Phnom Penh, an introduction to Cambodia
We arrived in Phnom Penh by bus from Saigon just over a week ago and already feel very well acquainted with this fascinating country. The fast developing capital is currently a modest size, and from our experience its residents are equally humble in nature. We definitely didn't run out of things to do during our stay, the city's main tourist attractions are all reasonably priced and easy to get to by foot or tuktuk whichever side of the city you chose to stay on. There are also plethora of vibrant markets, a variety of decent bars dotted around plus a good mix of local restaurants and backpacker style eateries.
From what we have experienced so far Cambodia is still very much recovering from times of suffering, times that really weren't so long ago. Similarly to Vietnam, this was very prevalent in the city and its people. However, I couldn't feel the sense of pride that shone through in Vietnam. Instead a sense of gratitude and absolute serenity towards the current times embodied almost everyone we met. This shared spirit was something we came to understand after visiting The Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields.
A brief history:
On 17th April 1975 the Republican government was defeated when the Khmer Rouge proclaimed the establishment of Democratic Kampuchea, this lead to the party leader Pol Pot claiming complete power over Cambodia. He had an extreme communist vision for the country based on agriculture, demanding that rice production was to be tripled immediately in the aim of Cambodia becoming a completely self-sustained nation. Under his leadership it was the year 0 and anyone who came forward as having skills from 'the past life' was taken unknowingly to be executed. This included doctors, teachers and anyone who could speak a second language. Males, females, adults and children were separated and required to work up to 19 hours a day farming rice and other crops. Executions took place across the country at sites now named 'killing fields', there were also torture houses set up such as what is now The Genocide Museum. During Pol Pot's 3 year reign an estimated 1.5 million people were executed.
This harrowing history is told with commendable courage and honesty at both The Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields. There is little anger or even blame conveyed towards the era, only a deeply ridden grief. I can't fully explain how it feels to walk across the blood stained floors of The Genocide Museum, or to face the tower of human skulls that looms over The Killing Fields. What I can put into words is how as I walked and listened I felt so choked with tears but so completely unworthy to let them fall. How could I, so untouched and privileged in these capsules of pain and suffering stand and cry? I hope this somehow explains the depth of emotion these two sites provoke.
Ten photographs taken in Phnom Penh:
From Phnom Penh we moved south to the small riverside town of Kampot, and then to Otres Village right on the beautiful coastline. We'll be here for a few more days before heading up to Siem Reap!