Dark history of Phnom Penh...

Finally, arrived Phnom Penh International Airport.
After eight hours traveling (including check-in, boarding, delays, tuk-tuk ride) from Kota Kinabalu to Kuala Lumpur and another flight from Kuala Lumpur to Phnom Penh , we finally arrived the capital of Cambodia.

My fiance, Carl and I met with the other travelers who just arrived from Saigon at Blue Tongue Restaurant, next to budget hotel that we booked, Walkabout Hotel located on The Strip (Street 51).

This is our first time here and everything is just like gambling. We met new friends from France and the Philippines, shared room, shake hands and put our backpacks in the room before walking out to discover the city separately.

There is a bar at the ground-floor of Walkabout Hotel and I can see many tourists enjoying their beer. We don't drink alcohol, so there is no point to sit there, especially when we don't have enough time to waste. We must go to Royal Palace and National Museum before dark because according to a review I read from tripadvisor, Walkabout Hotel is only a few minutes walk to both locations.

It was 4pm, and we are confident to cover both place before 7pm. The tuk-tuk drivers in-front of our hotel are quite aggressive doing business, but Carl and I decided to walk.

About 30 minutes walk, we arrived National Museum and Royal Palace but it was closed already. Its quite near from the hotel but I've always had problems with crossing the road. I just always fear that I might have missed a car coming, then cross and then suddenly get hit by a car that I didn't see coming. My bad!

We took picture from outside the museum, and Carl decided to get a tuk-tuk for an hour of city tour. Getting around the city is easy, as tuk-tuk drivers are everywhere.
National Museum of Cambodia
As the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh is fairly young, only rising to the role in 1866, but is still a city steeped in tradition and history, offering several cultural and tradition sights. A port or trading village ans occasional capital city in the post-Angkorian period, the city came under French colonial control from 1863 to 1953, flourished in independence in the late 1950s through the 60s, was besieged and then evacuated by the Khmer Rough in the mid and late 70s, repopulated in the 80s, revitalized in the 90s and now undergoing rapid change and development.
Street food stalls at Phnom Penh city
From National Museum and Royal Palace the tuk-tuk driver, Phon, brought us to Independent Monument (Vimean Ekareach), Supreme Court building and many other buildings, temples and monument (I can't really understand what he said, and its getting dark that time) and finally he drove us to Diamond Island.

At the Independent Monument, Phon told us the beautiful monument was inaugurated in 1962, to be exact in November 9th 1962, a project of renowned Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann. It was erected to celebrate Cambodia's war dead. It is the site of colorful celebrations and services on holidays such as Independence Day and Constitution Day.
 Carl and I at Independence Monument
Meanwhile, Diamond Island is the new city in Phnom Penh. Nothing interesting, as Diamond Island or Koh Pich is under construction. The whole island is developing at the same time!
One of new buildings at Diamond Island is under construction
However, behind the rapid development, it contained a dark history of the country that occurred on November 23, 2010. Hundreds died and hundreds more were injured in a stampede on Diamond Island’s north bridge, bringing a tragic close to the final day of water festival celebrations in Phnom Penh.

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that 339 people have been confirmed dead and 329 injured. It was the biggest tragedy since the Pol Pot regime. Thank you so much to our tuk-tuk driver who made me feel more excited to know more about the history of Phnom Penh.

We closed our first day with a traditional Muslim Khmer dish, mixed vegetables and meat, seafood tomyam and rice. We invited Phon for dinner. Brup!
Traditional Muslim Khmer dish for our dinner 
Our second day, it was off to the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek Memorial), the old prison of the Khmer Rouge S-21 Prison (Toul Sleng Genocide Museum) and The Royal Palace.
Killing Field Monument
A bit of history first (War and Khmer Rouge History): From April 17th 1975 until January 7th 1979, the brutal, ultra-Communist Khmer Rouge regime (i.e. the Red Khmer) controlled the whole Cambodia, then known as 'Democratic Kampuchea'. The Khmer Rough was headed by Saloth Sar, nom de guerre Pol Pot.

During their short reign, between one and two and a half million Cambodians perished, some killed outright, others dying from disease, malnutrition, neglect and mistreatment. Though the Khmer Rough were driven from power in 1979, they retreated to the mountains and border areas, persisting until their final defeat and dissolution in 1998 (very fresh story, huh!)

