Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Breath of fresh air

Cambodia was a whirlwind of sights, action and amazing people. We would definitely come back to this region of the world- there is just so much to explore and learn- both from the tragic history and the resilience, strength and hope shown in the Cambodian mentality. We flew into Phnom Penh, the capital city, last Wednesday, and stayed for three nights. I was expecting just another big city, and whilst it is a business and tourist hub, Phnom Penh greeted us with such warmth, hospitality and ease that we immediately loved it. The old town of the city is bustling with a café, restaurant and cocktail bar culture, with the Mekong River acting as the centre for much of the activity. Although a bit touristy in this area, there were a million side streets and many fun places pretty much all accessible by foot, unless you succumb to one of the many tuk-tuk drivers constantly wanting to give you a lift.

Tuk-tuks abound

The palace grounds near where we staying 

 Interesting food stalls

There weren’t a lot of ‘sights’ as such, however there was the extremely important but highly confronting ‘Toul Slang’ museum- an old highschool which had been converted during the Khmer Rouge regime to become a prison and torture institution, and now serves as a Genocide Museum. The experience is disturbing and haunting, as many of the chambers, cells and torture rooms remain unchanged, and the stories and ghosts linger in the corridors. The actions of Pol Pot’s regime remain in my mind some of the most gruesome, barbaric and devastating to affect anywhere in the world, and it saddens me that the topic remains largely unknown when it affected so many people and was one of the worst genocides in history- not only that, but still affects many people today. 30 years is so heartbreakingly recent for a country to have lost over 1/5th of their population- an estimated 1.5 million people, and it is a wonder that society can still function- albeit remaining largely in poverty, but still with hope and positivity. Walking through and reading the stories of those who were captured and tortured for often no reason at all, and the history and background of this brutal regime is heartbreaking but important, and something I would highly recommend to anyone who has the chance to visit.

The rest of our time in Phnom Pehn was spent exploring the city and appreciating it for what it is- poor and affected by still recent cruelties, but a living, breathing and hopeful city with a lot to offer.

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