A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia

Dashing through Cambodia on our way to a Bangkok Christmas


View 11 months around the world on geldere's travel map.

We crossed the border into Cambodia and were welcomed by several seedy gambling joints. Apparently it’s legal to gamble in Cambodia :) We eventually ended up in the capital, Phnom Penh (pronounced “nom pen”). It’s a pretty big and busy place with an assorted reputation. We found it to be a classic Southeast Asian capital, a mix of the first and third worlds. We made the obligatory stop at the Royal Palace which includes several temples housing jade and crystal figures of Buddha as well as exhibits depicting the pomp and circumstance surrounding the royal family.
IMG_0483.jpg Inside the royal palace
IMG_0497.jpg The grounds of the royal palace
IMG_0476.jpgUnder that Western Union was Cantina, an authentic Mexican joint where we ate- it was good!
The other main attractions in the capital revolve around the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge period in Cambodian history, 1975 to 1979. The goal of the revolutionary movement was to transform Cambodia into a peasant dominated farming cooperative. Almost overnight, Pol Pot, the radical leader of the Khmer Rouge, forced the population of Phnom Penh and other urban areas into the country side. In the process, he also tried to weed out intellectuals, so anyone who spoke a foreign language, wore glasses, had a professional education, or even had soft hands was executed. In the end, millions died from starvation, disease, and exhaustion. Thousands of others were tortured and executed, including whole families – men, women, and children – Pol Pot did not believe in allowing heirs to survive who could seek revenge.

We visited the Tuol Sleng Museum which was a school converted into a prison by the Khmer Rouge. Thousands of Cambodians were housed and tortured on the grounds, and upwards 100 Cambodians a day were executed at the prison. The prison guards kept excellent records and, as a result, today there are hundreds of photos of the victims scattered around the museum giving it an eerie presence, both pictures before and after death. We also went to Choeung Ek, better known as The Killing Field. There are supposedly over 300 similar fields scattered around Cambodia, but this is the most famous. Most of the 17,000 people who were kept in the Tuol Sleng Prison were executed here and thrown into mass graves, women and children included. It’s a sad and haunting place, especially when you see the memorial with over 8,000 skulls excavated from the mass graves.
IMG_0433.jpg Inside what was the prison (known as S-21)
IMG_0435.jpg Some photos of the prisoners
IMG_0450.jpg The monument at the Killing Field housing bones and skulls
IMG_0460.jpg Mass graves at the fields

For anyone interested in learning more about this period in Cambodian history there is a good movie from 1984 called "The Killing Fields". The movie tells the real life story of an American journalist in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge’s reign. Our hostel in Phnom Penh showed the movie every night. Perhaps what is most amazing is that this dark period in human history did not happen that long ago – there are literally hundreds of thousands of Cambodians who lived through that time still alive today.

After two days in Phnom Penh, we headed east to the small, river front colonial town of Battambang. I couldn’t tell you much about it because I got food poisoning and just laid around the hostel most of the day. Jeff, however, hired a tuk-tuk driver to give him a quick tour. He took a ride on their famous bamboo train along an old French railroad line. Resourceful locals combined two train car axles, a small motor, and a bamboo platform in order to move people and goods. When two bamboo trains meet, the train with the least amount of passengers and stuff is quickly disassembled and then reassembled in order to allow the other train to pass. His tour also took him to the Killing Cave, a cave with a “skylight” that the Khmer Rouge would push people into in order to kill them and do away with their bodies. Finally, his last stop was a hilltop Khmer temple supposedly older than Angkor Wat.
IMG_0503.jpg Town of Battambang
IMG_0518.jpg Jeff (and a monk) on the bamboo trainIMG_0528.jpg Locals harvesting rice
IMG_0541.jpg The temples that supposedly inspired Angkor wat
IMG_0552.jpg Speaks for itself
IMG_0566.jpg Inside the Killing Cave
IMG_0567.jpg A monument at the cave displaying bones and skulls found there

We definitely blew through Cambodia pretty quickly, but we have plans to return in six weeks and were on a mission: Bangkok by Christmas! My big plan from the start of our trip was to stay in a swanky hotel for Christmas since we were not going to be home to celebrate with our families. Plus, it was an opportunity to get a break from all of the hostels, but I have to admit, we haven’t been dipping too low in the accommodation department as guesthouses here are pretty cheap. But splurge we did! We stayed at the Banyan Tree Hotel and bought a package that got us upgraded to the “Club Level” - it was exciting! Our gorgeous room included a bathtub, so I spent quite a bit of time soaking. As Club Level guests, we also had access to “free” food and drinks most of the day at the “Club Lounge”. We indulged in a 90 minute massage and got to skype with our families on Christmas which was fun. We also headed out to the mall for some holiday spirit, took in the new Mission Impossible movie, and enjoyed a white chocolate cranberry mocha from Starbucks :) Our Christmas dinner was at the Banyan Tree’s signature restaurant which serves traditional Thai, so not quite the holiday fare we were craving, but good nonetheless. I also ordered a surprise cake for Jeff’s birthday - it was supposed to be a yellow cake with chocolate icing (his favorite), but it ended up being a chocolate cake with yellow icing – something got lost in translation :) We ended our Christmas Day with a trip up to the Banyan Tree’s roof top bar on the 52nd floor for some drinks. Although it was not like being home for the holidays, it was a nice way to celebrate Christmas and Jeff’s birthday and I certainly enjoyed the luxury for a few days!
IMG_0596.jpg I have arrived!
IMG_0599.jpg Our bathroom and my tub!!IMG_0605.jpg The mall all decked out for the holiday and New Years
IMG_0621.jpg Our Christmas and Jeff's Birthday dinnerIMG_0629.jpg Post dinner drinks on the roof

We are now heading south down the Thai peninsula for some beach time through New Years - we’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 05:24 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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