Ankor Wat, one of the world's greatest achievements against the impact of humankind darkest moments, the Khmer Rouge regime.
31.10.2012 - 25.11.2012 30 °F
For those who don’t know where Cambodia is, well it is nestled between Thailand (West), Vietnam (East) and Laos just above it. Thousands of travellers flock to Cambodia for 1 reason and that is to check out Angkor Wat but not many people like me knew anything about the Khmer Rouge regime. This brutal civil war culminated in the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979. During this period thousands of Cambodians, including the vast majority of the country’s educated people, were relocated to the countryside, tortured to death or executed. Thousands of people who spoke foreign languages or wore spectacles were branded as ‘parasites’ and systematically killed. Hundreds and thousands more died of mistreatment, malnutrition and disease. Almost 2 million Cambodians died during this period as a direct result of the policies of the Khmer Rouge. It was in 1978 when Vietnam had invaded and overthrew the Khmer Rouge who had fled westward in to the jungles bordering Thailand. At this point millions of Cambodians set off by foot looking for lost ones, family members who may have survived the apocalypse. What was even more alarming for me was after 2 decades of out came out agreement between the UN and the Cambodian government who created the first court to bring surviving members to trail. The ring leader of this revolution, Pol Pot had escaped punishment when he died at the comfort of his own home in 1998.
Cambodia city Phnom Penh is unique in its own way combining charm and cold sadness, from the waterfront shops, promenade and palm trees to Tuol Sleng Museum. This museum is not for the faint hearted but it hides nothing! Illustrating very disturbing and uncensored look into the darkest side of what the living conditions were for the Cambodians during the genocide period.
Not knowing much of the Khmer Rouge I decided to visit Tuol Sleng Museum to learn more about what had happened. This is the far most intense museum experience (apart from The Nelson Mandela Museum, Johannesburg) I have been to during my travels, where silence doesn’t have to be requested – the power of speech is simply lost here. Class rooms were converted into slaughter rooms, with single rusty beds that still remain with a black and white picture of what was left of the victim. On some of the floors you will find barb wire draped around ‘exit route’ from stopping Cambodians ending their own life. Suffering is what was these Cambodians had gone through I am talking about everyone from little boys and girls, adults and senior citizens! Pol Pots regime had converted this school into one of the largest detention and torture centre. Almost everyone held here was later executed at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Detainees who died during the torture were buried in mass graves inside the prison grounds (100 victims a day). During my visit I actually came by some of the survivors who stood next to their cell and talked about their experience.
Walking through the killing fields broke me down! There are 129 mass graves, 43 of which have never been disinterred. As you enter you will see this blinding white stupa that serves as a memorial to approximately 17,000 men, women and children who were executed here by Pol Pot regime. Due to weather erosion you could make out pieces of cloth submerging from the soil of the deceased, there was a killing tree that was used to bash little children against the bark until broken and then chucked in the mass grave. All this was very overwhelming but to see Cambodian now they are the most humble nation that I have come across. As much as this was a disturbing experience it is a must to actually appreciate what this country has gone through not so long ago.
After the shocking history of Phnom Penh I decided to head towards the coast and go to KohTonsay Island aka Rabbit Island. It is your typical under developed island with simple beach huts and nothing to do but to chill out, warm waters to go swimming, tubing or the odd snorkelling but I was taught how to do a forward roll in the water…I know what you guys are thinking lol but I finally done it yay! I remember I had the most amazing evening when I, Emmanuelle and the local Cambodia guy went swimming in the evening for a couple of hours. The sky was covered by stars and the waters were illuminated with the fluorescent algae which would alight when ever we moved around combined with back flips and more forward rolls/hand sides. A great night!
I actually started my Cambodian adventure in taking 10days out to try out Vipassana meditation, the centre was held in Battambamg. I have never been in a room full of 66 women and 50 men that exuberated pure silence 24hrs a day. Our day started at 4am where we would hear the sound of the alarm going off. At 4.30am we were summoned to the Dhamma Hall (meditating hall) for a 2hrs meditation. Each sitting that we undertook was occupied by an audio instructing us what to do/feel etc. At 6.30pm we would hear the dong go off and then we all go to the diner room for breakfast. We all had to sit facing the window, the wall or other persons back never face to face. From 8am till 9am we would go for our 2nd sitting, followed by a 5minute break then from 9am-11am our third sitting. At 11am we would sit for lunch and we would be free to do other chores till 1am. At 1pm till 5pm we would have hourly sittings with a 5min interval after every hour. Between 5pm – 6pm we would sit for dinner and then 6pm-7pm another sitting. 7pm till 8pm we would attend an hour discourse session where we would sit and watch a video highlighting of what we should/have learnt on day 1, 2, etc. Our last meditation sitting was from 8pm-9pm. This was repeated for 10 days. At 1st you could imagine day was kind of exciting as I was new to this, come day three (the breaking point) I was finding it hard to be quiet and not being able to make any conversation/physical contact with others. By the end of this experience I found myself very relaxed, chilled out, happy and full of compassion! Leaving the centre and entering Phnom Penh was very hard, very nosy/chaotic but the techniques that I acquired during my stay at the centre has helped me get through the most stressful moments that I have had so far.
My last stop in Cambodia was to visit Siem Reap. This was my favourite place to stay but the bus ride was not that pleasant lol. A very chilled out town that resemblance Amsterdam with the canals and mini bridges. Hiring bicycles and getting lost is one of the past times to do around here but the main attraction is Ankor Wat. You are offered three different packages (1 day for $20, 3 day £40 and for 7 days $60) I chose to do the 1 day and I managed to get to see all the main temples on bicycle (as I was feeling alike superwomen lol but hiring a tuk tuk for $15 is always another option). The ruins are no doubt amazing to look at but I don’t know how some people could do 7 days of this lol. It was an early start for me, leaving the hostel at 4.30am to see sunrise at Ankor wat and then making my way to the sunset temple at 5.30pm. I reached back to my hostel (Tropical Breeze hostel – rooms were at $4 a night with free coffee and free use of bicycles) at 19pm. To eat out was relatively cheap (and most of the souvenirs you could barter but overall a lot cheaper then other parts of Cambodia. I brought myself a hammock for $2 and 2 dresses for $9 but this was only with help of a local friend who I had met in my mediation course.
Throughout Cambodia there was one thing that stood out for me and yet I still can not understand why this was a trend…most women would wear cartoon animated trouser night suit as everyday wear…puzzling lol. Most convient way to get to places is to ride a cycle and you will see little children who can barley touch the pedals cycling on adult bicycles to and from school, with their friends sitting in a make shift extra seat. The only one thing that I found confusing was the combination of using 2 different currencies, you would pay for an item in Cambodian Riel and you will receive you change in US Dollars (vice versa). Lastly, I digged learning how to cook a few Cambodian dishes at my friend’s home esp the fresh spring rolls Cambodia is a country to enjoy but you may feel ants in you pants after 2/3 weeks…I was here for 1 month.