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Friday, April 19, 2019

Shelley's Birthday Trip (Part 5) Cambodia:Siem Reap & Phnom Penh

On our last day in Siem Reap we visited another war museum.  Being in Cambodia, this one was very different.  This was a collection of war memorabilia without too much political overtone.  Everything they had was out for you to see and touch (you are not suppose to actually touch).  Although there is a building under construction on site, this museum has it's collection on walls and shelves and lawns right in from of you.

Amazingly, NOTHING here is under glass!  You can get up close and personal with all the weapons.  There is the smell of gun oil everywhere.

Still today, Cambodia has a major problem with landmines, especially in rural areas. This is the legacy of three decades of war which has taken a severe toll on the Cambodians. It has some 40,000 amputees, which is one of the highest rates in the world.  The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) estimates that there may be as many as four to six million mines and other pieces of unexploded ordnance.

A 1999 Calander that explains what landmines look like and what you need to do when you see one....

From Siem Reap we took a 6 hour bus ride to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s busy capital.  "Here sits the junction of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers. It was a hub for both the Khmer Empire and French colonialists. On its walkable riverfront, lined with parks, restaurants and bars, are the ornate Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum, displaying artifacts from around the country. At the city’s heart is the massive, art deco Central Market." (From the tour book)

That is what we had hoped for.... What we got was over whelming, overbearing traffic, heat and smells.  Over crowded by too many cars and some 5000 tuk-tuks and another 10,000 motor cycles, this place appears to have no control over the madness.  We stayed in a "boutique hotel", which is a fancy way of saying a "shitty small hotel". The place was called Prasats We had to change rooms 3 times in 4 days, but as usual, we made the most of it.



Our first day of touring may be the most depressing we have ever been anywhere.  Visiting the Killing Fields and S-21 was, without a doubt the most frightening two places we have ever been.

These are the places that the Khmer Rouge carried out some of the worlds worst human atrocities.  Right up there with the places where millions of people were exterminated in WW2 under Adolf Hitler, this piece of human filth (Pol Pot and his cronies) tourtured and exterminated millions of his own people from 1975-1979.

The various Killing Fields throughout Cambodia hold approximately 20,000 mass grave sites holding at least 1,386,734 victims of execution. Estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation, range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a population of roughly 8 million. In 1979, Vietnam invaded Democratic Kampuchea and toppled the Khmer Rouge regime.  This was seen as the end of the genocide. The Cambodian journalist Dith Pran coined the term "killing fields" after his escape from the regime.

The Khmer Rouge regime arrested and eventually executed almost everyone suspected of connections with the former government or with foreign governments, as well as professionals and intellectuals.  Ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Thai, ethnic Chinese, ethnic Cham, Cambodian Christians, and the Buddhist monkhood were the demographic targets of persecution.

The only thing more sad than remains of the places where this took place was seeing young girls smiling and laughing taking selfies in front of the rows of human skulls...

From there we returned to town where we visited S-21. This site is a former secondary school which was used as Security Prison 21.  Today it is known as  Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and is not a place for the faint of heart.

In 1976 construction began to change the school into a prison. The buildings were enclosed in electrified barbed wire, the classrooms converted into tiny prison and torture chambers, and all windows were covered with iron bars and barbed wire to prevent escapes and suicides.

From 1976 to 1979, an estimated 20,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng (the real number is unknown). At any one time, the prison held between 1,000–1,500 prisoners. They were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured and killed.

One of the many "interogation" rooms....
The picture on the wall was taken by the people who liberated the prison in 1979.  

Most disturbing was the rooms filled with pictures of people who were arrested and brought here...

Children too.....

Even though the vast majority of the victims were Cambodian, some foreigners, including 488 Vietnamese, 31 Thai, one Laotian, one Arab, one Briton, four French, two Americans, one Canadian, one New Zealander, two Australians, one Indonesian, many Indians and Pakistanis were also imprisoned.

Twenty-six-year-old John D. Dewhirst, a British tourist, was one of the youngest foreigners to die in the prison.  He was sailing with his New Zealand companion, Kerry Hamill, and their Canadian friend Stuart Glass when their boat drifted into Cambodian territory and was intercepted by Khmer patrol boats on August 13, 1978. Glass was killed during the arrest, while Dewhirst and Hamill were captured, blindfolded, and taken to shore. Both were executed after having been tortured for several months at Tuol Sleng. Witnesses reported that a foreigner was burned alive; initially, it was suggested that this might have been John Dewhirst, but a survivor would later identify Kerry Hamill as the victim of this particular act of brutality.

