just had more success adjusting to a market economy. Well, tomorrow we leave on a 6 hour bus trip to our final destination to Siem Reap. I am looking forward to Angkor Wat and relaxing by the pool before our inevitable trip home.