Phnom Penh

Trip Start Feb 11, 2007
Trip End ??? ??, 2008

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Friday, July 6, 2007

I have finished up my first full day in Cambodia, and it has been quite a memorable experience.

As many of you know, the Cambodia of today is still recovering from the effects and actions of the Khmer Rouge Regime (1975-1978).  Led by Pol Pot, the 'revolution' aimed at 'quickly' transforming Cambodia into a Maoist cooperative society, where only two classes remained, factory workers and agrarian peasants. To achieve their goal, Khmer Rouge rounded up hundreds of thousands of doctors, teachers, lawyers, engineers and intellectuals to be systematically tortured and murdered.  Over 2 million died over the four years.  Many were murdered.  The rest starved.

I hired a moto driver for the day to take me around and we started at the killing fields of Choeung Ek.  My tour guide lost both of his parents during the regime, as his father was a prominent doctor.  He explained that over 17,000 men, women, and children were massacred here and buried in 129 mass graves over the course of three years.  You can hardly speak when you go there.  There is still clothing scattered around the area and you can clearly see teeth and bone fragments protruding from the dirt. He explained that very few of the victims were shot- most were bludgeoned to death, while others had their throats slit by sharpened palm branches- the same way they kill chickens.

We then went to Tuol Sleng, a former Khmer Rouge S-21 prison.  What was once a school, was converted into a holding prison for individuals 'opposing' the regime.  Again, it was quite a powerful experience, as we were all shown a film documenting the genocide and the role of the prison.

As I said earlier, many Cambodians are still struggling to come to terms with all of this, as many lost friends and family. As with my guide, many are also still quite vocal.  What I have found is that while many the people i have met have very little monetary wealth, their strength and livelihoods revolve around their family.  They also seem to be very honest and courteous, even the taxi drivers...

I spend the afternoon cruising around the Russian Market.  Like most SE Asian markets, you can buy anything there. I am still in awe.

I also got a chance to visit the Royal palace, which is basically a massive complex of some 50 structures, highlighted by the Silver Pagoda, so called for the 50 tones of silver tiles on the floor. Those royals sure did have taste.

I am off to an early start tomorrow, as I am catching a bus up to Battambang to continue in my brief introduction to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

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