Next up was Cambodia. Cambodia was perhaps the biggest surprise of the whole trip. Cambodia surfaced recently in the news again, because the Khmer Rouge trials began last week. Aside from that horrible part of their history, it’s been one of the most amazing countries I’ve visited.
For those not familiar with the country, it’s situated right of Thailand and is somewhat odd-shaped.
What surprised me was the fact that this country, which had it’s population decimated under the Khmer Rouge-regime during the 70-80’s is eagerly making up for lost times by innovating and creating. It’s been estimated that as much as 2,000,000 cambodians lost their lives during this regime, making it the most lethal of the 20th century.
More after the jump…
As said before we crossed the border through Thailand, a country with whom it’s in dispute concerning temple-owning rights. The whole procédé of crossing the border is a funny experience. We arrived in Siem Reap in the evening after an 8 hour bus trip.
Cambodia, and more precisely the province of Siem Reap is home to the Angkor Wat temple complex, one of the 7 world wonders. It is huge. By huge I mean, the outer wall dimensions are 1024×802. Meters that is. That’s right, the wall is over a kilometer long and that’s only the main temple complex. There are dozens of smaller temples surrounding the main temple. One of the most famous temples is the Ta Prohm-temple which became famous because it served as a filming location for Lara Croft : Tomb Raider
A noteworthy thing is the level of detail. Everything from simple murals, to statues, to doorframes is perfectly detailed. Every single curve carved in the stone is well-executed. This is a trademark of the cambodians, who are extremely dedicated to their tasks.
Angkor Wat is certainly one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in my life, and a future visit is certainly needed to see more of this incredible complex.
On a side note, if you’re in Siem Reap, be sure to visit the “Angkor What?” Bar. One of the best things to do in pub street, and the place where you’ll get the best bang for your buck(et). Pun totally intended. 5$ gets you a bucket of your favorite mixed drink. After a couple of those, hilarious stories often entail and they aren’t optional.
We then headed down to Pnomh Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Sadly, the interesting things to see in PP are the more tragic reminders of the Red Khmer regime. Tuol Sleng & Choeung Ek.
Tuol Sleng, more commonly known as S-21 Prison was an interment camp where dissident citizens were brought to be ‘retained’. Retained was really a cover word, because they were extermination camps, but these camps were very different from the Nazi camps, which were built on the premise of mass-destruction. Tuol Sleng, sadly was built on the premise of excruciating pain and death as a result of that. In some way, the people in nazi camps were the lucky ones, as their death sentences were executed quicklier and with less torture.
The feeling you get once entering the prison is really hard to describe. It’s bone-chilling and really frightening. It’s very recent, so the marks of suffering are still there. You can easily spot bloodstains, nail-carvings in the wall, the list is long.
After that we headed to Choeung Ek, some 15kms outside of the capital. Choeung Ek is more commonly known as The Killing Fields. Some might recognize this title, as it’s the title of a 1984 movie starring John Malkovich.
Choeng Ek served as a mass-execution site for dissident citizens. People were beaten, smashed, shoveled and poisoned to death here but not shot. Bullets were too expensive or unavailable. They were then burried under shallow ground, which results in the fact that when there are intense rains, bones and pieces of clothing surface which is to say the least, horrible.
The site is now a protected site, and a pagode has been built at the entrance to remember all those who were killed there. All the bones, skulls and others that have been found have been put on display there. Quite the sight.
And this is what amazes me about Cambodia. Despite the fact that these events were rather recent, it’s a country that’s growing incredibly fast, and the population is really bent on moving on and developing the country, which is to admire.
We didn’t really visit other things in Cambodia, as we had to leave for Vietnam that was waiting for us.
Stay tuned for part III, and take care!