Phnom Phen - Cambodia

Trip Start May 14, 2010
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, July 24, 2010

July 24, 2010

           We arrived by bus to Phnom Phen – the capital city of Cambodia, with some fellow Canadians from Montreal. The big city vibe of hustle and bustle came rushing back. As soon as we got off the bus there were about 15 Tuk-Tuk drivers bombarding us for rides to various hotels around the city. Parents – you would be proud, we have officially become professional bargainers. Once we finished our little bargaining routine we hopped in the $1 dollar Tuk-Tuk in search of a cheap less than $10 accommodation. We soon realized that finding such a sweet hotel in Siem Reap (for $6/night - comparable to a Best Western) was somewhat of a curse. After our diamond in the rough, we had such high expectations and it was a little disappointing when we had to settle for the musty, not as clean standard backpacker room in Phnom Phen. Hmph.

            We wandered around the city taking in all the different aromas on the streets – roasted insects, raw meat, sweet fruit stands and freshly cooked meals being served right on the street. Being back in a big city made us really appreciate the smaller places. We've really enjoyed our time off the beaten path and have since been trying to keep our time short in the bigger cities so we can savour the peace and tranquility in the smaller villages and towns. Phnom Penh is a pretty cool city though with a lot of French architecture from the colonial rule back in the day. The city centre is settled right alongside the Mekong River and the boardwalk along the river is quite pretty. There are so many beautiful parks and monuments in the city and we are loving the Asian color scheme of orange, yellow and red which really brighten up the city.

            The itinerary for the next day was packed. There were a lot of historical sites around the city that we wanted to check out referring to the Khmer Rouge genocide. We began our day at The Killing Fields, which is a national memorial site for all the people murdered between 1975-1979 under the Khmer Rouge communist rule. A mass grave was discovered at this site just outside the city – only one of the hundreds of mass graves dispersed throughout the country. The government of Cambodia built an 82 foot tall temple in memory of the genocide that took place. It looks like a large square tall statue. There are different levels inside the monument and once we went closer to look we saw that each level is full of skulls and bones of the victims. There was no glass or anything, it was just the raw remains of all the victims. We both fell silent when we walked inside; we were completely humbled by the gravity of the crimes committed. You could see all the skulls displayed were fractured in almost the exact same places. The Khmer Rouge soldiers used hacks and axes as there number one weapon because it was more economical than using a gun. The bottom level of the monument contained the clothes the victims were buried in.

            Next we headed to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The site is a former high school, which was used as a security prison or pretty much torture chamber. We walked through the prison and saw what each of the torture chambers looked like (which were previously classrooms). It was a very eerie feeling being in those rooms. Out of the 17 000 prisoners, less than 10 survived. Most of the prisoners included anybody who was educated: teachers, doctors, lawyers, politicians ect. Many of the rooms contained countless photos of the prisoners that were held and later died within those walls... it was hardest to see the faces of so many little children. We spent a lot of time there, reading the biographies and history of all the things that took place during the genocide. We learnt a lot, even about the trials that are currently taking place now. The majority of the leaders of Khmer Rouge party are still living today. Until 2008/2009 they have been living as free citizens in Cambodia. This was one of the most shocking things to learn – that 30 years later the people responsible haven’t even been brought to justice yet. In fact, the head honcho of the brutality, Pol Pot, died of old age a few years back.

            We were both exhausted from a long day of site-seeing and all the reading we did, so we decided to have a girls’ night in. First we went to the Russian Market though where you could get pretty much anything you could ever want: raw meat, Cambodian silks, hub caps, vegetables, mufflers, Burberry purses, souvenir T-shirts.... you get the point I’m sure. Then we spent probably an hour (yes we have a problem) looking at two different convenience stores and we ended up taking home a bottle of wine, bread, pate, little cereal boxes, milk, veggies and chocolate. The little laptop Maria’s mom gifted us before we left has been such a great little addition to the trip! We watched a movie and some episodes of entourage. We’ve turned into real party animals. ;)

            Before we forget, here is a little lesson in Khmer. We usually get really good at saying "hello" and “thank-you” in each language. Hello = Sua S’dei and thank-you = Awkoon.
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