Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Capturing Cambodia

Wednesday November 9th, 2011; 12:49
Location: Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Why: Crying for Cambodia.

Wow! Another post the very next day! I'm determined to get myself sorted here. This afternoon, I am sitting inside S&B Cafe with Nicholas, the cute British/French lad that I've been hangin' out with at Jalan Jalan Guesthouse. He's applying for an advertising job online while I've been creeping his facebook and couch surfing profiles.

And then I figured I'd better start writing. Alright Cambodia.

Cambodia. She broke my heart with her ancient beauty and recent brutal history.

After Austin's visit with me in Indonesia, I had the pleasure of meeting up with another wonderful friend, the amazing Andrea Cameron. Flying into Siem Reap airport my patience was put to the test as I waited for Andrea's plane to land from Hanoi. Four hours later, all the crazy stories I had created in my head why she hadn't landed was put to reset when I finally realized there was airport wifi and I shoulda checked my email hours ago. I'm still working on this thing called Patience.

So AC and I finally get to Two Dragons Guesthouse for a week of togetherness. Seeing her made me pine for my life back in Vancouver. Bloody hell, Van is the BEST place to live. Not many people can say that about where they live but I shout it out with pride every chance I get on the road. After months wandering this side of the globe, talking about life in BC with AC was as though I'd never left the province. Shop talk was cheerfully reminiscent of a great time in my life, people-wise. You lulu peeps have no idea just how much you are missed by this lil nomadic traveler.

Okay, so after catching up, it was holiday mode for us.

This is what holiday mode looks like:

Easily the highlight of Siem Reap were the Temples of Angkor. We bought a 3 day pass to explore the wats at our leisure. But before that, clambering up a temple for sunset was in order. It was not the most spectacular of sunsets and although quite touristy, it was a good start of things to come.

Sunset in Siem Reap:

The man of the hour was our driver Mr. Sith who was always ready to take us anywhere we needed. Bless him:

Our first day at the temples brought us to Angkor Wat, a masterpiece in the history of man-made miracles. How do you even describe this place except to say "just go see it". The precision with which the stones were laid on top of one another before having them carved into wondrous sculptures has me thinking the Khmer peeps must have had help from extra terrestrial forces. I mean seriously you could not slip a credit card between the massive stones. Okay, maybe I've watched one too many episodes of Ancient Aliens. Oh but how I love my vivid imagination!

Some pics of the amazingness of Angkor Wat:

While the Khmer Rouge destroyed much of the temples, they are slowly getting restored wherever possible:

I bet the Khmers had super toight buns from climbing these stairs all the time. Is that inappropriate?

The famous Angkor Thom temple where part of Tomb Raider was filmed. So friggin COOL!

I felt like I was IN the movie!

And just to give perspective the size of the trees that have since engulfed these temples. This one has a tonsil thingy hanging:

One of my favourite sitings at the temples - monks in their bright orange robes! Picture courtesy of Andrea C:

This local had really kind eyes. And was delighted I took his photo:

Well, I could spend all day uploading the wonderful pics of the temples Angkor but you get the idea how beautiful this place is.

On a more somber note, after saying good bye to Andrea and dying a little bit inside, I made a 5 hour bus journey to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh. I had been psychologically preparing myself for this part of my trip knowing what I would be visiting. But first, on the road again....

The effects of the flood were still very apparent:

Once in the capital, I dropped my packs at the Mad Monkey Hostel to roam the city's surrounding areas.

But before that, I McGyvered a clothes line in my dorm to air out my dirtbag threads:

This made me laugh out loud:

Okay, so the somber note on this leg of my travels was my visit to The Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (aka S-21). I had been forewarned by many a traveler that these two places will leave you with a heavy heart. For those unaware, between April 1975 to January 1979, the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror in their ethnic cleansing of Democratic Kampuchea left more than 2 million Cambodians dead. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge soldiers imprisoned, tortured, starved and killed their own people - anyone thought to be against the Angkar government. Many were tortured at S-21 and then brought to the Killing Fields to die.

The mass graves at the Killing Fields is an eerie and immediate reminder of the brutality of inhuman acts. Walking around the site, the depressions of the grave sites remind me of the depressions in the eyes of thousands of skulls on display at the stupa.

It is hard to imagine these were where hundreds of bodies were dumped after being slaughtered like animals:

Bits of clothing surface up from the floods every year like lost ghosts lingering:

Reading this sign made me nauseous:

The audio guided tour and this visit was very sad and depressing although I think it is a very important lesson to be told. The Killing Fields is still so fresh in the mind and heart of Cambodia and should not be soon forgotten. The stupa erected housing the thousands of skulls at the site was my first crying session.

Rows upon rows of skulls with the evidence of the blows which killed them:

When I finally made my way out of the Killing Fields, I braved myself for the Tuol Sleng Museum. Upon entering the compound which was a high school before the Khmer Rouge turned it into a torture camp, I felt my stomach turn into knots. When the Vietnamese discovered this prison, there were the last 14 victims found in the torture rooms. You can still see blood stains on the ceiling and floors. Each room and cell is casted with a heaviness that can only be created by the ghosts that haunt this place. Walking into some of the cells took the life out of my breath, leaving me gasping for air.

I met two of the seven surviving members who now make their living selling their tragic story for $10 a book. After speaking with them for a few minutes, I was so overcome with emotion, I burst out crying and had to walk away from them. The more I cried, the more I cried. I couldn't stop. I couldn't bear looking in these two men's faces. All I saw were the hollowed out skulls that flashed through my mind. They are forever burned into my memory. My heart aches for the lost people of Cambodia. It is a heaviness that follows me every time I think about this country.

The following pictures are a gruesome reminder of an horrific time in life:

Despite Cambodia's harrowing recent nightmare, the people are friendly and welcoming. Curiosity is written on the face of the young. The adults go about their daily life, I see happiness in their eyes. I see the development of both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and am left with so much hope for this lovely country. I only wish I hadn't booked a flight out of there so soon.

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