Uneventful bus journey from Sihanoukville and an easy tuk tuk ride from the bus station to arrive early afternoon in our hotel - the Billabong in Street No 158. Really pleased with our choice - good central location, and it has a swimming pool - just what we need in this sticky heat. So decided to relax around the pool, apart from Margaret heading off on a moto to pick up our bus tickets to Ho Chi Min City, and leave the sight seeing until tomorrow, our only full day in the city.
Tomorrow, Friday 1 December (my how the time is rolling by). A must for us to see in Phnom Penh was the museum dedicated to those massacred by the Khmer Rouge. So first stop was Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, the notorious Khmer Rouge prison known as S21 where people were brought to be interrogated and tortured before being taken to the Killing Fields some 15 km outside the city. There were photographs, taken by the Khmer Rouge, of men, women and children who'd been imprisoned there, paintings by a former inmate depicting the atrocities he saw/knew about, and a film telling the story of a husband and wife who'd been vicitms of the regime. From there we went directly to the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, 15 km by tuk tuk through the city suburbs on dusty and bumpy roads, where the Khmer Rouge massacred and buried their victims. It had been an orchard before the Khmer Rouge decided on a more macabre use for it. It was very peaceful, but evidence of what happened was all around with bones and clothes of victims still coming to the surface of the paths you walk on. Only a part of the site has been excavated, but even so they have found nearly 9,000 corpses. Their skulls are to be seen in a memorial 'charnel house' at the entrance to the site.
It was a truly harrowing experience. At the time all this was happening between 1975 and 1979 we remember hearing daily accounts on the news of the civil war in Cambodia/Kampuchea. But this really brought it home. But we still don't understand it, or how the unfailingly charming and lovely Cambodian people we've seen here could have acted so brutally to one another. The effect on Phnom Penh is significant because so many buildings were ruined and some are still in ruins - the population fell from 2 million to 70,000 in the Khmer Rouge period. No wonder the American bombing failed - there was no-one there to bomb!
After a quick break back to the hotel for a dip in the pool and a cool down, we were off to the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. Although relatively know, it's a wonder they survived the Khmer Rouge period, given that they were bent on destroying every aspect of Cambodian history, culture and way of life. Anyway they were really impressive buildings, situated by the Mekong, and compared well with other similar sights we've seen on our travels.
Tomorrow (Sat 2 December 2006) we have an early start to get the bus to Ho Chi Min City where we're staying at An An Hotel. Vietnam, here we come. Second last country before we hit Australia, and 11th on our travels to date.