I was so surprised at how active Phnom Penh was, given that the Khmer Rouge, within two weeks of coming to power in 1975, turned out the entire population of Phnom Penh and other provincial towns and force-marched them out to the countryside as slave laborers in the rice fields. This included the old, sick and the infirm and all were forced to do hard labor for 12 to 15 hours a day. Money was abolished and the postal service was discontinued.
In 1978 Viet Nam invaded Cambodia and toppled Pol Pot and the Kymer Rouge, but dislocated half of the (remaining) Cambodian people to refugee camps in Thailand. More horrors, more corrupt governments, and yet here they are in 2003 looking like a ‘going concern’ in bustling Phnom Penh. It has only been since 1998 that fighting in Cambodia ended.
We visited the National Museum, which had a wonderful collection of stone sculptures, largely from the 6th to the 12th centuries. Since the Kymer Rouge executed all the fine arts people (dancers, artists, musicians) and destroyed much of the art in the country, one wonders if perhaps these statues were secreted away during this period. That’s unlikely, though, since all of the intellectuals were put to death at the beginning of the regime. Anyway, it is a fine collection, although small, and I enjoyed it very much.
In the afternoon we visited the Silver Pagoda, which is part of the Palace. These treasures the Kymer Rouge deliberately spared to demonstrate to the international community that they were ‘preserving national treasures.’ There were Buddhas of every sort—solid gold with diamonds, marble, silver, bronze and even one of green Baccarat crystal; they were seated, standing or reclining. The floor is made of silver tiles—one kilogram of silver in each tile. Since the king now lives at the Palace, we were not able to see that.
We took a motor scooter over (the two of us seated behind the driver with no helmets and bad traffic) and a tuk-tuk back. There were also bicycle rickshaws with room for one person seated below and in front of the driver, and there were regular automobile taxis. I don’t think there were any city buses.
There is a memorial building in the middle of the field with skulls displayed and the remains of mass graves arranged around this building. We had a break from Pol Pot and spent an hour in the Psar Tuaol Tom Pong or Russian market, where the Russians shopped during the ‘80s.
Then we had another Pol Pot treat—the S21, a high school that was made into an interrogation and torture center. If one had wanted, this tour could also have included the “target ranges” which involve tourists doing the Rambo thing with AK47s and shooting live animals—cows and chickens!
In the evenings this guesthouse showed the movie, “The Killing Fields.” I had never seen this movie before and being here now, made it all the more dramatic. It, of course, describes life under the Kymer Rouge. OK, I promise, this is the last on Pol Pot!
In the meantime we now had TV in our hotel and so were informed about the Iraqi situation which depressed me.
On Thursday, David and I walked around the town a good bit, visiting two more markets and then Wat Phnom, a very colorful Buddhist pagoda. We walked along the Tonle Sap River which goes alongside this city and is quite pretty. It was somewhat overcast so it was not so dreadfully hot although as usual, my clothes were soaked with sweat when I got back to the guesthouse.
On Friday, David left by boat for Viet Nam, and I left by bus for Sihanoukville, a beach town on the southern edge of Cambodia. On arrival I had to get the motor scooter taxi to take me to four places before I found what I wanted. The guesthouse was perfect—right on the beach with food vendors selling lots of good things to eat, like neem (Vietnamese spring rolls) and fruit. The young girl selling the fruit made me a string bracelet with she tied on my ankle. It even matched my swimsuit!
The beach was lovely and I was surprised at how warm the water was—like bathtub water! Right outside my guesthouse on the beach was a huge ficus tree under which I sat all through the middle of the day. I only ’do’ the beach in the sun early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Even then I got burned a little.
After a lovely 2 ½ days of the beach, I retraced my steps by bus back to Phnom Penh, and that’s where I am now, in the Capitol Guesthouse. I only have one more book to read, but maybe I can trade some.
It looks like one more Bulk Mailing will be my last as I’ll be home a week from today, March 31. Take care!