10.01.2012 - 13.01.2012 28 °C
After celebrating our last night with the group before we went our separate ways we found that the party was premature and through a strange twist in the fate of all our travel plans, we were all heading to Phnom Penh for stop overs before departing in three directions across Cambodia.
Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia, is a low rise but charming place although it's hectic development cannot be described as beautiful. It is in Phnom Penh where the reality of the atrocities of what the Cambodian people have had to live through is brought home to you. As such, we spent some real time in the city visiting the historical sites and learning as much as we could about the background to Cambodia. As a result this blog entry is understandably lacking many of the jokes that we previously fit in. There is also no pictures from this section of the holiday as we decided it was more respectful to learn rather than photograph. Heed the warning... you might want to stop reading now!
When you visit this city and meet the cheery smiling people it is very difficult to believe that so recently the life of the cities inhabitants was so brutally and violently disrupted. On April 17 1975 Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh and took the city as a start of the Red 'Revolution' that over the next four years led a cruel regieme to 'cleanse' the population of modern elements by murdering the educated, the young, old and disabled who were unable to work on their communal farms and anyone else that upset the leaders. Through the paranoia of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot, a quarter of the population of Cambodia died (+3million) in horrendous circumstances, lost their homes, had their families split up and suffered torture and violent re-education. We had some knowledge of what had happened during this period from films and books but when in Phnom Penh and visiting sites such as S-21, the prison where suspected dissidents were held and tortured, and the Killing Fields, where Cambodians were murdered and put in mass graves, the whole period was suddently very real and clear.
The sites are still preserved to educate on the atrocities and they promote the belief that by allowing and encouraging people to visit and understand what happened in Cambodia, it would work to stop similar terrible events happening again in the world. It also works to educate young Cambodians about their own history so that they can fully understand and appreciate the suffering of their own relatives. This is particularly important in a country where 31% of the population are under 14 and only 3% of the population are over 65. The impact left from visiting these sites showed us that the Cambodian's are successful in promoting these sites and educating people about their history. I would, strangely, reccommend a visit as it was both horrible and fascinating. However, I would also recommend a very strong drink afterwards as it is the most depressing day I have had for a long time.
After stocking up on a new Casio watch each and meandering down the river we decided to head North through Cambodia to cheer ourselves up with one of Cambodia's beautiful and altogether more cheerful attractions, the rare Irawaddy Dolphins of the Mekong River.