Thursday, February 21, 2008

Phnom Penh

We arrived in Phnom Penh and it was what we expected Laos to be; dirty, gritty, poor with pockets of wealth scattered around the city. Garbage is everywhere here in Phnom Penh and yet you don't see rats. We didn't get it.

We found a guest house across from the Mekong river where many of the restaurants and bars are located in Phnom Penh.

The poverty here is unbelievable. I remember seeing this type of poverty in Cairo years ago but really haven't seen this in a very long time. Children were running through the streets naked, some with open wounds, hounding everyone for 1 USD. We didn't see any parents or older siblings but we were told that parents will send the children out to beg as they will make more money than the adults. We gave them food instead, which they ate with verocity.

One of the main sites to see in Phnom Penh is Tuol Sleng, which is/was called S21 by the Khmer Rouge. It was a high school until 1975, where Pol Pot's security forces turned it into a nightmare known as Security Prison 21. This was to be their largest centre of detention and torture. Once inside you were not expected to live. The Khmer Rouge were quite meticulas in keeping records. The prisoner was photographed before and after their torture. Also during this time the the security guards would turn on their own as well. The people who tortured and executed were in turn tortured and executed by those who took their place.

Even when they were being liberated there were a handful of prisoners tortured and killed. Only 7 were found alive due to the fact that they had skills necessary for the Khmer Rouge. The prison was only one of the sites of the mass genocide that the Khmer Rouge exacted out on Cambodians, there are still debates on exactly how many people died during this time with some experts saying close to 3 million.

It was truly gruesome and depressing.

Personally #6 was my favorite!
We decided we were depressed enough and went over to see the Royal Palace. We arrived and thought we were back in Bangkok, looking at the Grand Palace. When you travel throughout Southeast Asia, you realize how intertwined some of these countries really are, to the point you forget which country you are in.

After that we decided to head for a bite to eat and along the way we saw some beautiful old French buildings. If only the walls could talk!

Later that evening we had dinner and drinks at the FCC, which is the restauarant/bar where the correspondants would gather and write their articles for their respective papers. It was rather erie to see the black and white photos of Phenom Penh empty of life when Pol Pot and his gang came to power. It was on the second day that the Khmer Rouge started clearing Phnom Penh of all citizens, forced to slave labour in teams working 12-15 hours per day. Okay that's it for the history lesson.

All in all, it was a great day and we both decided that we were glad that we changed our flights in order to have the day in Phnom Penh. Definitely recommend at least one day here.

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