Phnom Penh, Cambodia
My trip to Combodia has been a fruitful one. Never did I know so much history of Cambodia until I stepped my foot in this country. Pol Pot’s incredibly harsh and brutal Khmer Rouge regime gained a lot of attention, but the are some long and glorious events in Cambodia’s history too.
We were in Phnom Penh, Cambodia after about 8 hours of bus ride. It was quite a change from Vietnam – I felt a little bit more unsafe as a tourist. It seems that there are still a lot of things to catch up compared to its developing neighbour, well, after all these years political unsuitability.
A few of the places that we visited are summarised below. Two of the places have really brought me to the past to to see what happened to Cambodia many years ago. It has opened my eyes and I have gained so much knowledge, realising the difficulties that a lot of Cambodians went through.
1. Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
Khmer Empire has been described as Cambodia’s dark ages. Khmer Rouge is the name given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea led by Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979. The Killing Fields were a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried during the Khmer Rouge regime. An estimate of two million people died as a result of Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation.
Wikipedia: The Khmer Rouge regime arrested and eventually executed almost everyone suspected of connections with the former government or with foreign governments, as well as professionals and intellectuals. Ethnic Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Chams (Muslim Cambodians), Cambodian Christians and the Buddhist monkhood were the demographic targets of persecution.
The judicial process of the Khmer Rouge regime, for minor or political crimes, began with a warning from the Angkar, the government of Cambodia under the regime. People receiving more than two warnings were sent for “re-education,” which meant near-certain death. People were often encouraged to confess to Angkar their “pre-revolutionary lifestyles and crimes”, which usually included some kind of free-market activity; in communication with a foreign source, such as a U.S. missionary, international relief or government agency; being told that Angkar would forgive them and “wipe the slate clean”. This meant being taken away to a place such as Tuol Sleng or Choeung Ek fortorture and/or execution.
The executed were buried in mass graves. In order to save ammunition, the executions were often carried out using poison, spades or sharpened bamboo sticks. In some cases the children and infants of adult victims were killed by having their heads bashed against the trunks of Chankiri trees. The rationale was “to stop them growing up and taking revenge for their parents’ deaths.Some victims were required to dig their own graves; their weakness often meant that they were unable to dig very deep. The soldiers who carried out the executions were mostly young men or women from peasant families.
It was a very strange feeling when we visited the Killing Fields. The skulls of those innocent are filled in the central glass stupa. It was a distressing and horrifying sight. The dipped earth where the mass graves lie, bones and bits of clothing that jut out of the ground were still visible.
2. S21 – Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was a former high school which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge communist regime. All members of the previous regime, lawyers, teachers, doctors, educated people and even people just for wearing spectacles were brought to this jail along with all members of their families before being executed at the killing fields.
We started in the part of the building where the prisoners where routinely interrogated and tortured. There are still blood stains visible on the walls and ceilings. The next few rooms were set like a gallery with thousands of photographs that were found of the actual prisoners who had been interred at the S21 camp.
The next 2 building’s were cells permanently manacled to the floor. They were so tiny that you couldn’t imagine how distraught the prisoners were when they had to spend their time there. I felt distraught, depressed and deeply shocked, seeing at this treatment of humanity 3o years ago.
3. Wat Phnom
Set on top of a tree-covered knoll 27m high, Wat Phnom is the only hill in town. Today, many people come here to pray for good luck and success in school exams or business affairs. When a petitioner’s wish is granted, he or she returns to make the offering (such as a garland of jasmine flowers or bananas, of which the spirits are said to be especially fond) promised when the request was made.
There are a few markets in Phnom Penh that are worth a visit. In Cambodia, you shouldn’t miss to bring some krama (chequered scarf) that is worn around the necks, shoulders, and waists. A few markets like Psar Thmei, Russian Market and Night Market are worth a visit. The food market really caught my attention. I haven’t seen wet markets since ages.
6. Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda
The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh was constructed over a century ago to serve as the residence of the King of Cambodia, his family and foreign dignitaries, as a venue for the performance of court ceremony and ritual and as a symbol of the Kingdom. It was first established at its present location when the capital was moved from Oudong to Phnom Penh in 1866 under King Norodom and the French protectorate, though the Palace did not attain its current general form until about 1920.
Attached to the Palace compound, Wat Preah Keo Morokat (the ‘Silver Pagoda‘) is unique amongst pagodas. So named for its silver tiled floor, it is where the King meets with monks, Royal ceremonies are performed and it houses a collection of priceless Buddhist and historical objects.