Trip Start Sep 29, 2008
41Trip End Aug 2009
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Well that's what we saw when we got there!
First we crossed the border by boat on the Mekong river. We then headed for the capital Phnom Penh.
It's a rather quiet city, one of wide french-style boulevards and open spaces full of families and couples courting.
We venture straight from our hostel, the OK Guesthouse. It is only that, okay!
We are confronted with the whole city, including the Royal family, celebrating their countrys independence from France. The 55th anniversary is on the 9th November. We celebrate with them, anything for a victory over the French. The streets are filled with elaborate floats, women in colourful national dress, regiments of soldiers marching and everyone cheering. The national media are out in force. We watch the parade, sat in the sun.
We then take the oft trodden tourist trail to the notorious Khmer Rouge Killing Fields. This place has a dark and sombre feel to it. The great white Stupa built to remember the victims of the genocide contains eight thousand skulls. You have to say that a few times for it to sink in.
All of the skulls were exhaumed from the mass graves that pock mark the whole area. The skulls bear witness to the brutal deaths they faced. Many were beaten to death to save the cost of bullets.
Many of the graves still remain untouched, left as they were in 1979. The ground gives up its victims, clothes and bones finding their way to the surface. It's a hard place to be, the sounds from the nearby school making it even harder to comprehend what happened here within our lifetime.
We leave, but continue to see the evil that this country has had to endure. We visit S.21, the Toul Sleung prison. This is where the Khmer Rouge kept at least 14 000 people, of both sexes, any age or nationality for alleged crimes against the government. This place, a former school, was the stop over before the killing fields. Here the prisoners were tortured, many killed, before their confessions and then certain death.
The harrowing images of its inmates line the walls, the small wooden or brick cells still as they were the day the Vietnamese troops arrived to liberate the country. We spend a few hours here, feeling obliged to its victims to view every image and read every word.
Cambodia has so many temples that it's hard to walk anywhere without seeing them. They are all built in the Khmer style, large dark stone towers reaching for the sky. We travel to Siam Reap to view the countries national monument, and the best example of its kind, Angkor What. This myriad of temples is a World Heritage Site and rightly so. The area is immense, and covers such stunning monuments that the camera is never away. We see as much as we can. We were particularly impressed with Ta Prohm, the temple seen in the TombRaider film. Here the forest is consuming the temple, giant trees wrapping their roots around the stone walls. We then see the city of Angkor Thom, a huge place dominated with giant stone statues and ornate carvings.
Angkor What doesn't disappoint. It's elegance and symmetry and sheer detail deserves its place on the national flag. We also liked the town closest to the temples, Siam Reap. A sleepy place set on the rivers edge, that is just about to be taken over by an enormous building boom due to the tourists. Hotels and appartments are being built everywhere. The price of these appartments are similar to prices at home. The locals are being forced out for the tourist dollar. Bloody tourists, they ruin everywhere!
We fly back to Vietnam, but not before we have to pay the departure tax of $25 each at the airport.
Everyone wants our money!!