cambodia...a country of contrasts

we arrived in phnom penh after a harrowing bus journey from siem reap. in north america there is road rage, in s.e. asia there is road brave. you have to be really brave (or incredibly insane) to drive here. it must be innate and then through conditioning as a child (ie. riding with all four of your siblings and your father on a moto scooter) you become immune to the fear of dying via vehicular accident. to learn the nuances of when to ebb and when to flow would be overwhelming to the average canadian. the chaos that is traffic in cambodia makes no sense to those that were raised to abide by traffic lights and lane markers.
anyway...we arrived safely in phnom penh and went straight to our couchsurfer host's place. this was our first couch experience in s.e. asia so we were super stoked (did i really just type 'stoked'?) about it. usually our couch has consisted of a: a soft couch or b: a soft bed or c: a softish blow up mattress in a room separate from our host. we've stayed in home offices, living rooms, guest rooms and my favourite to date...a laundry room with it's own balcony! i'll just say our experience with mariam in p.p. was unique. we are always grateful for a place to stay and a new person to chat up. that her place was steps away from the national museum and a few more steps away from the royal palace was a huge bonus.
our 'couch' - a traditional khmer bamboo platform bed on a covered terrace

we had 4 days in p.p. which was actually more than enough. we only really did one touristy thing a day and the rest of the time we read our travel guide, walked along the river or sat in internet cafes planning our next destination. since the royal palace was literally across the park from mariam's place we couldn't NOT go...and anyway, we had to see the silver pagoda with the solid gold buddha. at the end of our tour of the palace grounds we came to the outer wall where we could hear music playing. we followed wooden stairs up to an open balcony where some musicians were seated. we were encouraged to join them and try out one of the khmer-style xylophones.

corina attempting to the roneat with the royal palace band
we wandered through the national museum one cloudy afternoon and eavesdropped on a tour guide that was quizzing his followers on their recognition of buddhist gods. the museum houses one of the largest collections of khmer art but i was quickly drawn outside to the courtyard. it was lush and green with great perspectives of the museum buildings, which are based on khmer temple architecture.

national museum courtyard

the weather in p.p. was drizzly and humid so we opted not to go to the killing fields but to stay in the city and go to the tuol sleng genocide museum a.k.a. S-21. the former security office 21 was created on orders of pol pot and was "designed for detention, interrogation, inhuman torture and killing after confession from the detainees were received and documented". while visiting this museum is difficult and depressing i think it is important to view. it's important because tragedies like this (ie. genocide) are still going on in the world today. and how is that possible? how can we let this continue? what are we doing to stop it? i'm not saying that a visit to tuol sleng will make you an activist but it has made me start to wonder about myself. how can i have been so apathetic for so long?

ironic footboard for a prison

photo documentation of just a few faces of the thousands killed at S-21

prison cells in building B

and then...just like that...you are thrown head first into paradise.

our oceanside hut on bamboo island

the beach at sunset

we headed from p.p. to sihanoukville on the gulf of thailand. we spent a day at the beach here and decided we should get out of there asap. the beach was crowded with restaurants and bars and many, many people trying to sell you stuff. an hour and a half boat ride over a choppy ocean brought us to ko russei a.k.a ko ruh or bamboo island. the hut was basic and the menu limited but it was just what we needed to recover from the hustle and bustle of mainland cambodia.
leah sen heuy,


gayle said...

After we see certain sights how can we ever be 'quite the same' again. I struggle

3D Jane said...

Wow. That is so sad how young those kids were when they were killed!
If you guys are still in Cambodia you should head over to Siem Reap and check out the Cambodia landmine museum. It is really neat and also very sad!!!
PS miss you

corina said...

hi jane :) we miss you too!
I like your handle 3d Jane ;p

we missed the landmine museum when we were in siem reap. we are now in Vietnam.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be no limit to the cruel nature of people. It makes one wonder HOW can humans do such horrible things to other human beings and especially innocent children.

love ,