The Magnificent Mekong Day 10

Today we were in Phnomh Penh, Cambodia.

View of Phnomh Penh, Cambodia from our riverboat.

We met our Cambodian guide, Minea. She had a great sense of humor and was very informative.

Tony, our program director, and Minea, our Cambodian guide

When we got off the riverboat we were met by cyclos and their drivers. We each rode in a cyclo through the city where our first stop was the Royal Palace.

The traffic as we traveled on the cyclo was busy and sometimes scary.

Walking up to the Royal Palace
One of the entrance gates to the Royal Palace

The Buddhist monks were walking from their school as we were walking up to the palace entrance.

The Royal Palace was a complex of buildings and many of the buildings did not allow photos inside. One of those buildings was the King’s residence. The flag wasn’t flying so he wasn’t there.

Map of the Royal Palace
Our entry ticket

The Silver Pagoda or Temple of the Emerald Buddha was located in the Royal Palace. In 1962 it was rebuilt out of concrete and Italian marble. It was formerly made from wood. It was one of the few buildings that wasn’t destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime. The Khmer Rouge regime lasted for four years, 1975-1979 and took the power away from the Cambodian people. We learned more about what happened during that time period this afternoon.

Silver Pagoda

It was called the Silver Pagoda because of its floor which was covered with 5000 tiles but when we went in most were covered for protection. No photos were allowed inside.

On the Royal Palace grounds was a mini model of Angkor Wat. We visited it later on in our trip. Our guide told us this was a great model to see the full depth of Angkor Wat.

The funeral stupa of King Suramant was located on the grounds as were other deceased royalty. A stupa was a monument that housed the ashes of the person.

Stupa of King Suramant

Walls around the complex contained a mural that depicted the Indian epic poem called Ramayana, or Reamker in Cambodia. The story was too long to retell here. Feel free to look it up online because it was interesting to read about. The mural was created in 1900 and parts had been restored.

Have you ever seen a cannonball tree? We did at the Royal Palace. A cannonball tree’s flowers and fruits grow directly from the tree’s trunk. Their name cannonball came from their brown and round fruits.

Each of our cyclo drivers picked us up and took us to the National Museum which was made out of red sandstone. It was the largest museum of cultural history and the finest collection of Khmer sculptures.

The museum suffered a lot of damage during the Khmer Rouge regime. The Australian government and other patrons helped undertake a major remodeling during the 1990s. The Cambodians want to maintain the exhibits in the museum and one was the largest collections of Khmer artifacts in the world.

Near the Royal Palace was the Wat Ounalom. It was one of five original monastries in Phonm Penh. It was damaged during the Khmer Rouge period but had been restored. It was established in 1443 and consisted of 44 structures.

Wat Ounalom

Our cyclos took us back to the boat around lunch time. We saw some more interesting sights as we headed back.

After lunch we had a somber visit to the Tuol Sleng Detention Center Memorial. In 1975 Tuol Svey Prey High School was taken over by Pol Pot’s security forces and it was turned into a prison and was known as S-21 (Security Prison 21). It was the largest center for detention and torture in Cambodia and the most famous.

Pol Pot was the dictator who ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979 and his regime, Khmer Rouge, was responsible for the killing of between 1.5 and 3 million people. They created 189 prisons.

Between 1975 and 1978 over 20,000 people from S-21 were taken to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. The Khmer Rouge kept meticulous records of their torture. Each prisoner was photographed when they arrived to S-21 and sometimes after they were tortured! The museum had these photos displayed.

Only 7 prisoners were alive when Phnom Penh was liberated by the Vietnamese army. Two of those survivors, Chum Mey and Bou Meng were still alive and they were at S-21 promoting their first-hand accounts of their prison time!

Our last stop was to one of the Killing Fields, Choeung Ek Genocidal Center.

It was here that the Khmer Rouge regime killed thousands of people.

We purchased a lotus flower to place in the memorial urn.

They saved bullets by doing it in the fields and most were hit in the back of the head or swords were used and the victims were then mass buried in shallow graves. We walked through the memorial.

At least 20,000 Cambodians were killed here! Our guide explained that the tree with all the bracelets was where the Khmer Rouge killed small children by beating them against the tree. She visited here on a school field trip and she was very emotional telling us about what happened at this tree.

It was a somber ride back to our riverboat and everyone needed time to process the atrocities of what we heard and saw this afternoon. We were warned it would be an emotional excursion.

We ended the evening on a high with a performance by Cambodian children of traditional folk dances. The youngest performer was four years old. He was a monkey!

It was quite a day full of many emotions.

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