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Discovering Extremes in Cambodia

CAMBODIA | Wednesday, 8 September 2010 | Views [282]

Cambodia was a mix of stunning beauty, a gruesome past, horrible poverty, beggars, trash and vast affluent kingdoms. I only spent four days in the country, spread out between the cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

Phnom Penh is home to S-21 (Tuol Sleng) an old school yard that was used during the Khmer Rouge regime as a prison and torture center. It was eerie walking through a school yard; the vision of children happily learning being so close but obscured by barbed wire fences, torture tools and pictures of victims. It is horrible to think an innocent school helping to foster the education of future generation could be converted into such horrid a place.

More remnants of the Khmer Rouge brutality lie a bit outside the city; the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) where almost 9,000 people were killed. I rented a bike one day and made the trek out there. As I toured the grounds there lay the hallowed earth from mass burial sites, the killing tree where prisoners would be slammed into the trunk until their death, bones and clothing of the victims. It was gruesome. Lastly, I entered the memorial Stupa to find the skulls of many of the victims. Thousands of skulls, smashed and broken right there, with nothing separated you from the death. I could have reached out and touched the skulls. I left quickly. 

The city was not just full of painful memories of the past. I toured the Royal Palace which was a spectacular display of wealth and riches. The grounds were spectacular; flowers and fountains everywhere. The Silver Pagoda was incredible with it's solid silver floor tiles. A place fit for a king.

In Siem Reap it was more extremes. The temples of Ankor Wat were stunning. Massive structures of ancient wealth and religion. I toured the temples over two days and just as impressive as the buildings was the number of beggars at each temple. Every time I pulled up and parked my bike I was greeted with beggars trying get a dollar or sell something; water, pictures, paintings, books, bracelets, food, junk... everything. It was overwhelming and tiring to navigate through.

Overall I have to say that Cambodia is an amazing place and I hope to be back soon.

Tags: cambodia, genocide, temples, travels


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