Sombre Days in Phnom Penh

When I stepped onto the tarmac, there’s nothing but just 36 degree heat + 80% humidity to just welcome me right into Cambodia. Little did I know that that the next 6 days would be a grand ol sweaty time.

When I began planning this trip, I wanted to go to Cambodia to learn more about the Cambodia history. Most people don’t realize that the country just went through a massive civil war from the late 1960s to early 1970s. That was only 40 some years ago. Uncomfortable with truly going solo on this portion of the trip, I booked a small tour with Geckos Adventures – A Land Before Time Travel that had about 14 people on the trip. My fellow travellers were all Aussies except for 1 Brit, 1 American and myself – the token Canadian. Together, we did a crash course of Cambodia in 6 days.

We started off in Phnom Penh > Siem Reap > Angkor Wat. 6 days and all of THAT. What was I thinking….

Memorable Places in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields) – This is one of those places where you don’t know whether or not its disrespectful to take photos of … well, graves of thousands of people. IMG_20141106_111934

Our guide, who was in his 40s talked about how the Pol Pot/Khmer Regime has affected Cambodians today and started to choke up when he described this place. He described his own story of his father being taken away and to this currently day, still does not know the fate of his father…

The Khmer Rouge took all educated people, people who were in schools, the individualists to Choeung Ek and promised that they are going to school to learn more and to be “re-educated.” By truck fulls, hundreds of thousands of locals were shipped off to Choeung Ek and other Killing Fields across the country to be executed. When your tuktuk/taxi/car/van brings you here, you go down long and narrow dirt roads that seemingly look like you’re just going to the countryside. That was exactly what the Khmer Rouge wanted locals to think… that it was just another farming field.

The Regime was managed by very smart people. If the men were taken prisoners, their wives and children were often executed to that the men would not take revenge on the government. The Regime stated that the life of a Cambodia was not worth a single bullet. Prisoners were clubbed, beaten and raped and the bodies were thrown into a giant pit filled with hundreds of other dead bodies to rot. The soldiers were inventive with their tools and used bamboo sticks as beating sticks and palm tree leaves which are razor sharp as machetes to hack away at throats of prisoners. Babies were swung against trees to smash their heads in. The screams and cries of executed prisoners were masked by the “Magic Tree” which a loud speaker was hung. The chemical DDT was used for 2 purposes: to cover the smell of decaying bodies and to finish off the nearly dead.

They took away some pillars that families stood on – love, happiness, and faith. Prisoners were forced to work the field and produce quotas.

Tuol Sleng Prison (“Hill of the Poisonous Trees”), Phnom Penh- Previously an elementary school, the Khmer regime turned Tuol Sleng aka “S-21 (which stands for Security Prison – 21” into a a horrific place. You enter into the court yard and the concrete fence is lined with barbed wires on top. This was used as 1 of over 100 execution/interrogation centres in Cambodia and was later found that over 20,000 people were killed. It is not for the faint of heart.

As you walk in, you enter the courtyard. To your left is building A, three levels of concrete and steel bars on the windows. There are no doors and when you enter into room, you see a rusty old bed, and chains dangling off the side. I believe it is the first room that when you look up, there are blood spatters on the ceiling. As you walk to building B, there is a large board with instructions that were given to the prisoners. Building B held the tiny brick cells where there were no beds. People were chained to the floor with nothing. Outside of building B, you see a giant torture post. There are 3 large pots under each hook and it was explained that the prisoners were electrocuted and/or whipped and/or hung upside down and their heads were in parasite-filled water. Building C hold photos of the prisoners at Tuol Sleng.

There are only 2 people that have survived Tuol Sleng. They now work for the Museum and your visit supports themselves today. They are still working every single day in the now Museum and are sitting on plastic chairs at the end of your Tour. Mr. Bou Meng and Mr. Chung Mey smile at all the visitors and encourage you to look at their books and take pictures with them.

Central Market – Finally, a non-depressing place that we can visit! Beware, this market is seriously massive. All entrances are identical so note where you enter from. It’s open from 7 am – 5pm.

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Like most markets, it is divided up into certain areas. There is a jewelry/watch/ sunglasses section (inside the building), a bra and panties section, a menswear section, an art work section, a shoes section.. it’s all in there. Remember to haggle your face off because the locals can smell the l’eau de touriste off of ya. If you don’t like their prices, walk away. You’re bound to find the exact same thing 3 stalls down. Take your time, don’t rush your purchases and happy bargaining!

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