Since we only had a day and a half in town, we had to make the most of our time and so immediately set out to explore the city. We spent a few hours walking around, watching the sights before we almost fainted of hunger and finally hunted down some dinner. The past few weeks there has been a lot of talk of food between me and Greg... at this point of desperate hunger we were imagining Christmas dinner, and I am quite convinced I would have stolen the entire pot of mashed potatoes and made a get-away. But what I would do for some good chocolate and a bottle of wine....
Ok, anyways, back to some of the sights we saw on that first afternoon and evening:
Sunset over the Royal Palace
This temple is not for sale, so don't even think about it. (I have no idea what this sign was really for)
Wat Phnom, a temple on the only hill in Phnom Penh (only 27m high, so not even much of a hill!). The locals come here to pray for good luck
Our second day, it was off to the Killing Fields and the old prison of the Khmer Rouge. A bit of history first: after an invasion into Cambodia during the Vietnam war, where Cambodia was heavily bombed, a civil war occurred which the communists eventually won in 1975. This group of communists was known as the Khmer Rouge, and within 3 days of taking Phnom Penh, the entire population was forced to leave the cities and head to the countryside for absolutely gruelling labour. They worked for 12-15 hours a day, subsisting on watery gruel with a few grains of rice. The communists tried to create an entire revolution in a few days, abolishing currency and property ownership. Everyone was forced to work in the fields, and any intellectuals or disobedient people were immediately executed. It's estimated that at least 1.7 million people were killed during this genocide.
The killing fields were where any dissidents (and I'm sure many innocently accused people) along with their families (men, women, children) were taken to be killed. Their bodies were dumped in mass graves and then covered in horribly toxic chemicals like DDT to kill any survivors as well as try to mask the smell of the rotting corpses. The pictures of the excavation of this site were astonishing; so many skeletons. There is a memorial tower there today containing the skulls of over 8000 victims. The fields today are so peaceful and beautiful, it is really hard to imagine what actually happened there.
Skulls in the memorial tower
When it rains, bones and teeth are often uncovered. Here is a tooth lying in the dirt, recently washed out by the rain. There were also bits of bone surfacing as well.
Our second stop was to the Tuol Sleng Museum, which was a prison used by the Khmer Rouge. It was a former high school, with the four buildings converted into cells and torture chambers. It was a very disturbing place. It was turned into a museum in 1979, right after the Khmer Rouge regime fell, so it was quite unchanged from then.
One of the cells where victims were tortured. There were some very grim photos on the wall of the bodies that were found there. The metal boxes on the bed were used as toilets.
One of the classrooms turned into a series of cells. These cells were tiny, and very hastily erected with sloppy brick and mortar.
I will not show any more photos, since it was quite a disturbing place. There were row upon row upon row of boards containing photos of all the people that were killed after passing through Tuol Slueng. Only 7 people survived this prison.
After this visit, we headed to a very peaceful, beautiful restaurant just across the street, which was absolute words away from the horror we'd seen. I had the most amazing sandwich here, with melted brie and grilled vegetables. YUM! Worth every cent of the $3.85 it cost!
I'm surprised I'm not drooling in this photo.
Next stop: Angkor Wat to see some of the most spectacular archeological ruins on earth!! And a much happier visit than our upsetting sights in Phnom Penh.