Travel Journal

Phnom Penh

(Sunday 1 November 2009) by Jon Paul & Sarah
Our time in Phnom Penh was like the social hour of our travels so far. For the first several days, we bunked up with our friend Jon Campana (JP’s quasi uncle from Denver), who was staying in Phnom Penh for a couple of weeks with a medical team performing surgeries for Cambodians on a wait list for the more complicated procedures. We couldn’t help them any of course, but after exploring the city and some of the surrounding area during the days, we would meet up with the team each night, eat dinner with them, and hear their stories! We got to spend some time with the Cambodian medical students too (they had us all over for a really fun traditional dinner and some Khmer dancing lessons…as you can see in the picture, I’m failing completely), and a young Cambodian heart surgeon. It was really great to be able to join in a bit with them all!

During one of the days, we called a nice tuk tuk driver we’d met on the first day, and he came to pick us up and take us to S21 and the Killing Fields. Cambodia has a really turbulent recent history – a man named Pol Pot came into power from the communist movement and decided to return the country to what he considered the pure roots of “agrarian collectivism” – basically communism for rural farming communities. He practically emptied the cities, and systematically tried to kill anyone who represented the educated upper-class, basically. Between the executions, the general upheaval and strife, and his attempt to redistribute food, a fifth of Cambodia’s population died under his rule, which was known as the Khmer Rouge. Ok, enough history, yeah? You should look it up though, it’s an incredibly sad period of time for this country, and the ways the people have rallied and tried to recover what was lost, and have retained their general joy of living, is incredible. Ok sorry I really am done.

S21 was basically the interrogation prison, where basically everyone who entered died, or was sent from there to a place outside the city known as the Killing Fields, and died there. The entire experience of seeing and learning what happened here so recently was really sobering for me. Pretty much everyone was affected. One woman we talked to had lost both her parents, her husband, her brother, and her sister to the Killing Fields. I found myself wondering how each person we met was affected.

The day before Campana left, he had some free time so we got to go shopping with him and help him pick out a giant copper statue of Siva, one of the Hindu representations of their originally monothiestic god (I also learned a ton about the history of the Hindu religion, which was incredibly fascinating, but don’t worry, I’ll spare you.) That thing was heavy! But he managed to fit it in his suitcase, so hopefully it made it.

We had a few days left, and we were able to meet up with a friend of a friend named Randy Fleming, who runs a school for boys, taking them off the street and giving them a really good education. It’s a Christian organization called Water of Life – we were able to stay there a couple days and join in! We went along when they took dinner to a local orphanage – those kids are absolutely precious. We were able to teach one of the English classes, and hopefully didn’t confuse them too much. We got to talk to several people there and hear their amazing stories – so encouraging. We took some time to explore a bit more too – we took a boat ride down the Mekong River, and got a few minutes in before a huge thunder/lightening/rainstorm hit and literally shook the boat so that we had to turn back early. That was fun! And the Russian Market there...definitely our favorite market yet. It's actually a good thing that I have to carry everything I buy - it makes for very effective self-control in the face of all the incredible deals. I treated a couple of street kids to lunch there, and they recognized me the next day and came running over with their friends, which was fun. Not sure if JP mentioned it in the Siem Reap blog, but we really love the Cambodian people...they're just all around wonderful.

All in all, Phnom Penh was yet another place I’m very grateful to have seen and experienced. Now off to Vietnam :-)

  • Highlight/ Cambodia by Mom(Ann)

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