Emotional Phnom Penh

After what turned out to be one of the most incredible places I have been to, Siem Reap came to a close and we headed to Phnom Penh to visit the Killing Fields and S-21, the prison where so many were captured and held before being taken to their final resting place of the Killing Fields which so many were killed with no reason but fear, paranoia, and ignorance–the fuel of war and crime.

We started our day by going by Tuk Tuk to the Killing Fields to learn about the crimes that went on during 1975-1979 when the Khmer Rouge came into power after a 17 century monarchy rule. This new regime promised to stop the corruption that had been going on in the government, so at the beginning, the people were happy. But that quickly came to a close when the regime tried to cleanse their society of culture, currency, and family to instill a strict communist regime. What that required is far from imaginable, especially in being so close in history to my birth.

After quite a ride in the tuk tuk with dust so bad our driver stopped to get us masks, we arrived at the memorial of the Killing fields that was a tower commemorating the 10th anniversary of the liberation. The memorial is enshrined in glass, which encases skulls, bones, and remains of the ones who were killed unjustly in this barbaric place.

We were provided audio guides which were so informative, and truly laid out the sequence of events of what happened here, and while it’s not a joyous memory, it was one of the most fascinating history lessons I’ve had in a long while. One of the many reasons my love of travel is the fact of being able to learn things in true perspective, locality, and in reality that etches the events moreso than reading in a history book, or sitting in a lecture ever did.

We continued around the marked path seeing the ditches that still remain, along with bones that still arise during heavy rains. A movie told us more about the events, and provided even more information to understand the horror of what 40% of the population of Cambodia at that time were facing. Over 3 million were killed in this tirade of power which was quickly overthrown, but the devastation of the population can still be felt behind their amazing openness and kindness to even foreigners in their country.

We then headed towards the city again by our driver, and stopped by the Russian Markets, a huge marketplace selling everything. While the markets tend to sell the same thing over and over, it is fun to see what they have, and sometimes you do find unique items that require a bargaining to win.

We then had lunch and continued shopping around before we were brought to the S-21 Prison camps where we met our tour guide for another emotional journey back in time to the actual torture rooms that people were held in. Her information was so real, so raw, and so moving, especially when it got personal for her to tell how her mom miraculously survived the imprisonment, working in the fields nonstop with only 2 meals a day, with literally only the clothes on her back. Half way through the tour, she kept mentioning the 4 survivors who were still alive from the torture, and that one was on site selling his book because he is getting old and he wants his story to be told.

We walked over to his little stand in the middle of the yards where just 35 years prior, was the scene of his barbaric torture, a nightmare that I cannot imagine how he could ever forgive, survive, much less return to. After meeting, we were able to take a picture with him, and you could feel his kindness, and it broke my heart to know someone had endured such a tragedy, and was still alive to talk about it. While people at war have horrible stories of seeing death and killing, this man saw a holocaust that one never even hears about, yet it was nearly half the people that were killed in the Jewish Holocaust, all fueled by the same ignorance.

After this museum, we headed back to clean up and go out for dinner and walk the Mekong River that winds through the downtown riverfront. It was a beautiful day, educational, and timely in encouraging a reflection upon what’s truly important in life, how nondiscriminatory our birthright is, and how lucky I feel to have been born on free soil.

3 Days at Angkor Wat

This morning we decided to get up way early to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. During our flight last night, we met up two US girls (one from Nepal and one from Colombia) who were med students at Stanford on a vacation before they move to do their residencies. They had already booked a driver and tour guide for the next day to do this, so we decided to tag along and split the price.


It was a little hard to get up that early in the morning to make sure we were on time, but we did it, and had a great breakfast from our beautiful hotel, the Golden Butterfly. The people here were amazing, and were a beautiful welcome to Cambodia. We got picked up by the driver, and headed out to Angkor to join the crowds who were all awaiting the same sunrise.

Coming into the grounds of Angkor, you can see through the tree lined street the walls that create the outer wall of Angkor, and I knew we were close to getting a glimpse of the marvel of the 7th wonder of the world. My tire subsided with the excitement of seeing this 7th world wonder.


We got out of the car and headed to the front and you could see the formation of the stunning Angkor Wat sitting there peacefully. As we walked towards the water area where most of the people tend to take their pictures, I started to wonder if we would see a great sunrise or not with the amount of clouds that were creating a drowned light. Unfortunately, those famous pink skies and blues were hidden and  I didn’t really get any great pictures (that I think) of the sight.

We then went in and got started with our description from our tourguide about the history of Angkor Wat. I quickly realized that the tour guide, while very knowledgeable about the topic, was extremely slow in his delivery of everything. It made it a bit trying to listen to, and I quickly faded in and out of interest, picture taking, hunger, tiredness, back to trying to listen to see if I’d missed something. I remembered about my trip to the D-Day beaches and felt if only I had had a similar tour guide, that it would have really changed my understanding of the site.

We then continued through the gates of Angkor to behold the interior walls, walkways, stairs, and statues, and it was interesting, because we seemed to have the place to ourselves often. Most of my pictures will not have anyone in them, which is great. The rain that quickly poured and caused everyone to scatter may have been to blame, however, I was glad this was the case. We walked around for a while until we went to lunch.


We then continued on making our rounds to various temples around the area. They all started to look alike after a bit, and after the early, early morning, we were starting to fade fast. After a brief rest, we met up with the girls again for dinner and headed to the night markets to check it out.

The next day, we decided to do a different driver, and we went to do a hike up to a waterfall that we had read about. It was on the way to another temple that we wanted to see, so it worked out perfectly.

After a hefty hike up a mountain, we were a bit disappointed as to what was ahead at Kbal Spean. We had grandious expectations of a huge waterfall, with some craved Buddha hiding behind, but instead, we found about a 12 foot tall waterfall pushing out some water with some carvings of turtles in the creek bed, along with lying Buddhas. We left with a bit of a chuckle, and headed onward to the next temple.

Banteay Srei, is a beautiful temple that was my favorite. The intricate details that are still so visible made this such a beautiful temple, albeit small, it was a great display of what artistic ability the people had a thousand years ago. Walking atop the same dirt land that so many generations before walked atop is a really incredible thought. The ruins help you realize what life could have been like.


After a few more temples, the heat had taken its toll, and we just needed to go back and get some rest and a massage :) That night we headed back to Angkor to watch the sunset. Seeing the same temple in a different light was really cool. The grounds were literally desolate as everyone was outside watching from different vantage points. We then met Daniel, an Aussie traveling for 7 months now on just $1000. After our fun evening at the ruins watching the sunset, we headed back to grab some dinner. We met up with Daniel again, and had a fun dinner which ended with great entertainment.

All of a sudden, a little 12 year old girl came up trying to sell us bracelets. What caught us off guard was her fluency in Valley Girl English. We were captivated by her and her personality, and of course everyone bought a bracelet, but the more we spoke to her, the more we all fell in love with her. She was a bright light full of hopes and dreams, and an amazing intellect that we are all hoping is used properly and will provide her opportunities. Linda was one of our favorite experiences in this beautiful town.

We then went back to the hotel and all watched the movie, the Killing Fields, which gave us an education of what we were about to see in Phnom Penh in the next couple of days.

The following day, we went to check out Beng Malea, one of the coolest temples that were overgrown with trees and roots. The cool thing about here was you could climb all over the ruins. We were taken through by a guide that took some great pics of us as well swung on roots, posed in doorways and on rubble. It was definitely worth a small trip outside the city.