We arrived into the small airport at Phnom Penh and jumped in a taxi to our hotel, the Villa Paradiso. Phnom Penh was a big change from Bangkok, with no highrise buildings and very few cars, although there were lots of motorbikes and tuk-tuks.
The Villa Paradiso by day and by night
The next day we headed out to explore the city. Our first stop was supposed to be The Palace, but by the time we arrived, it was already closed for lunch, so we had a walk along the riverfront and through the local street markets.
The bustling street markets of Phnom Penh
Although the Palace was still closed, the National Museum next door was open, so we went to have a look. Most of the exhibits are statues from Angkor Wat that have been removed for safe keeping and the building itself was very attractive.
The exterior and the interior courtyard of the National Museum
The Garuda - half man, half bird and a (partial) Vishnu Reclining in Cosmic Sleep (11th Cent.)
Figures from Ankor Wat, probably Hindu deities, as Angkor was built by a Hindu king
We finally made it to the Royal Palace which was similar in style to the Palace in Bangkok, but on a smaller scale. Like the Palace in Bangkok, no interior photos were allowed, so we could only take exteriors. The Royal Palace was only established at this location in 1866 and most of the buildings were constructed in the early 20th century.
The Silver Pagoda, so called because the floor is lined with plates of solid silver
The Moonlight Pavilion, an open air pavilion was built for and is still used for Khmer Classical Dance. The Throne Room was originally used by the King's officials and generals to carry out their work and is still used for ceremonies.
The Moonlight Pavilion with a group of monks (also tourists) in the foreground and the Throne Hall
Stupas at the Royal Palace
A smaller unidentified building within the Palace grounds and three Buddhist monks take a rest in the shade
Our last event of the day was a sunset cruise on the river. Excellent value ! No charge for the cruise and low prices for the drinks. Cambodia was turning out to be a very cheap place to vacation - and they use US dollars almost exclusively.
We enjoy our sunset cruise and a bottle of wine on the TonleSap River in Phnom Penh
There were people living on the river on what amounted to floating shacks
Clearly, there was great poverty in Cambodia, but as we have seen in other countries, people can be very resilient
And as the sun went down, we did get our promised sunset over the city and the river.
Sunset over the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh
The following day was our day to see the horrors of the Pol Pot regime, which lasted from 1975 to 1979. During this period, the communist movement led by Pol Pot tried to turn Cambodia into a purely agricultural society by forcing everyone out of the cities to work on the land. Anyone who opposed this, or anyone who officials thought might not have accepted this philosophy wholeheartedly was tortured and killed. One of the most important detention and torture centers was a former high school which in 1975 was called S-21. It is now known as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
The former high school which became S21, the notorious detention and torture center
The small, crude cells where the prisoners were kept while they were being tortured
Shackles used to secure the prisoners to each other and to the floor in the cell and a torture room with the the bed to which the prisoners were fastened while being tortured.
10 Rules for those being tortured -note especially #6 - no screaming while being tortured
Some of the victims (they were all photographed as they arrived) and all that is left of the victims now.
In the afternoon, we went just outside Phnom Penh to the Killing Fields as they are now known. This is where the victims from Tuol Sleng were taken to be killed, if they hadn't died at the hands of their torturers. They were killed as soon as they arrived, usually with a blow to the back of the head, to save bullets. If they didn't die immediately, they were pushed into a open grave along the other victims and buried alive.
There is now a memorial at the site which houses the bones of those victims whose remains have been exhumed. Many graves at this site have never been opened and remains are still visible around the site sticking up through the ground.
The Memorial at the Killing Fields and the Killing Fields themselves. Each depression is a mass grave. There are hundreds.
The remains of the victims stacked inside the memorial - every one representing a silent scream of death, repeated across the country an estimated 1,380,000 times, although the final figure will never be known.
After a gruelling day at Toul Sleng and then The Killing Fields,we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at The FCC, the Foreign Correspondents Club. Not restricted to Foreign Correspondents, the Club was suitably "clubby" and looked out over the Tonle Sap River.
The Foreign Correspondents Club - no Correspondents in sight but you can see at least one Blogger
We were sweating slightly in the heat. Kris shows off her new "Omega" watch that she bought in Phnom Penh
The main road running along the Tonle Sap River, just below the FCC
Angkor Wat and Siem Reap
After three days in Phnom Penh, we took a bus to our next stop, Siem Reap, the city located next to Angkor Wat, the famous Khmer Temple. The bus ride wasn't quite as luxurious as the buses we had taken in Singapore & Malaysia, but it was fine and arrived on time.
