Phnom Penh Cambodia
Phnom Penh Travel Blog› entry 20 of 34 › view all entries
This morning before catching the six hour bus to
We took the "upscale" (if that term is apropos for a bus) Mekong Express Bus to
When we arrived in
The Bougainvillier ended up being a very nice hotel with a friendly staff right on the Sisowath Quay waterfront including a fancy French restaurant out front.
We are having trouble figuring out this whole Indian wedding of Harjot and Darci thing.
My head was getting rather bushy so we went to get a haircut for me and a pedicure for Cindy, each a value for three bucks.
We walked to the
We tried a travel agent to find out about flights to
We had lunch at another little Khmer restaurant and were entertained by a very smart and well spoken book boy/entrepreneur. These kids wander the streets trying to sell tourists travel books and books on the Khmer Rouge, probably illegally copied in
We spent the remainder of the afternoon on the Internet trying to figure out what to do about our travel plans to
We had dinner at Bougainvillier since it was pouring out with an expensive and not so great bottle of French wine. Kind of a funny place that seemed very unorganized (they ran out of menus so we sat there waiting for 15 minutes) with the French Chef coming out to chat and smoke with the other French patrons. Eventually we got our food which was pretty good and they did comp us an aperitif of Armagnac which was nice.
As an epilogue to dinner, Cindy is now proud that she has learned to wash her clothes in the hotel sink - as you can tell she is really toughing it!
Its tough to come to Phnom Penh and not visit Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, on the other hand, it is not a pleasant place to visit since they are the infamous prison and torture camp also known as S21 run by the Khmer Rouge and the execution site of all the S21 prisoners.
Imagine a society with no family, no private property, no education, no currency, no food, no individuality, no religion nothing but farming and "the party". Imagine a society where to be accused as an "enemy" (which could be anything from being educated to being "bourgeois", to being a party member out of favor with the ultra paranoid leaders) automatically means you are guilty. The penalty for this starts with a stay at Tuol Sleng with ankle shackles, degradation, torture, severe malnutrition and forced written confessions to imaginary crimes.
Sounds like some Orwellian or Kafka-esque horror vision but it's not. It happened right here less than thirty years ago and to date nobody has been held responsible.
Here area couple quotes from the leaders of "Democratic Kampuchea".
"We must rid each Party member, each cadre of everything that is of the oppressor class, of private property, stance, view, sentiment, custom, culture which exists in ourselves, no matter how much or how little."
"It is better to arrest ten people by mistake than to let one guilty person go free.
This would appear to be the antithesis of democratic law. These poor people were guilty because they had been arrested rather than being arrested because they were guilty.
Tuol Sleng was originally a high-school that the Khmer Rouge converted into a prison. The somber and surreal tour starts with a nondescript building that was reserved for "special prisoners" such as political enemies or party members who came under suspicion as the leaderships paranoia increased towards the end. In each cell is a metal cot, the ankle shackles used to immobilize the prisoner, a metal box which served as a toilet and one disturbingly powerful poster sized black and white photo, usually of an executed prisoner in a pool of blood still shackled to the bed.
The next building had wall after wall of black and white face shots of the prisoners, literally thousands of men women and way to many children staring despondently and hauntingly into the lens.
Scattered around another room were various heinous torture devices as well as paintings by one of the survivors depicting scenes of pain and torture. Another building showed classrooms hastily converted into brick or wooden cells, about two feet wide and six feet long, all very horrifying.
There was an interesting hour long movie at the end that bizarrely had the painter/survivor mentioned above talking and walking with his arm around one of the former guards (Buddhism believes in forgiveness but c'mon). At one point the guard proudly states that he “only killed five people at Choeung Ek, usually I just documented their deaths”, all the while smiling.
Somewhat numb, we hopped in our tuk-tuk and bounced our way down the insane roads to the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. This was the end of the line for most S21 prisoners and was turned into a memorial to commemorate their lives and the destruction of them by the Khmer Rouge. A large Stupa, the center of which houses thousands of skulls and bones unearthed from several of the mass graves rising up several floors has been erected at the entrance.
The rest of the site is marked by barren pits that are the previously disinterred graves, all incongruously set against beautiful scenery of brilliant green rice paddies and rivers. It is hard to imagine how such an innocuous place could turn so evil.
We ended up having dinner at Khmer Bhorane again and finally decided to try going to Sihanoukville (beach in Southern Cambodia) tomorrow, despite of the weather.