Phnom Penh

The Cambodian love fest continued as we travelled from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, the capital of the country. We stayed at “Eighty8” Hostel, situated in an old colonial-esque home with beautiful windows, modern bathrooms, and of course, a pool (and pool table!). We were realizing that pools were absolutely essential to surviving the heat of Cambodia.

On our first day, we decided to tackle the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a haunting and eerie school turned torture camp and prison. The whole area was creepy down to the core. There were photos of the victims, the original beds that they were strapped to and tortured on, and displays of the weapons used to inflict that torture. 

Walking through the concrete hallways and looking at all the faces of the victims was distressing. The Khmer Rouge went to great lengths to hurt and kill those they believed to be KGB/CIA agents, but it turned out that most of their victims (if not all) were innocent people who were truly just tailors or painters. Although the experience of walking through Tuol Sleng was not an enjoyable one, I am definitely glad I went to pay my respects to the brutal history this country has experienced. It’s important to see the tragedies as well as the beauties. It’s important to recognize how much pain the Cambodians have been through and better understand just how precious those smiles on their faces really are. 

After the horrifying experience at Tuol Sleng, our group wasn’t too excited for touring the Killing Fields. Yet while the prison complex was horrifying and eerie, the fields were beautiful and peaceful. The grass was green, a sweet breeze was blowing, and the trees sheltered us from the sun. Being in such a beautiful place made it difficult to imagine the brutalities that happened there. 

Jenny purchased an audio guide and repeated what she heard to us — this is where they beat babies against a tree, this is where the trucks full of people would arrive, this is where they shot the women. There were skull pieces, bones, and teeth still evident in the ground. Apparently, when it rains, the workers at the Killing Fields collect hundreds and dozens of bone pieces. The ground still bleeds from the tragedies of the Khmer Rouge.

We headed back to the centre of town (The Killing Fields were a bumpy one-hour ride away) and walked around the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, and National Museum. The temples were dazzlingly brilliant, but the lack of signs or descriptions made it difficult for us to understand what everything was —when was it built, who lived here? The Museum was a little more on point with its descriptions, but other than the relaxing interior garden, there wasn’t much to see. 

Cambodia was a whirlwind five day experience. It’s hard to believe that one can fall in love so fast, but with this country, it was truly love at first sight. If I had to return to only one out of the five countries we visited, it would hands down be Cambodia. Maybe next time around, I could actually come back with a baby in hand (legally, of course). 

Highs: Walking along the riverside, Eighty8 Hostel, the beauty of the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, the tragedy of Tuol Sleng Prison and the Killing Fields

Lows: The intense sadness and dismay learning about the history of Cambodia, the lack of information at tourist sights