The hotel, the Golden Temple Hotel (NOT the Golden Temple Villa, as we discovered) was nice enough although we never did get used to the purple and orange color scheme (which carried through into the rooms) and Kris had LOTS of problems with the the room design. We managed OK, but were somewhat disappointed.
The pool and lobby areas of the Golden Temple Hotel - the orange was NOT soothing - especially in our room !
One of three choices for breakfast - everything (even pancakes) came with a cold fried egg. Paul tries to wear part of his breakfast
But the reason we had come to Siem Reap was to see Angkor Wat. As we quickly discovered, Angkor Wat is only one (but the biggest and most famous) of MANY temples spread around the area. We spent the next two days clambering up, over, through and around as many as we could until our strength gave out ! There are many books about the temples and it is beyond the scope of this blog to even try and describe what we saw and what it all means. Suffice it to say, the temples were built by many Khmer kings from AD 802 to AD 1432. The most prolific seems to have been Survyavarman II, who reigned from 1112 to 1152 and built many temples, but most important, started construction of Angkor Wat. After 1432, Angkor declined and most of the temples fell into ruin and were reclaimed by the jungle. Not until 1860 were the ruins rediscovered by the French, who started restoration at that time. There have been many interruptions and during the Pol Pot regime, all work stopped and was not restarted until the early nineties. Restoration work continues to this day
Here are some of our favorite pictures that we took during the two days. We won't try to explain the meaning of any of the images, but we will identify the temple, if we know it .
Angkor Wat from the ground
Angkor Wat from the air
Wall carvings in Angkor Wat. Note the smile on the lady on the left and the extended earlobes on the ladies on the right
Battle scene (with elephants) and dancing girls (known as Apsaras) both at Angkor Wat
Gateway to Angkor Thom - note the lines of Guardians on both sides
Angkor Thom (?) from the air
Angkor Thom from the ground
Three well endowed dancers (apsaras) and Kris tries to emulate the center one but perhaps needs more practice
Just to prove we were really were at Angkor Wat
A jewel in the jungle, Preah Kahn
The gateway to Angkor Thom and the jungle tries to reclaim Preah Khan
A detail at Neal Poan and a local vendor sells us two wooden bird mobiles
A fig tries to strangle a gateway and lichens give a wall a range of colors (both at Ta Som)
Kristine imagines she's playing a role in "Tomb Raider". The ruins still need lots of help to keep standing (also Ta Som)
At Ta Prohm, the jungle has been allowed to stay, unless it threatens to destroy a building.
The jungle still clings on at Ta Prohm, but one terrace has been full restored
On our fourth and last day in Siem Reap, Paul started the day by taking a 45 minute ride in an Ultralight.
The pilot (Eddy) was English and has been doing this for years. He talked the whole time. My reasons for going were to try an Ultralight, which I had never done and to get some aerial pictures of the temples. As I found once airborne, they aren't allowed to fly over the Temples, so I had to make do with sideways shots, which were still difficult because we were moving quite fast AND it was cold ! Still, it was fun !
Temples we COULD fly near
After the early morning flight, we headed out the nearby lake of Tonle Sap. The most famous thing about the lake are the floating villages. Everything floats, including the school, the gas station, the grocery store - even a floating crocodile farm. Getting there in a private boat was a challenge, as water levels were very low and the boat could barely float in places.
There were so many boats at times everything ground to a halt as all the large boats had to use a narrow strip of very shallow water.The smaller boats happily went right past us in shallower water
Nothing will stop a fisherman - not even a passing boat with a large noisy engine !
Our first view of the floating village
Floating store and gas station
Floating school and orphanage
For a few dollars, we were able to "buy" school supplies and then give them to the kids.
Kris hands out coloring books to the pupils, but I don't think this little girl was very impressed !
The crocs in the crocodile farm wait for their next meal - or to be made into shoes and handbags !
The floating market drops by with vegetables and a young women steers her boat through the floating houses
A final view of the floating village
Back on land, a field of Water Lilies called out for a photograph
And that was the end of our stay in Siem Reap and Cambodia. The next day we left for our NEXT stop - Kuching in Sarawak.