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Saturday, December 28, 2013

10/17: Touring Phnom Penh: the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, Wat Phnom and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

A not so pretty view outside our hotel room window day after day- we made sure to keep the blinds closed.  No idea what the men were using the wood for they collected beginning early every morning.

Walked over to the Royal Palace again in the morning so we could tour both it and the Silver Pagoda for $6.25 for each of us.

On our way to the Palace we saw this sign.  HUH?
Inside the grounds at the Royal Palace.

We luckily knew in advance that our upper arms and legs would have to be covered before touring both the Palace and Pagoda. 

Thank goodness I still have my travel info I had cut and pasted before leaving home and lugged around the world as I had forgotten that this was the Equestrian Statue of King Norodom, the 1st king of Cambodia!

Lots and lots of flower photos from the Palace and Silver Pagoda - sorry, Alexander, as I know you're not a big fan of these type of photos but Dad and I loved the different array of flowers!

Wall upon wall of murals depicted how Cambodians lived centuries ago.

With a name like this, we figured we had to visit it while at the Palace and Pagoda complex!

Turned out to be the room contained many of the conveyances used for transporting the kings and his entourages to significant events.

The White Elephant itself - not sure I'd want to sit astride this!

The entire complex was incredibly beautiful and very ornate, even many of the doors and gates.

We had to leave earlier than we'd planned because of some event taking place shortly- thus the red carpet!
Guards for the arriving dignitaries.

Then walked along the riverfront we'd seen from the FCC the night before on our way back to the hotel.

See Canada's flag!  No idea why but there is NO Canadian embassy in Cambodia - the closest is in Bangkok.

The FCC -  last night we sat on the second floor overlooking the river but we were looking forward to going back our last night in town and enjoying the view from the top floor.
After changing out of long pants worn to the Palace and Pagoda, we were picked up from the hotel at 11:45 by John, the same tuk tuk driver who had taken us from the bus station to the hotel the previous day, so we could tour parts of the city away from the center.  Our first stop with John was at Wat Phnom, the city's highest point, at just 27kms though!  Interesting to note that ALL distances in the country are calculated from this point.

Lucky us - yet more steps to climb!

No idea what this is but interesting I thought!

Inside Wat Phnom.

The smell of incense was very strong due to these and other similar sized candles.
The wat is highly revered among locals who flock here to pray for good luck including Chinese who come at their New Year.

The wat is located in a big park we walked around for a bit.  The massive serpent above and below is made of bamboo.

Just across the park is the statue of Ping, a famous Cambodian nun.

Our next stop was at the Tied Gun Monument built in 2005 to protest violence and promote peace.

4 bridges across Phnom Penh's rivers - this was the Chroy Changrar.

From the beauty and immense wealth of the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda in the morning, it was an abrupt change to tour the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.  Originally the Tuol Svay High School, "it became the notorious Khmer Rouge prison known as S-21 through whose gates more than 13, 000 people (up to 20,000 according to some estimates) passed to their deaths.  S-21 was an interrogation center designed for the educated and elite. But the regime was indiscriminate in its choice of victims: even babies and children were among those detained and subsequently slaughtered."

Many former classrooms contained iron bedsteads and the shackles used to chain the prisoners to the beds.  Prisoners were killed with knives because they would suffer more rather than bullets which were too expensive.  After the prisoners were killed in their cells, their bodies were mutilated by having their noses and eyes all bashed in so no ID was possible.

Rules for the prisoners.

Photo of the gallows below.

Our private English and French speaking tour guide, Keo Lundi, who has been giving tours at Tuol Sleng for 30 years, was only 15 when Pol Pot came to power on 4/17/75.  Mr. Lundi explained that he still gives private tours so he can pass on to a new younger generation the horrors of what happened at Tuol Sleng.

He is standing by a painting he asked his friend Van Nat, a famous Cambodian artist, to paint to depict some of the atrocities that occurred at S-21.  It was the last painting Nat completed.

Map indicating the first expulsion of the population from urban centers and cities throughout Cambodia on 4/17/75.  Within just THREE days the "Liberation" of the capital city of Cambodia was complete and the city of 2.2 million people was empty.  Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea's regime was in power for 3 years, 8 months and 20 days.  4 senior leaders of his regime are still alive today.

Prisoners were shackled in this room with their legs crossed at their ankles and arms behind their backs just inches from each other.

Another view of S-21 aka Tuol Sleng.  Our guide said it was called S-21 because the "S" referred to Security and the high number "21" indicated the prisoners at Tuol Sleng were generally the higher ranking intelligentsia. S-21 became the code used to refer to Tuol Sleng by the Khmer Rouge when talking on heir walkie talkie radios.  Barbed wire was put up on the third floor after one prisoner escaped and jumped to his death below.

We saw hundreds of individual photos of the prisoners; each one was taken by a NINE year old boy.  In the photo above, you'll notice that Pol Pot did not order just his own people to be executed but also those from the US, NZ, France, Pakistan, Thailand, etc who were thought to be affiliated with the CIA.

Notice the different tags around the prisoners' heads in above photos: the square shaped ones meant they were arrested in'75, th elong horizontal ones in '78.

Chum Mey, one of only a few survivors at Tuol Sleng.  We bought his memoir.  

One cell in a former classroom.  We measured it - it was 9 1/2 shoe lengths long by only 3 1/4 wide.

There were 16 cells to a classroom, 8 to each side.
After spending several harrowing hours at Tuol Sleng, John, our tuk tuk driver, drove us to the King Sihanouk Monument; the first anniversary of his death had been just 2 days earlier, so there were still many wreaths and people visiting the site.

Then on to the Cambodian Vietnamese Friendship Monument above and below.  Cambodians we spoke to did not consider the Vietnamese as friends now.  During the Civil War, the Vietnamese were considered to be the "brother" of Cambodia when they and Lao (what we in the West would call the country of Laos) helped Cambodians to defeat Pol Pot.  Now the Vietnamese are thought of as the "Big Brother."

It was a very welcome relief after the emotional heaviness of the day to see locals exercising and dancing en masse in a park on our way back to the hotel.  It brought back happy memories of similar scenes we had seen earlier in the trip in Beijing, Kunming and elsewhere.

FYI - John charged us just $10 for driving us around Phnom Penh from 11:45 til we got back to the hotel at 5:45.  We of course paid for his lunch and tipped him too.

1 comment:

Steven said...

This is unbelievable!!!!