Surviving Khmer Rough leaders are only now facing the court. Kaing Guek Eav, a.k.a 'Duch', director of the infamous S-21 Prison was found guilty by the ECCC last year. Proceedings against four other defendants are currently underway. Pol Pot died in 1998, never having faced justice. Celaka!

The Killing Field is about 30-40 minutes tuk-tuk ride from the centre of Phnom Penh (USD2 entrance fee) while S-21 Prison is located at the Corner Street 113 and Street 350 of Phnom Penh city centre (USD2 entrance fee) open everyday from 8am to 5pm.

The Killing Field (Choeung Ek Memorial)

Many of Cambodians who perished under the Khmer Rough regime ended up dumped in one of dozens of 'killing fields' that  can be found scattered across the country.

The killing fields were essentially ad hoc places of execution and dumping grounds for dead bodies during the Khmer Rough regime. After the Khmer Rough regime, memorials were set up at many of the sites, some containing the bones and remnants of victims gathered from the area.
 Victims clothes remaining after excavation in 1980

  This is a photo of one of the mass graves that can be found at the Killing Field in Choeung Ek.
Prior to 1975, Choeung Ek was a orchard and a Chinese cemetery. But during the Khmer Rough regime the area became one of the infamous killing fields. This particular killing field is the site of the brutal executions of more than 17,000 (I repeat 17,000!) men, women and children, most of whom has first suffered through interrogation, torture and deprivation in the S-21 Prison.
The bones and teeth fragment that were exhumed in 1980 were in the ground. Nowadays, the bones and teeth fragments have come up after the flood and heavy rain.
The Choeung Ek Memorial is now a group of mass graves, killing areas and a memorial stupa containing thousands of human skulls and long bones.

 Piece of bones remaining after excavation in 1980

Closeup of skulls at the Killing Field
A tree at the killing field they used to hang speakers and blare music to drown out the cries and screams of the dying victims.
 S-21 Prison (Toul Sleng Genocide Museum)

Prior to 1975, Toul Sleng was a high school- a set of classroom buildings in a walled compound. When the Khmer Rough came to power in 1975 they converted into the S-21 Prison and interrogation facility, administered by Kain Guek Eav, a.k.a 'Duch'. Inmates at the prison were held in tiny brick cubicles and systematically tortured, sometimes over period of months, to extract the desired 'confessions', after which victim was inevitably executed at the Killing Field.

S-21 Prison processed over 17,000 people, less than a score of whom are known to have survived. The Toul Sleng compound now serves as a museum, a memorial and a testament to the madness of Khmer Rough regime.

Much has been left in the state it was in when Khmer Rough abandoned it in 1979. The prison kept extensive records, leaving thousands of photos of their victims, many which are on display.

To me, no one should go to Cambodia without visiting both the Killing Fields and S.21 Prison. Although unpleasant and uncomfortable to witness the madness of Khmer Rough, but it is important to know and understand the history... Reading from books or internet cannot compare to standing there, imagine how it happens.

Our third stop was to the Royal Palace, which serves as the residence of the King, a venue for court ceremony and as symbol of the Kingdom. It was first established at its present location when the capital was moved from Oudong to Phnom Penh in 1866 under King Norodom and French protectorate, though  the Palace did not attain its current general from until about 1920.

There are a lot of buildings at the palace, but my favorite was the Wat Preah Keo Morokat a.k.a 'Temple of the Emerald Buddha' and the 'Silver Pagoda' for the 5329 silver tiles that cover the floor, each hand crafted and weighing 1.125kg.

The vihear serves less as a functioning temple than a repository for cultural and religious treasures. The primary Buddha, sitting on a gilded dais above others is the Emerald Buddha. In-front stands Buddha Maitreya, a 90kg golden standing Buddha encrusted with 2086 diamonds.

Carl and I took many pictures in front of 'Temple of the silver pagoda because taking photos inside are not allowed. You can see everything from the window but you are prohibited from entering.
Great experience in Phnom Penh.

After this visit, we headed to hotel, packed our bags and another long journey to the other part of Cambodia, Siem Reap.

Next stop: Angkor Wat to see some of the most spectacular archeological ruins on earth!

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