From Siem Reap, we take a bus to go to Phnom Penh. It will be the opportunity to understand more the recent history of this country, and specially the sinister period of the Red Khmers, but also visit museums mentioning the glorious reigns of the kings who built Angkor.
Crazy Red Khmers
We do a quick visit of the capital as we arrive from Siem Reap after long hours in the bus and finally find a very average hotel in the city center. Much less tourists than in Angkor, the capital of Cambodia did not leave us an unforgettable memory and the architecture is nothing special. We pay our hotel in US dollar, as everything for foreign tourists in Cambodia). Then we go to the old jail SS-21, used by Pol Pot and its soldiers to torture million of innocent people: employees, farmers, women and men that supposedly did not agree with its ridiculous ideas from that communist dictatorship. And what a visit. So deeply touching. Here in this old French University from indochinese colonial period, we can still feel the terrible tortured that have been perpetrated. As if the walls could keep in mind the cruelty that happen in the past. Everything there could participate in filling us with a huge sadness and despair as if the cells, the canteen, or the garden with big basins where heads of victims were plunged into to make them suffer as much as possible. What an heart breaking moment to see all these photos of victims, everywhere in this old jail. And when the first thing when you get into this place are the big gallows, you can feel the terrible things that happened there. We’ve never been to Auschwitz but getting into a place where such awful and atrocious event took place is impacting you. The shock has been even more important as we met with one of the few survivors of this period as he was here to sign the book he wrote. It is one of the only way he can make money for a living as he is old now and the government barely spend any money to cover the daily expenses. It is to note that the government does not do anything to make the memory of victims alive and try to bury this negative period into the forgotten times of history. Cambodians now don’t seem to remember this period or pay tribute to victims or survivors. Strange…
As an information, the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia in 1978 and took Pol Pot in 1979. the Vietnamese, more used to fights after the long war with USA did not have any problems to get rid off the Red Khmers, causing in total more that 2 millions casualties.
We call a tuk-tuk to reach the suburbs of Phnom Penh, and particularly a plain which was used as mass graves for the “final solution” of Red Khmers. The poor victims were tortured in jail due to supposed “anti-governments behaviours”. These mass graves are located at Choeung Ek not far from Phnom Penh and it is still possible to see skulls and imagine the atrocious things that happened there. Really good to pay tribute to these victims, although it looks like Mother Nature is now back: grass is fertile, trees have grown…
Phnom Penh, the end
After this work to remember this history, which was very important for us, given that Angkor somewhat looks like Disneyland with all the tourists, getting off the big buses with their camera (many Chinese tourists). Phnom Penh visit and paying tribute to victims of this genocide is very important when you come to Cambodia. As beautiful as it is, Angkor is not the only place that worth a visit. Finally we decide to continue our trip going to the National Museum where you could see magnificent pieces from the old period of Khmer kings, these who built the awesome Angkor temples. A good way to know more about the history and the style of the Asian architecture. A beautiful museum not to be missed if you are in Angkor. We keep going around in the city and we saw the particular monument celebrating independence of the country in 1958, this previous French colony since 1953. Except that, one has to say that Phnom Penh is not as big and beautiful as its neighbours Bangkok or Hanoi. But it is very polluted however and if you use t tuk-tuk to go around, you will be invited to wear an anti-pollution mask not to suffer too much from the bad air quality.
We finish our trip to Cambodia, now time to head off to Vietnam, next steps of our adventures in South East Asia, through Mekong, a natural border between the two countries.