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Phnom Penh

Written on: Tuesday February 26th, 2008

A journal entry from: Southeast Asian Adventures!

Somehow we managed to stay in Phnom Penh for over a week, and we really didn't do too much. I really like it here; the city's location along the Mekong River makes for nice walks and many relaxing riverside cafes and restaurants. As usual, the bus ride wasn't relaxing at all, although it was an interesting experience. We left Battambang early in the morning and we were the only foreigners on the bus. The bus aisles were piled high with the random things people brought with them, and some people had to sit in the aisles. I was quite glad I had a seat!

The first sites we saw were the Chueng Ek Killing Fields just outside of the city and Tuol Sleng Prison (aka S-21). It certainly was a somber experience as we looked into the tall stupa filled with the skulls, bones and clothes of Khmer Rouge victims. As we walked around the Killing Fields, we could hear kids playing at the farm next door, standing at the fence and waving to us, while we saw the mass graves where so many innocent people were murdered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. After the Killing Fields we headed to S-21, where over 20,000 people were held, tortured and killed during the K.R. regime. Of the 20,000 people only 7 made it out of S-21 alive. From the outside, S-21 looks like an ordinary Cambodian school, but inside the rooms are filled with mugshots of the victims, thousands and thousands of photographs of people filled with fear. Some of the rooms used for torture had only an iron bed and a large photograph of a victim on the wall in the room. We spent 2 hours in silence walking around the prison. It was truly a horrifying sight and still so difficult to imagine these events that only happened 30 years ago.

A few days later we went to the Russian Market for some shopping. We browsed around the colourful market place which sells watches, silk scarves, sunglasses, fruit, antiques, art, clothes, cds and all sorts of food. We bought a few things, including 2 balls to bring to an orphanage.

The next day we stopped off to buy 25kgs of rice, then headed to an orphanage. The orphanage was located in an apartment building, as they had recently been evicted from their last home when the landlord sold the property. As soon as we got out of our tuk-tuk we were surrounded by kids grabbing our hands and leading us into their small home. I spent the entire time with little girls crawling all over my lap, holding my hands and putting flowers in my hair. Alan played outside with the boys most of the time. It was sad to say good bye to them.

Other than going to Wat Phnom, a small temple on a hill in the middle of the city, we spent our time quite lazily in Phnom Penh. It's an interesting city, where affluence and extreme poverty coexist, and Western influence is quite obvious in much of the city, yet traditional culture has also been preserved.