A monument in the middle of Phnom Penh
Today was to be our tour day of Phnom Penh. We had planned on spending 4 days in Phnom Penh but as regards tourist trails or things that are must see, most of them could be squeezed into a day so we decided we'd try that. Song was only going to spend 1 day there s well before heading to Siem Reap, so we said we'd join her and see if we had enough sight seeing done after the one day tour before deciding if we should spend any more time in Phnom Penh. The tuk-tuk driver that took us to 'The Bright Light Guesthouse' last night had told us about the various sights of Phnom Penh and of course he had offered to take us there too. He had been quite a good guide so far with his advice so we thought we may as well give our business to him rather than anyone else.
Firstly, we went and got breakfast along the waterfront in one of the restaurants recommended by the lonely planet 'Southeast Asia on a shoestring' book and we met our tuk-tuk driver at 10:30 back at the guesthouse.
This truly is a mobile shop ....
The first stop on the trip was the Killing Fields. The Killing Fields are about 15km outside of Phnom Penh where the Khymer Rouge carried out henious crimes by slaughtering and burying possibly anything up to 20,000 men, women and children. The grounds for slaughtering these people were very simple, they were either educated, or part of another religion and during the Khymer period, anyone who had any idea of life in the rest of the world or any religion other than Kymer were ordered to be slaughtered along with all of their family members, regardless of age or gender.
Most of these people came from the S-21 complex which I'll talk about later in this blog.
A market along the streets of Phnom Penh
When we arrived and paid the modest $2 entry fee the first thing that became visible was the giant white obilesque that housed approximately 9000 skulls of the bodies that had already been exhumed. I had been told that this was an eerie place and to be honest the first time this hit me was when I set eyes upon the obilesque and its many skulls. Seeing so many human skulls at once is a strange experience. The skulls showed bullet holes to the top of the head or the side of the head, some showed slits caused by strikes of a sword/knife to the skull. Other skulls had 'dents' in them where the victims had been bludgened to death.
I'm sorry if this sounds or looks grusome or graphic to some people but I think to truly unerstand it, everyone should visit this place just to see what radical human beings can be convinced to do to their fellow man, woman and child because of an ideology. After the obilesque we headed to the area of exumed graves. About 90 mass graves were dug up with about 40 or so untouched. The untouched graves were identifiable by the bits of clothing that were partially buried in the ground in random places. With people passing through and the very heavy rainy season it is common for clothing, bones and even entire skeletons to become unearthed from the ground. Trust me, in seeing these things and considering what is beneath your feet it really is an eerie place. We wandered around all the various marked grave sites and around the complex itself for about an hour.
A Phnom Penh tuk-tuk
There is a sign up as you enter to refrain from shouting within the grounds and to be honest, it probably isn't needed as silence becomes normal as you walk between the graves thinking of the atrocities that once occurred here. Afterwards we quietly made our way back to our tuk-tuk and headed back into town.
A gas station in Phnom Penh
After the somberness of the Killing Fields, next we headed to the hustle and bustle of the Russian Market, also known as the Central market. Here we found anything that you could possibly want to purchase from clothes to dvd's, fruit, fish, meat, cooked lunch and the usual handbags, shoes and other nik naks associated with fashion. I managed to pick up some of the now customery tourist t-shirts as well.
.. I couldn't leave cambodia out now could I!
Me and Caroline in the tuk-tuk on our tour day of Phnom Penh
After our short shopping break we got back to the tourist trail by visiting S-21. S-21 is also part of the Kymer Rouge era, an old high school building that was converted to a prison called Security 21 that was used as a centre to detain and torture supposedly anti-Khymer people. The centre was discovered by photographers in 1979 after the fall of the Khymer Rouge and it shocked everyone who was present! There were several bodies found in the rooms, prisoners that had been tortured to death but never removed for burial due to the hasteness of the departure of the last Khymer Rouge people. These unknown people are now buried in the courtyard. The tools of torture, stacks of documents on the prisoners and all equipment was left lying as it had been when it was an active prison.
Today most of these artifacts exist in the rooms for visitors to see, along with all the photographs of prisoners that passed through S-21 that were also found in the facility. A walk through the photograph building is another silent experience as people see graphic immagery as well as the practical tools once used to torture innocent people to death. Hand in hand with the Killing Fields, these sites will invoke a sense of sorrow and regret as you think about the torture some innocent Cambodian people endured. About 20% of the Cambodian people were killed during the Khymer Period.
Song (Korea) in the tuk-tuk on our tour day of Phnom Penh
After the S-21 experience we went for some lunch to let our minds return to some form of normality and after lunch we headed for the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda.
The Royal Palace is home to the King of Cambodia as well as a vast number of tourists during opening times. The palace lies within a wall enclosed area, with several magnificent buildings including a reception building for distinguished guests of his majesty's, a resting building to allow the king to relax before boarding one of his elements (which no longer exist after the Khymer Period), as well as some worship buildings, living quarters, stables for the now departed elephants and the main palace function room as well. When we were queuing for the entrance tickets we met an American woman who was on her own and was looking to get a guide, as did we, so we all grouped together and got a guide between the 4 of us. We started the gtour in the main Palace ceremony building, it was decorated magnificantly on the outside with gold and white being the predominant colours.
Independence Monument, Phnom Penh
Inside they were decorated with gold statues, diamonds and gems of all sorts and some amazing fresco's and paintings. The highlight of all the buildings being, of course, the Silver Pagoda. This building got its name from its floor which consists of almost 6,000 tiles of silver, each weighing 1kg. Due to the large number of visitors passing through and the softness of the silver, the walkways have carpet covering them to protect the tiles but large cordoned off sections are still visible. If the silver impresses you in this then the numerous solid gold, diamond decorated statues of Buddha and other figured will surely impress you further. Some of them weigh up to 100kg and are covered with several thousand gems. Our guide was very helpful with all the info about the various statues and their worth. I'm sorry I haven't more photos but photography was forbidden in most buildings to try and protect the fresco's and artifacts.
The stupa in the middle of the Killing Fields .. housing almost 9000 skulls of the victims
Some of the skulls in the stupa
After the splendor of the Silver Pagoda and Royal Palace we went on to the National Musuem that preserves some of the oldest Khymer artifacts dating back over 2000 years. Almost all the artifacts are stone with some intricate carvings with some bronze and wooden artifacts also. It took us about 45 minutes to walk through the museum in total admiring all the ancient works of art.
The only stop left on our city tour then was Wat Ounalom. Song had wanted to visit this Wat as it was the principal Wat for Buddhist teaching in Cambodia and was suppsoed to be worth a look if you wanted to see a Wat.
To be honest it isn't really a tourist attraction at all but visiting it did give us a feel for the locals soccer skills! When we walked through the gates we walked straight into the football pitch in the middle of a game of soccer. The girls made their way into the Wat while I scouted for soccer talent! The locals were playing on the paving inside the Wat entrance, with a natural bamboo ball that was light and bouncy and about half the people playing were doing so in their bare feet! The game istself was like any 5-a-side street soccer game that you would see in any country! Once the girls had taken all their photographs we left the Wat and our tuk-tuk driver took us back to our guest house.
A skull with a knife/sword mark in it from the genocide
Later that evening we went back down the waterfront for something to eat and headed home early as all 3 of us were to catch the bus to Siem Reap in the morning.