Phnom Penh, Cambodia
With Angkor Wat and the many temples of the Angkor complex behind us, it was time to travel to Prek Kdam to board our ship, the lovely AmaDara. The drive to Prek Kdam included a "happy stop" at a large open air market. The tour guides call it a happy stop because you are happy to go in, happy to come out. The open air market had several vendors selling "road food" which consisted primarily of insects and other bugs. Approximately 7% of the protein intake in Cambodia is from insects, and these vendors were selling beetles, meal worms and spiders -- fried tarantulas to be exact. I marveled at the people in the market and the fried spiders. Happy room or not, Russell refused to get off the bus.
We arrive at the AmaDara and board. The ship is every bit as luxurious and welcoming as we expected it to be, and we settle in for a week-long tour of life along the Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong River. Some of the tour highlights included:
Our third day on the river brings us to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. There were some parts of Phnom Penh that were quite beautiful, such as the Royal Palace, but my memories of Phnom Penh will mostly center on the killing fields and the horror conducted there during the mid-late 1970s under the Khmer Rouge regime. We visited the nearby Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (the killing fields) and the Tuol Sleng (S-21) Genocide Museum, both of which did a good job in portraying the historical events that happened there.
A brief historical update: Upon taking power in 1975, the Khmer Rouge evacuated Phnom Penh's 2.5 million residents, stripped them of their possessions and forced them to work in the fields. Those who complained or broke rules were tortured and killed in detention centers such as the one at Tuol Sleng, the infamous S-21 detention center. The Khmer Rouge regime came to an end in 1979, when Vietnamese troops captured Phnom Penh and forced Pol Pot to retreat back into the jungles of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge received arms from China and political support from the US throughout the 1980s, but the Khmer Rouge's influence began to decrease following a 1991 ceasefire agreement and collapsed completely by the late 1990s. Pol Pot was captured in 1997 and died in his sleep a year later. To date, a UN-backed tribunal has convicted only a handful of Khmer Rouge leaders of crimes against humanity.
Unfortunately, Chris and Pamela (our friends and traveling companions) had to end the trip early due to a family emergency and departed for the US from Phnom Penh. We were sad to see them go! During our 2-day stay in Phnom Penh we also visited the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda, and several other historical landmarks. Tomorrow we cross the border back into Vietnam.
Keywords: Cambodia, Phnom Penh, killing fields
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