Cambodian History Lesson

We had two days to visit Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh. The first day was mainly spent drinking and dancing for Chinese New Year which left us with one day to hit the major sights.

Phnom Penh is quite a lively town and not nearly as crowded as other Asian capitals. Sadly, other than the Silver Pagoda its main tourist attractions are the Choeung Ek Killing Fields and the S-21 Prison Museum, souvenirs of the Khmer Rouge's brief but brutal rule.

We hired a tuk-tuk driver to bring us out to the Killing Fields which sit about 15km outside the city. Not much remains here but a large monument has been ereted holding the skulls and bones of thousands of victims to have been found in the mass graves on site. Some information is displayed on panels desribing the executions and the mass graves, and poor children wait outside the gates of the site asking for money. Few if any Cambodians visit the site, our tuk-tuk driver explained that nobody wants to think about it. The next stop on the Khmer Rouge Circuit is the even more gruesome S-21 museum, a highschool turned prison. Here records of prisoners were diligently kept and their "confessions" recorded after sometimes long painful extractions. The photos of the sad faces of men, women, children, babies and elderly holding their prison cards are heartbreaking. On the top floor of the prison is an exhibit telling the stories of young Cambodians who joined the Khmer Rouge only to themselves by executed later in various "inner purges". Almost all prisoners of S-21 were eventually executed at the Choeung Ek Killing Fields that we had earlier visited. Of the four top Khmer Rouge generals, three have died of natural causes, the only who is alive and living as a free man is the former head of the S-21 prison.
We had got our lessons in Cambodia's sad and violent past and in the afternoon we visited a site that the country is more proud of, the Silver Pagoda and the Royal Palace.

We lined up with hundreds of other tourists (mainly Cambodians) to gain access to the grounds of the Silver Pagoda and Royal Palace. After a lengthy wait we purchased our tickets and as we were passing through the gates we were stopped by the clothing police. Actually, Yann and I were waved through, but Margaux was stopped. She was indecently dressed, her shorts too short! What a scandal! Luckily, the Cambodians have encountered this problem quite frequently and they have gigantic pants ready to lend out to foreigners. I had a good laugh at Margaux's expense, but she was definetely not the only person directed to the pant-rental counter.
The grounds were quite busy and we shuffled around admiring all the buildings. We decided not to enter any of them, because the queues were long and the buildings extremely crowded. As we were getting ready to leave we still hadn't found the Silver Pagoda, although we had asked directions from several people. All had told us that "they had just been there" and that "it isn't far", but we couldn't find it despite circling around what we thought were all the buildings on site. We sat in the shade to rest, discouraged with our inability to find the main attraction. We made one last attempt to get directions to the Silver Pagoda. It turns that the "Silver Pagoda" is somewhat of a misnomer, its name comes from the fact that it has a sterling silver tile floor. We had probably passed the building 5 times commenting on the crowds of people waiting to get in. We joined the crowd for a chance to walk on the silver floor and admire the Buddha statue encrusted with a gagillion karat diamond, then we were happy. We could now head back to our hotel on the lakeside to pack our bags for Sihanoukville, looking forward to two days of beach.


Margox said...

Yes, I was wearing pretty short shorts, BUT we hadn't planned to visit the pagoda that day, it was a last minute decision... otherwise I would have dressed appropriately!!!

It was a bit embarrassing to be told I was not decent enough to enter.

Both historical sites were very sobering...the S-21 museum also had lots of photos of very emaciated people who had been severely tortured and appeared to be near death...pretty horrifying.

Anonymous said...


Encore moi
Nous sommes le 8 mars et c'est la journée de la femme alors Emilie laisse toi gatée.
Encore la matante préférée