PHNOM PENH IS WORTH A VISIT
When Mathias and I told fellow travellers that we had planned to go to Cambodja the common reaction would be: “Don’t go to Phnom Penh, it’s not worth it. Go directly to Siem Reap instead” or “If you do go to Phnom Penh, you really have to watch your bag – the locals are stealing a lot there!” – so honestly I was pretty nervous about even going to Cambodja.
Unfortunately, as you travel and meet other travellers, it happens that people say some bad things about different places – in this Cambodia – which they just haven’t found exciting enough. Opinions can affect, so here’s a blogpost about why you shouldn’t skip Phnom Penh, and why Cambodia actually is a really interesting country.
If you already know the tragical history of Cambodia about Khmer Rouge, you can skip the next italic part – if not, stick around.
1975-1979 was a horrible period for the Cambodians. The country was controlled by Khmer Rouge with Pol Pot in the front of a Communist Party. This party’s “mission” was to exterminate everyone, who was better than the rest of society – meaning those, who spoke other languages than Cambodian and everyone with an education as doctors, lawyers and teachers. Khmer Rouge ended up having killed 1.7 million Cambodians, which is around 25% of the population then. Most of the victims died from hunger and illnesses, but a lot ended up on the so called Killing Fields and were executed by the regime. It really was a terrible time, which still affects a lot of people, as it happened not that long time ago. Also today people in Cambodia have lost parents, grandparents, siblings and/or children to the regime. If all this just sound a bit interesting or as something you would like to learn more about, I would recommend reading or watching “First They Killed My Father”, which is based on a little girl’s experience of what actually happened back then.
Even though Cambodia perhaps is one of the countries that has the worst past, it has developed a lot since though it’s not long ago. But just because “the past stays in the past” and it’s no longer an issue, it doesn’t mean that one can just forget it and ignore the fact that it happened. Phnom Penh is probably the one place, where you really can understand the horrible time.
As i mentioned in the part written in italic, many people ended up on the Killing Fields. You can experience one of those just outside the center Phnom Penh. It a mouthful and certainly not for the faint hearted. Anyway it’s a really good way to get close to the history. When you have paid the entrance fee (3 USD), you are being guided around with an audio tour told by someone, who was really affected by that time, in a pair of headphones (handed out in the entrance). You are being guided around to former massgraves, by which you sometimes can experience to see a bone sticking up from the ground. You hear about, how people were killed in the most inhumane and brutal ways as well as stories told by some of those who survived.
It is a terrifying experience, as they tell it just as reality was – but it’s a part of their story, which I really think should be understood, when you visit a country.
This is another horrifying place nor a place for the faint hearted.
S-21 was a prison of torture, which was used from 1975-1979 by Khmer Rouge. It is told that somewhere around 14.000-15.000 people were put here and tortured – 7 survived.
The inmates were seen as guilty, whatever they were it or not, after which they were tortured to admit their crime to the party. It wasn’t only the suspect, who got hurt, but also the family of the suspect.
The majority didn’t even know that this prison existed, as the “torture-prison” was a former high-school.
Even though these 2 places in Phnom Penh are both really horrible, I recommend you to go experience at least one of them. It is really important, if you want to understand a country like Combodia. The history of a country is a big part of it, and as a tourist it would almost be rude not to at least try to get into, what actually happened back then.
TIP: People react very differently to the mentioned places, so I wouldn’t make too big plans the same day, as it can take hard on you.
When all this is said, I really don’t hope that this blogpost with the terrible histories makes you not going. It is a beautiful country, which has a lot to offer in despite of its poverty and sad past.
I certainly hope this made you want to learn more about Cambodia and the history behind it.