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The Adventurer’s Travel Diary

Monday, 02 Apr 2007

Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia

MapIt's been hard keeping up to date on this thing. I was quite busy in my travels in Cambodia, so I haven't had much of a chance to update.

Anyway, I spent only 2 nights in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. I basically stayed in my hotel once it got dark as it's a little too dangerous to go out by yourself at night due to risk of an armed robbery--or so I've heard. Phnom Penh is quite poor, and also quite dirty, but still has some character to it, and is still developing.

There were only 2 things I wanted to see in Phnom Penh, Teul Slung Prison and the Killing Fields at Choeng Ek. Back in the 70s, a brutal regime took over, known here as the Pol Pot Regime (aka the Khmer Rouge), with Pol Pot as the leader. Once they took over, they took basically anyone who was a threat to the regime, especially educated people, and held them prisoner, tortured them, turned them into soldiers, or executed them. I have to say it was quite a somber day seeing all this stuff.

My first stop was the prison. This is where they held a lot of prisoners from Phnom Penh. Inside are photos of all the victims, instruments of torture, the cells where prisoners were held, skulls of the victims, and interrogation rooms. The place used to be an elementary school before it became a prison. Words can't express the way you feel in a place like this, and it's hard to comprehend how one human being can do these kinds of things to other human beings. The soldiers had brainwashed young teenagers into believing their parents were evil, and that the regime would take good care of the children, who would be turned into soldiers, and went so far as to kill their own parents. Others were given a choice, become a soldier or be executed.

Many of the victims (over 8,000) were taken to a place called Choeng Ek, today known as the killing fields. This was my second stop. Several victims were brought here each day to be executed, and mass graves were later dug up after the regime had ended. A monument now holds the skulls and a few bones of those who were executed, including the clothing that was found. It was truly a sad, moving moment, for lack of better words. Sadly, many of the leaders and soldiers were not brought to justice, some still roam the lands of Cambodia freely. And the tragedy still continues with landmines, especially in the north. I've lost count of the number of people I've seen with missing limbs, including both children and adults.

After Phnom Penh, it was on to happier things as I made my way to Siem Reap, the resting point from which you access the mother of all temples---Angkor Watt. This is a massive, massive hindu temple built by the Khmer rouge (not the same as that used by the Pol Pot regime) beginning in the 9th century A.D. In its day, it served as the capital of Cambodia and was symbolic of the grandeur and glory of the empire, as well as a place of devout worship.

The temple is several square kilometres and to see most of it cannot be done in one day. Angkor Watt is the main attraction here, but there are several temples surrounding it. The first day, I got up at 4:30 am to head out and catch the sunrise, which would provide an excellent photo op. I had promised myself that I would not go into this temple this day as I was saving it for later (see the smaller ones first so you don't get too templed out). I can't explain the feeling of when I first saw it though. It looks 2 dimensional at first, and as you walk down the causeway, it turns 3 dimensional and you become aware of its symmetry and complexity. To build something like this would have been quite a feat in its time, and I still can't imagine how it was possible--the manpower and skill it must have taken. It literally blew me away. You're literally wowing all the way to the front of the temple. Tempting as it was to go inside, I turned around and went back to my tuk tuk driver (motorcycle with a carriage attached to the back that I hired for the day).

We stopped for coffee and breakfast before heading out to a place called Kbal Speal. The highlight here is the river of a thousand lingas (statues devoted to the hindu gods). Most of the statues aren't there anymore, but you can see several carvings on the rocks and in the water. It was extremely hot by now, even for so early in the morning, and you couldn't drink enough water. This area is also surrounded by landmines, but trails are clearly marked so there is no danger to tourists.

After Kbal Speal, we went to a temple called Bantay Srea. It's being restored, but this had the most intricately carved figures and pictures on the walls, the entrances, and the windows. I've never seen such intricate detail--these were skilled artisans in their time. And this temple is believed to have been built by a woman.

The final temple was called Ta Prom--this one is left unrestored because they want to show tourists the power of the jungle, and how the temple has been taken over by nature, with massive trees and roots growing in and around the temple, destroying it as it goes. This was also a spot where part of Tomb Raider (Sure wish I'd seen the movie now) was filmed. I saw the tree where Angelina Jolie went down into some kind of hole.