The last day of our visit in Phnom Penh was spent at the S21 Khmer Rouge Prison and the Killing Fields. Not the most uplifting way to spend our last day in the capital, but it is an integral part of the history which had a profound affect on the Cambodian people. The Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot whose ideology was based on an extreme version of Maoism and a belief in the superiority of the Khmer people (the predominant ethnic group). Two million people living in Phnom Penh were ordered to move to the country and confined to cooperative farms. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, the educated and minorities were imprisoned and killed. The sites where people were killed and buried became known as the “killing fields”. The Khmer Rouge’s attempt to create a completely self-sufficient agrarian society led to thousands of deaths from starvation and overwork.
The following are some of the signs seen near and around the mass graves sites:
This was quite a disturbing and chilling experience. I didn’t take photos of the grave sites because they were just huge depressions in the ground. An estimated 1.5 million people were killed during Pol Pot’s reign of terror. Approximately 9,000 bodies were found here in mass graves.
We returned to our hotel a bit early. We decided to have room service as it didn’t cost anything extra. I had had a really delicious Cambodian fish dish called Fish Amok the first night. We ordered it again and decided to split the meal and then have sorbet for dessert. We enjoyed our last evening meal. After packing most of our things, we were ready to leave the next morning. We got up in plenty of time to go to the cafe for breakfast. It was crowded, but we found some seats. We ordered omelets and toast. I decided to check out while we were waiting and when I came back Shawn said that the waiter had brought us croissants which we hadn’t ordered. Shawn explained the order again and we waited some more. I could see that Dave had arrived so we just got up and left. The guide returned a book to Dave that he had left in the tour van so we said good by and thanked him again. The ride back to Seam Reap took about 5 hours – some bumpy roads but mostly well-paved highways. I don’t think Shawn or I took many photos along the way. Dave gave us a flash drive which had a few photos of myself and Shawn. I told him I would copy them and leave the flash drive for him at the Hotel desk. We were staying at the Victoria Angkor Hotel which we had enjoyed immensely. Besides the flash drive, I left him a photography book written by my teachers here in San Diego. Shawn and I hadn’t had many opportunities to look for souvenirs. We looked in the Victoria Hotel shop and found lots of things but they were rather expensive. I talked Shawn into going to the night market. As soon as we arrived at the hotel and ate dinner, we got a tuk-tuk and traveled to the closest night market. I thought it was really fun with lots of interesting goods and souvenirs. We walked around and found a few things and looked for another tutk tuk and returned to the hotel. When we were in Seam Reap the first time, we were taken to a very nice local shop with many lovely artisan products. We decided to return the morning of our departure and buy some of the things we had seen and liked. Our flight took off in the afternoon so we had plenty of time to go out in the morning. After enjoying breakfast, we went to find a tuk tuk. Tuk tuks were always waiting in front of the hotel so no problem in getting one. The driver took us right to where we wanted to go and said he would wait for us. We browsed around the shop which had high-quality goods as well as an excellent variety and of course, high prices. We got back into the tuk tuk and the driver said he knew another place so we had some time and said ok. It was actually a more expensive shop with fewer goods and nothing we were interested in. I told the driver we wanted good quality but inexpensive. He said he knew just the shop. We stopped in front of an eclectic store with lots of unusual things we hadn’t seen before. I had been looking for a wooden buddha. Shawn found what he wanted and we bargained them down to a good price. Happily, we hopped on the tuk tuk and returned to the hotel. I went to the hotel shop and checked the prices of some of the same things that we bought. I was happy to discover that what we had bought was half the price of the hotel shop. The company that did our tour was also responsible for our ride to the airport. The driver was right on time. We arrived at the small airport with plenty of time to wander about and get to our gate. I think both Shawn and I were happy to be heading home. It had been a difficult trip in many ways but also interesting and eye-opening.
Just a few thoughts on our Cambodian adventure: The positive points – we traveled and saw a lot of the country, we had a very active tour and did many things – some fun, some not, we enjoyed most of the hotels, the food was tasty, for the most part, the majority of Cambodians we met were friendly and finally, we took some great photos. The negative points – our photography guide was socially inept, lacked important photography skills, poor teaching skills, and unprepared to lead a tour. To say the least, he was a big disappointment. I felt that although we paid quite a bit, the company did the tour in an inexpensive manner – our transportation was old – windows didn’t work, the car wouldn’t start at least 3 times, doubt there were any shock absorbers. The lunches paid for by the company were low quality. Guides were often hard to understand and we were not told in advance there would be three local guides. Food prices were a lot higher than expected. I guess I could go on with the negatives but in the end – it was a learning experience and we are both glad that we had the opportunity to travel to Cambodia.