Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Phnom Penh

I'm writing this from the coastal town of Sihanoukville where we stayed over one night so we can catch a boat this morning out to an island 20 miles off the Cambodian coast for a few days of laziness. This town however is the classic cliched SE Asian tourist mecca - backpacker bars along the beach and rampant sexual exploitation by sleazy old white guys. While I'm sure the locals like the money, they must despair what their town has turned into.

We spent the previous several days in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Considering that the city was emptied in the late 70s because of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge thugs, it has recovered remarkably well. No doubt, it contains some of the worst poverty I've seen yet. Lots of begging, and whole families sleeping rough. But there is also a real buzz and optimism that I really liked.

From a sightseeing standpoint, it was quite emotional as we visited the Killing Fields, one of the places where the Khmer Rouge executed thousands of innocent people. While I was certainly aware of the atrocities that occurred here, seeing this place really drove home the horrors of this all too recent period in Cambodian history. Seeing a monument containing over 5000 human skulls, and wandering beside fields full of mass graves is a feeling I can't quite describe. This followed by a visit to the S-21 prison where people where tortured and forced to confess to non-existent crimes before being sent to the Killing Fields. It has been left as it was found when the country was liberated, with torture devices still in place and faded blood stains still quite visible. Humbling.

No comments: