July 15, 2005

touring phnom penh

some of the sights here in phnom penh can be pretty grim.

we started or sighseeing by going to the Choeung Ek killing fields. this is an area 14 km outside of town where the khmer rouge killed everyone from the S-21 prision (and others) and threw them into mass graves. some of the mass graves have been exhumed, but most have not. a large monument has been created which contains a large number of skulls from some of the exhumed graves. when you walk around the site and look down you realize that in many areas you walking on bits of clothes and bones that are slowly being exposed from the ground. not exactly a happy place.
after this we went to S-21, aka the Tuol Sleng Museum. this was a high school that was converted by the khmer rouge into a prision. it was used to processes counter revolutionaries and usually extract "confessions" from them. once someone was sent to the prision, that was it. there are only seven known survivors from this prision. anyone that went there was killed to keep the location and even the existence of the prision a secret.
for more info about S-21 and the Choeung Ek killing fields go read rondas blog entry about these places.
after S-21 the mood lightened a bit. we went to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. this palace blew away any we had seen in vietnam and would have made any french king proud. (actually, in the grounds there was a building donated by Napolean III. architecturally it stood out quite a bit.) the silver pagoda got it's name because the entire floor is made of pure silver tiles. it also has a bunch of gold buddhas studded with diamonds and other precious stones to match. while we were there, the old king (a new one was crowned last year) stepped out of the royal residence and gave a wave to a large crowd of people.
lastly we went to were the National Museum (which was pretty nice and had a large amount of carvings from angkor and some other items of national heritage) and the central market. (i like to try to go the main markets of every town i visit here.)
the one interesting thing i didn't do was go out to shoot guns. i've read stories about cafes outside of town here where you can shoot AK-47s, M16s, and grenade launchers for fun. in my tour guide it said that recently the government was trying to shut these places down. it seems like this is probably a half hearted effort since i got my first offer from a tuk-tuk driver to go to one of these cafes within an hour of arriving.

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