PHNOM PENH; Cambodia’s tattered capital, evidence of the country’s turmoiled history in every neglected building and shabby store. The streets are strewn with litter and punctuated with unexpected wafts of the rotting fruit which is discarded in large piles on street corners. The onslaught of motorbikes that reigned the roads in Vietnam are gone, and in their place an array of coloured tuc tucs perform the role of extremely cheap and deliciously breezy taxis. Children waved and shouted hello as we ventured past rows of houses made from corrugated iron. The blue and grey metal structures heaved under the weight of their inhabitants, their spindly wooden stilts leaning precariously towards the swampy river.
With temperatures oscillating between 30-35 degrees, we arrived at the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum drenched in sweat, despite the airy tuc tuc journey there. As I wandered through the echoing rooms of the old school-house – converted into S21 prison – I paused in the shaded courtyard which was occupied by looming wooden structures, originally gym equipment then morphed into instruments of torture. I began the uncomfortable process of digesting the horrific and unimaginable cruelty of the Khmer Rouge. Gazing into narrow prison cells, where shackles remained intact and blood smears marked the tiled floor, I felt decidedly less carefree than I had that morning. Definitely one of the more unusual, and possibly less desirable, ways I have spent Valentines Day, but an unforgettable experience none the less!
It is an enormous testament to all Cambodians that, after the devastation of this period, they have formed a reputation amongst travellers as the most hospitable and friendly in the region. Although the roads are glazed with a layer of dust and litter, and this capital lacks the inviting charm of Hanoi, but the unmistakable cheeriness of its inhabitants who giggle, offer assistance, and do not aggressively advertise their goods, overshadows more critical observations.
Not many pictures on this post as I didn’t feel it was appropriate to take them at the prison!