Thursday, September 27, 2012

Charming Cambodia - Part 4: The Capital

After spending two lovely days in and around Siem Reap, we hired a car and a chauffeur to drive us to Phnom Penh. Although we had initially thought about taking a flight, the 5-hour drive was much cheaper at only USD $70 and was a great way to explore the true Cambodia

We left Siem Reap around 7.00am and on the way we spotted a beautiful temple. The architecture looked great but it seemed like it was abandoned. It was dirty and dusty with many dead insects lying around. Nonetheless, we admired the temple's colorful decor and Gods. I don't know the name of the temple but I believe there is only one route to Phnom Penh and we saw a few other similar temples, so you should be able to visit something!

I love these doors! I wish we had one like that at home!

Each statue was so unique and I loved pretty much everything about this temple - including the pillars!

We finally reached Phnom Penh around 1pm and checked in to the Juliana Hotel. After some rest, we first headed to the magnificent Royal Palace The Royal Palace is where the king of Cambodia resides and it is divided into three main compounds: the Silver Pagoda, the Khemarin Palace and the Throne Hall. The palace is surrounded by beautiful well maintained gardens and the architecture of the building is typically Khmer. It takes about an hour to explore the palace grounds and certain areas that are open to the public and it is definitely the biggest highlight of any trip to Phnom Penh. 

Although Cambodia has many wonderful things to see and experience, there is also a very dark and haunting past behind it - the deadly Khmer Rouge. Known around the world as one of the most horrific periods in modern history, millions of Cambodians have suffered under their very own people. The Khmer Rouge was a communist party formed in 1968 and ruled Cambodia from 1975 - 1979. It was led by Pol Pot whose objective was for Cambodians to mainly work in agriculture. Anyone suspected of engaging in the free market was tortured and killed. The Khmer Rouge was extremely brutal in their regime - they controlled everything in the locals' lifestyle including who they could talk to and what they wore. Many intellectuals, children, minority groups and anyone suspected of being a traitor was severely dealt with. The worst part of it all was that it was Cambodians killing Cambodians. 

Near Phnom Penh, in the village of Choeung Ek, there is a place known as the Killing Fields, which is where mass executions of the local Cambodian people were carried out by the Khmer Rouge. In the middle of the fields is a big monument with about 8,000 skulls of the people who died. People can offer prayers there if they wish. At first glance, the fields look plain and bare and one wouldn't even think that millions died here. We were given audio headsets to listen to which guided us to each spot to explain what happened there. The spot which was most terrifying for me was the Chankiri Tree, also known as the Killing Tree. Here is where the Khmer Rouge smashed little children against the tree for "crimes" that their parents had committed. They wanted to get rid of these children so that they wouldn't grow up to seek revenge. As they killed the kids, the heartless Khmer Rouge laughed as if they didn't, it would mean that they were sympathetic and could in turn become a target as well.  It was really sad to hear about how cruel humans could be to one another, that too to innocent children. 

Our time in Cambodia came to an end with one of the best massages we have ever had in Juliana Hotel. It was a Khmer massage which does not use any oil. We bravely signed up for the 2-hour massage for just USD $15 and boy, were we in for a real treat! We were given pyjamas to wear and then started all the action! Never have I had my body twisted and turned in every possible way! Beats yoga any day! After two wonderful hours, we couldn't feel our bodies anymore but it was so good to get rid of all the tensed muscles!

We left Cambodia with our hearts filled with special memories of a truly beautiful place. The humility and simplicity of the locals was heartwarming and we felt very welcome in their country. It was great to experience the unique Khmer culture and learn about its vibrant history and turbulent past and also get in touch with the locals. A must-see destination for anyone interested in culture, religion and beautiful architecture!

Next up, travel with me to another enchanting place - I have yet to decide but it will definitely be a fascinating one!


banoo said...

Ammulu & Daveed, it was a fascinating &unique experience for me too. The pgotos reveals alot of our pleasant stay in Cambodia. Lovely place and the people were so humble & kind. The massage, food, fruits, the orphanage, the temple, the shops all ..... as you mentioned I would tell everyone to visit Cambodia atleast once! As usual beautifully you have shared your trip. Keep it up.


Dvd said...

Cambodia is a truly amazing country with a very interesting history, tradition and culture. People were extremely friendly and helpful. The fruits on the side-road were amazing! I still remember those tiny pineapples, simply delicious.


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