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CAMBODIA: Part Two: Phnom Penh

CAMBODIA | Wednesday, 14 December 2011 | Views [337]

We arrived in the capital and largest city of Cambodia after a fairly short (4-6 hour) bus ride from Siem Reap. Phnom Penh is a beautiful city… very French, from its architecture to sidewalk cafes, bakeries and more. The city is located along the banks of the Mekong River and walking along the river at night with Travis reminded me of walking along the Seine in Paris. One day we will walk along that river hand-in-hand as well and maybe think of the Mekong and Phnom Penh.

Of course, with its' beauty came its' history… a very brutal side to such a beautiful and once again thriving city. After a day or two of walking around the city, enjoying happy hour at the FCC (Foreign Correspondence Club— today a bar/restaurant/hotel… in the 70’s it was a hub and a home from home for the journalists and photographers who were capturing the sites and stories of the Vietnam war and subsequent years), we went to The Killing Fields.

There are a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime. The regime’s rule of the country lasted from 1975 to 1979. Of course visiting a site like this is incredibly gut and heart wrenching… and extremely painful. It was hard to know that where we stood and walked was where so much fear was felt and such brutality occurred. You can see I posted some of the pictures.

We also visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (a former high school used as a concentration camp by the Khmer Rouge).  You could tell it had once been a school. There were still some chalkboards on the walls and it was easy to see what were once classrooms had been turned into small cells, detention and torture chambers. The building now houses exhibits, paintings and many photographs of the victims… there were rooms after rooms filled with pictures of anonymous victims. It was devastatingly overwhelming seeing the faces of so many men, women, children, mother’s holding their babies—knowing what happened to them and how frightened they must have been. In many of the pictures, most of them, you can see the fear in their eyes… also confusion. It was horrible.

The hotel we stayed at while we were in Phnom Penh, The Europe Guesthouse, is owned by a man named Seng and his wife, Mey. Seng’s family fled Cambodia for Paris when he was a little boy to avoid the Khmer Rouge. After 30 years in France, Seng came back to visit Phnom Penh for the first time about 10 years ago. He met his wife on this vacation. We didn’t get the chance to meet his wife or two little girls as they were away for a family wedding, but saw pictures and they’re just gorgeous!  Seng told us he would love to move back to Paris… he misses France terribly (his family and friends are all still there), but with a wife who only speaks Khmer (and has no want to leave her country or family), two young daughters and a flourishing business, Seng will most likely remain in Cambodia for awhile longer. I have a feeling they will move back to France one day. Meeting Seng was certainly a highlight of our trip.

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