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Mike & Mag's World Adventure

Temples, Genocide, and Private Beach Huts

CAMBODIA | Monday, 24 March 2008 | Views [2250] | Comments [3]

We are REALLY in Asia now! 

Currently we are in Cambodia and have been here for over a week.  We began our time here in the city of Siem Reap.  Siem Reap is famous for Angkor Wat... a complex of numerous religious temples that were built around the 10th Century.   We hired a Tuk-Tuk(a motorcycle that has a cart attached to the back of it)to take us from one temple to the next. 

 The temples ranged from having tiny detailed carvings that tell stories of war and worship to having huge spires with Hindu god's faces as well as Buddhas. The temples were absolutely captivating and the history that is told through the carvings that have lasted for centuries is breathtaking to say the least.  Each temple took over a 100 years to build.  Some temples had huge trees that were wrapping around the pillars amongst the forest and gave it a very creepy feeling.  The movie Tomb Raider, with Angelina Jolie was shot at the temple Te Prahm.

After our spiritual journey through the land of the temples, we headed south to Pnom Penh, the capitol of Cambodia.  On our first day in PP we met up with an American that recommended that we volunteer for an NGO that provides water filters to people living in poor villages of Cambodia.  Most Cambodians drink surface water as wells are too expensive and boil their water for drinking.  Still, contaminated water causes diahrrea and dehydration and makes many children sick and can kills infants as parents do not have the resources to treat waterborne illnesses. The neat thing about the NGO was that it was completely locally ran, meaning all of the employees were Khmer.  

The group of Khmer NGO workers took us to a remote village where we did education regarding the filters and then distributed them to 2 lucky families.  When we first arrived we visited the school and received several stares.  I might add that we were the first and only tourists(white people) to have ever stepped foot in this village.  Then Chourlee, the director took us to the temple where he showed us how to pray,  Buddhist style.  All of the villagers were so grateful and showered us with coconuts, food, smiles, and a lot of gratitude. 

Perhaps the most unique part of the entire day was when Chourlee, shared his story with us.  Chourlee shared that he was 6 years old when the Khmer Rouge Army took over Cambodia.  The Khmer Rouge committed one of the most horrorific human injustices of our time by murdering over 2 million people, 1/4th of the entire Cambodian population between the years of 1975-1979.  Just as the War in Vietnam Ended in 1975, Pol Pot took power and led one of the most gruesome, real-life, genocidal experiments on Earth. 

I will try to sum up the history briefly.  Pol Pot studied Marxism and believed that Cambodia should be a completely agrarian society in which everyone farmed.  Therefore, in 1975 his army forced everyone living in cities into the countryside to become farmers.  Peasants in the countryside were seen as "Ideal Citizens" and anyone with any education (doctors, teachers, people wearing glasses, or anyone that was non-Khmer was immediately taken to a killing field to be executed; often heavily tortured before being killed).  I might also add that the Khmer Army were too cheap to waste bullets on their victims so the killings were done by hammers, garden hoes, knives, or other farming equipment... anything they could find. 

Luckily, Chourlee's family was living in the countryside during that time so the soldiers and Pol Pot's Regime treated his family much better than most.  However, he still lost 2 of his brothers to starvation and still told us stories of how he worked 14 hr days in the rice field and very little of the food was ever given to the workers.  He was also brutally punished for doing minimal things. 

As you can see, the history here is very raw and there are several people still walking the streets of Cambodia that have seen things that I can not even imagine. And, for Chourlee to share his experience with Mike and I... Wow!  Most Khmers never talk about the war, so we felt very special that he opened up to us, even though we knew it was very painful for him to share his story.

After our visit to the village we visited the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum the following day.  That was a heavy day.  The museum is called S-21 or Tuel Sleng, previously a school, which functioned as the detention center (aka torture facility)that people visited before they were sent to the Killing Field.  The museum still had drippings of blood on the floor and everything in place as it was left in 1975.  The pictures and images that we saw that day will haunt me forever.  I can say very honestly that I have never seen such terrible things in my entire life.  I became physically ill from the photographs and the entire experience. 

There is an upside to this sad story.  One of which is that the Cambodian people are SURVIVORS.  Despite the terrible things that they have lived through, they are the happiest people alive and have been more kind to us than any other people in all the countries that we have visited. Secondly, it has made us appreciate how fortunate we are to have a full and healthy family, safe drinking water, libraries with books, free school(here most children can't afford to go to school, doctors and medicine, food to eat... the list goes on and on.

After having spent 2 rough days in PP we decided that we needed a break from skulls and headed down to the beach.  That is where we are now and it is paradise!  Tomorrow we're catching a boat to an Island where we are told that the beaches are empty and basically it will be our private island (with a handful of other tourists).  Everynight we eat "BBQ" aka fresh grilled seafood consisting of baracuda, squid, red snapper, shrimp prawn... with potatoes, vegetables and salad.  Ummmm it is so delicious.  We really feel like we're on vacation now!

Once again, all is well!  We are learning something new everyday and remembering everyone back home!  We love you and miss you and are so grateful for your comments, emails, and love!


Maggie and Mike



Your Jayhawks easily defeated their first two opponents in the NCAA tournament and will face Villanova in the Sweet 16 this weekend. Will keep you posted!


  Julie Mar 25, 2008 3:51 AM


Go Jayhawks! We miss you and glad you are having a great trip!!

  Amy Mar 26, 2008 4:12 PM


What amazing experiences- I am so excited you got to see that history and hear personal accounts...and lay on the beach!

  Ashlee Crowl Apr 4, 2008 12:57 AM

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