One of the last foreign prisoners to die was twenty-nine-year-old American Michael S. Deeds, who was captured with his friend Christopher E. DeLance on November 24, 1978 while sailing from Singapore to Hawaii. His confession was signed a week before the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia and ousted the Khmer Rouge. In 1989, Deeds' brother, Karl Deeds, traveled to Cambodia in attempts to find his brother's remains, but was unsuccessful.  On September 3, 2012, DeLance's photograph was identified among the caches of inmate portraits.

There was an onsite metal shop where skilled prisoners were forced to manufacture shackles and instruments of torture.
This photo was taken in the 1980's as the scope of this horror was being uncovered....

Sadly, this kind of brutal inhumanity hasn't ended.  Maybe one day....

The next day things looked up when we visited the Royal Palace of Cambodia and some of the historic sites around Phnom Penh.

More soon!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Shelley's Birthday Trip (Part 4) Cambodia:Angkor

After three days we flew to Siem Reap, a resort town in northwestern Cambodia. Semi Reap is the gateway to the Ruins of Angkor, the seat of the Khmer kingdom from the 9th–15th centuries. Angkor’s vast complex of intricate stone buildings includes preserved Angkor Wat, the main temple, which is pictured on Cambodia’s flag.

We arrived in Cambodia after dark so were very happy to find out our hotel had kindly sent a Tuk Tuk driver to pick us up.  Mr. Net was waiting for us with a sign with our name on it.  That was the first time we ever had someone greet us with a sign... lol...
Mr. Net waiting for us outside one of the many temples we visited...

Net became our best friend while we were in Siem Reap.  He drove us everywhere we needed to go.  A whole day with him cost less than $20 including a generous tip We also bought him lunch every day which I don't think happened very often...  He seemed to really appreciate that little gesture.

We stayed in a very nice hotel called Po Residence.  No matter what the staff were doing, whenever we walked by they stood up and gave us a kind greeting...  It was a little unnerving at first, but we came to realize that is just the way they do things here...

Our two days here were mostly spent exploring a few of the many ancient temples around the area.  They are said to be some of the oldest in the world and are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We visited many different temples built in different centuries. Each had it own distinct style. The first stop for us was likely the first stop for almost everyone who comes to this part of the world.  From a distance we could see the peaks of Angkor Wat.  Angkor Wat is one of the largest religious monuments in the world, on a site measuring 162.6 hectares.  Originally constructed as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu for the Khmer Empire, it was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century.  It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in Yaśodharapura, the capital of the Khmer Empire, as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking from the Shaiva tradition of previous kings, Angkor Wat was instead dedicated to Vishnu. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation.

The "Library" located outside the temple area so anyone (educated enough) could use it without entering the actual temple.

The temples were built with lava rock and faced (covered) with finely decorated sandstone

Buddhist monks are still active in the temple today....

To preserve the fragile stonework, many of the staircases are overbuilt with wooden stairs.  Still a tricky climb!

These "snake" walls protect the temple.
 Angkor Thom with its many faces was our second stop.  Literally means "Great City"was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by King Jayavarman VII from 378–382.  It covers an area of 9 km².

The heads of many statues have been removed over the years. 
Most recently Pol Pot, the maniacal leader of Cambodia from 1975-79 destroyed untold numbers of priceless relics.

In many of the temple areas there is major restoration work going on...  It is like building a huge 3D puzzle without any picture or instructions...  This is ongoing work that will go on for years.

Angkor Thom is most famous for the many smiling faces carved into the buildings and monuments.

Within Angkor Thom is also the famous Elephant Wall.  Used by royalty so their feet never had to touch the ground, this relic is covered with many elephant sculptures.

Ta Phron may be the best known temple as this was where Angelina Jolie filmed many scenes from the movie Tomb Raider...  built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara, Ta Prohm is in much the same condition in which it was found with trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings


A perfect place for a wedding magazine shoot!

Preah Khan temple was Shelley’s favorite. The jungle is trying to reclaim it and huge live trees are growing on, over and through it. Even so you can still see some of the original red color and the designs of the carvings are extremely intricate.

By now you must get the idea of just how many of these temples there are...  We saw about 10 of the 30 open temple sites that ranged from the 8th to the 14th century...  If you ever find yourself in this part of the world, this place is a must see and to do it right you need at least 3 days and lots of cold water!