Day 14 – Phnom Penh

8 Mar

Today started out in the windowless box of a room that is this hotel, with a lemon scented but yet ultimately dirty towel, which I accidentally dropped in the toilet. Oops.

Busy bus trip this morning, started with a visit to the Royal Palace.  Our guide has what can only be described as broken English and we spent a frustrating day trying to decipher what she was on about.  Some gave up quickly. However the reason for this is likely due to Pol Pot, as he killed all the teachers and intellectuals in the 1970s as well as half the population of the country. That is 3,500,000 people.

The Royal Palace was impressive and we zoomed round it in double quick time.  Including the Silver Pagoda which has 6 tonnes of silver making up the floor.

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Avoided joining in with the painting of the walls.

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This country has a wonderful mix of Buddhism and Hinduism which was on show throughout the day.

We were surrounded by hordes of tourists and our guide changed the agenda to try and escape. We headed out to the Killing Fields national museum at Choeung Ek.

This was a very moving experience to rival Auschwitz.  There was a stupa monument containing 17 levels of bones and skulls. They have identified 129 mass graves and opened only 84 of them.  They found over 8900 bodies, some without heads.  On top of the pathways through the site are clothes, teeth and other bones that rise up as the weather washes the soil away. You are literally walking on the dead.

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We were shown a tree where children were literally beaten to death.

Our guide had bravely shared her own story with us on the bus.  She had been in one of the prisons between the ages of 8 and 12 (now 47), but escaped the Killing Fields. Her stories were harrowing, and all the more real because it was a first hand story.

I have never heard a quieter place.  No one spoke.  Some cried. Astonishing that this had happened in my lifetime. 

Unforgettable experience.

After a lunch consisting of spam, we moved on to the genocide museum, which was located in a former high school. All schools were converted into prisons from 1975 – 1979. This was S-21. It should be as famous as Auschwitz.  Only 7 people survived the prison.  2 are still alive and I was privileged to meet one of them. (And bought his book.)

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More harrowing pictures of torture, totally uncensored, adorned the walls. Children that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time were included. Torture took place daily and the methods were barbaric. Several prisoners tried to commit suicide rather than suffer further torture. People were sent away from the prison, but this was only to the Killing Fields, and not to a better place.

There was a concerted effort to make the entire country subsistence farmers, by emptying the cities and killing half of the population.

Unbelievable.

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We headed to Wat Phomn, which means hill. Penh is the lady, so the city is named after the lady on the hill.

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Last stop for the day was to the national museum. We had a museum guide show us about, and she was slightly better but the subject matter was hard work – Hindu and Buddhist statues – and we ended up taking photos of the young monks with their iPhones taking pictures where none were allowed. They were as interested in us and we had some shots of us taking photos of either other.
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Back on the bus for the 30 second drive to the hotel and we said goodbye to our tour guide, having opted to avoid the optional tour tomorrow. We are all on our own for the day!

After a quick shower, 6 of us headed out to the national museum – this time for a cultural show on a stage outside. We managed to run to claim front row seats. Not one to missed a trick, they offered cushions and fans, to help with the hard seats and temperature still over 28 degrees. Unfortunately I didn’t take up either offer and regretted it.

The show itself was an opera with English translations projected above. Interesting story to follow. Singing and music not really my type though. There was an over abundance of painted on facial hair, and a particularly camp actor. Actually there was a lot of over
acting.

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We found the Foreign Correspondents Club on the riverside, after passing rats running along the street. Enjoyed the food and drink immensely – at British prices – whilst discussing the scenes of today.

Staggered home clutching our valuables carefully, after arranging a late start tomorrow.

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One Response to “Day 14 – Phnom Penh”

  1. George Brady.. March 9, 2014 at 1:25 am #

    Toni only read couple of days just there and that is brilliant mate. I will be keeping up on the expedition. Lol

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