Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Day 10: A recovering city, Phnom Penh

Breakfast was the same menu – toast, egg and coffee. The evening before, I saw list of attractions in Phnom Penh, on the tuk tuk. History had many stories about Pol Pot and devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge to Cambodia. I wanted to see for myself so I opted to go and see the famous Killing Field and S-21.

Advice for others if you are going to Phnom Penh on traveling around the city – either you hire a car/taxi service or if you choose to ride tuk tuk, gear up yourself with a protective mask. The city is indeed a dusty city; even the locals are seen to be wearing protective mask.

Killing field is located outside the Phnom Penh city centre, which took me more than half an hour of tuk tuk ride. I managed to snap a few pictures of Independence Monument, while I was on my way that morning. It would be nicer if I could snap more pictures, but since the monument is the main structure of a very big roundabout, it was not so easy to get the tuk tuk stop in the traffic.

The Khmer empire was huge during ancient civilization. Even during the French colonization era, Cambodia was still prosperous with promising development of both its people and country. Sadly after the country’s independence, and like many other South East Asian countries, the country was torn by civil war and soon after was affected directly by the influence of communism. The term Khmer Rouge will always be remembered by history and especially the Cambodian people. During the reign of Pol Pot regime, the country had to witness a complete meltdown of the growth Cambodian people had been working hard for centuries.

It was more than a crime, whereby almost half of the Cambodian population was slaughtered during the Khmer Rouge era. Killing field was the place where all prisoners from the S-21 prison were executed. When I entered the Choeung Ek gate, I thought I was anxious, thinking of how would the ambiance be. I hope all the souls buried here had found their solace. Although it was a sad view seeing all the remaining skulls and some clothes; which were dug out from the mass grave, I felt serenity walking around the compound.

Coming back to town was not an easy ride, especially with the dust from the road. I arrived at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum after traveling about 30 minutes. It was a high school which was turned into a prison (S-21) during the Khmer Rouge reigned. The compound was not big, but you may need about 2 hours to go through everything. Since the International Crime Court had just settled, there was also exhibition on the inhumane crime trial of the four highest administrators of the Khmer Rouge. One thing that would give impact to visitors is the massive display of photos of all the prisoners held, tortured and killed here at S-21. I was trying to search for fear in the eyes of the people photographed, but many seemed not to show the sense of fear even when they already know their tragic fate, back then.

There were 7 graves in the compound for the last 7 bodies found after Pol Pot regime defeated and the army fled of the S-21. Among them was a female prisoner. I took about 15 minutes seating at the bench facing the buildings in the area trying to reflect how lucky my country was for not having such heinous experience like Cambodia had to endure.

After a dusty day, I went back to hotel for a shower and short rest. Determined to see Mekong River in action, I started walking (helped by a map) trying to reach the riverside. After about half an hour of walking, I reached to a big road intersection. I could see the big river in front of me. Another objective while in Phnom Penh was to ride the water of the big Mekong River. The hotel staff told me that I could find the boat ride service along the river side. Somehow I could only see many boats cruising the river, but no sight of the boat stop or pier. I continued walking, but after about an hour walking and losing sight of the river bank, my worry surfaced.

Knowing that language is the biggest barrier, I decided to walk into a 5 star hotel, The Cambodiana, to inquire about the right destination. To my surprised, I had gone to the wrong direction. An English speaking concierge helped me to show the location on a map and advised me to take a tuk tuk, especially because of the distance. I paid US$2 for the tuk tuk ride. Unfortunately, since it was already dark, no more boat with dinner was available for me to ride. I could take a boat by myself – an hour ride cost me US$15. The tuk tuk driver was nice enough to accompany me on the ride; otherwise it would be an extremely lonely journey.

It was indeed a great view of the city from the water. Soon after I hopped off the boat, I knew that I need to get something to eat. The tuk tuk driver brought me to a halal small eatery, ran by a Malaysian. I was lucky that he understood my original request of wanting to eat Muslim food.

Since I still have another day tomorrow, I decided to head back to hotel for rest and sleep. Having to see the city and its history gave me a conclusion – the country is in its recovering mode. They are still at infancy stage waiting for the new generations to start developing the country; since all the intellectuals were assassinate by the Pol Pot regime.

Check out pictures from my web album by clicking the album cover below >> 
Day 10 - Phnom Penh, a recovering city

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