A Day in Phnom Penh

30 Oct

*Sorry to my dear subscribers who were sent this blog post too early – below is the completed version!*

Leaving Luang Prabang was harder than G & I expected, mostly because we totally fell in love with Laos and partially because our flight back to Cambodia kept on getting delayed & delayed & delaaaaaayed.

Yes, we made some friends at the 2-room airport… yes, I was able to find the time to embarrass myself by slipping and falling directly on my tailbone (partially breaking it for the 3rd time)… and yes, I did get to eat chocolate chip cookies for lunch because nothing else looked as delicious and nutritious (a highlight, indeed)…but overall, it just kinda sucked.

When we finally made it back to Siem Reap, we missed our deluxe bus to Phnom Penh and ended up taking a local night bus, which was a 5-hour Cambodian karaoke joy ride and, therefore, a 5-hour test of our love and my will.  (The only thing I can liken the experience to is the test my sanity is currently undergoing, in an attempt to ignore the Korean man sitting next to me at a cafe, who sounds as if he is trying to suck-in his front tooth & failing only badly enough to try it again every 15 seconds.  AGH!)

By the time G & I arrived in Phnom Penh, we were so grateful for basic amenities like air and ice-cream that we didn’t care about the dirt or the chaos.  We were simply content with roaming the streets,

checking out the beautifully delapadated French Colonial architecture,

and stopping at every coffee shop that tickled our fancy.

For a minute, we felt bad about being tres lazy, so we waddled over to the Royal Palace in hopes of infusing our mushy brains with history and culture…but alas, the Palace was closed for a special ceremony -c’est la vie- no smarts for us.

But who needs brains when there is shopping to be done?! (Story of my life.)  Right around the corner from the Royal Palace, on St. 240 between 19th St. and Norodom Blvd, we discovered the coolest row of boutiques with unique and locally produced goods, including clothing, jewelry, and some awesome home accessories.   There were also a few modern and great restaurants scattered between the shops, where we took some long yummy breaks between spending all our money (honey).

After futzing around for an embarrassing amount of time, both G and I were finally ready to face one of the real reasons we came to Phnom Penh – to visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

Once a local high school, these 5 buildings were converted into a security prison by the Khmer Rouge, who during their regime, exterminated nearly 2 million Cambodians in an attempt to transform the Country into a socialist agricultural state.  (If you are interested in reading a little more about Cambodia’s history, please see one of my previous posts.)

From 1975 to 1979, an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned in Tuol Sleng, almost all of which were tortured and executed (there are only 7 known survivors of Tuol Sleng).  Most victims were soldiers, government officials of the previous regime, academics, doctors, teachers, students, factory workers monks and engineers.  And sometimes their families. (Source)

Walking through the classrooms that were converted into torture chambers, I was disgusted by the blood stains still visible on the floor.  Even more disturbing, however, were the hundreds of photographs of the prisoners, taken by the guards to catalog their victims.  It was almost unbearable to see the portraits of children and babies killed at the merciless hands of the Khmer Rouge.

I will not go into too much detail because, quite honestly, a part of me is trying to suppress what I learned on the tour that day…but as haunting as the experience was/is, Tuol Sleng is an extremely important museum to visit in order to understand Cambodia today.

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2 Responses to “A Day in Phnom Penh”

  1. yorkey November 10, 2011 at 12:34 am #

    You are so stinkin’ cute in these pics. Also, you are a very talented photographer. I LOVE all the color and texture you capture in your shots.

    • akonrad November 10, 2011 at 9:52 am #

      Yorkey- you are making me blush! Thank you!

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