This hub of Phnom Penh is a large Art Deco structure built in the 1930s and now barely houses half of the merchants who peddle goods there. We thought it looked like something out of Mad Max.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Prison Museum
This former high school, which was used by the Khmer Rouge as an interrogation center, provides a powerful glimpse into the horrors of the Pol Pot regime. At this center, over 20,000 people were imprisoned and tortured of which only seven are known to have survived. The rest met their deaths at the Killing Fields of Choeng Ek. The prison has been left largely as it was in 1979. We wandered through the buildings, parts of which contain gruesome torture chambers complete with gory photos of the victims. It was truly an eye opening experience and makes you wonder how some people can be so cruel. In some of the rooms, the pictures and clothes of all the people who were executed are shown. In addition, we’ve included photos of the original Killing Fields, torture instruments and other policies of Pol Pot. We encourage you to watch the movie, The Killing Fields, if you want to understand the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s reign of terror. In a nutshell, Pol Pot engineered an extreme version of Maoism where he killed all of the intellectuals, evacuated all of the cities, forced everyone to work in the fields, created a snitch society, forced mass arranged marriages, and filled the country with six to 10 million mines (approximately one mine per person). As a result, more than two million of Cambodia’s seven million people were killed. I’ve included some of the Prison Rules that were hung outside the torture chambers. It is given in Khmer and English. Two of the prisoners in the prison were Westerners. In the courtyard of the prison, these tombstones are shown. Our guide informed us that during Pol Pot’s reign, he had some of his own high level Khmer Rouge officials tortured and killed because he suspected them of betrayal. I’ve included photos that depict one of several torture chambers left largely intact with a photo of how the prisoner died. The map in the last room is made from the actual skulls of victims. It serves as a remembrance of the people who were killed. In each of the many killing fields across Cambodia, glass stupas have been erected filled with skulls as a remembrance. Small bones still litter many of the fields.
National Museum of Arts
Designed by a French architect, this museum is a beautiful example of Khmer-style architecture. The collection includes some fine pre-Angkorian statuary and many phallic (lingham) statues representing the Hindu god Shiva. As we walked around the museum we heard what appeared to be sounds of birds on the roof. In actuality, they were the sounds of bats inside the roof! Our guide informed us that if happened to be at the museum at sunset, you would see the sky above you covered with our winged friends.
Tonle Sap River
The stretch of land along the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh was one of the few areas where we saw any construction. A few years ago the government rebuilt it so it actually looks quite pleasant. Our guide informed us that the river actually changes the direction of its current when the seasons change.
This is the most sacred sight in all of Phnom Penh. According to legend, one Madame Penh founded a monastery atop an artificial hill here to house several statues of the Buddha that she discovered hidden inside a log. The current temple houses a number of Buddha relics.