#SETRAVELS: Sunrise to Sunset in Cambodia
When most people hear Cambodia, their first thought is Angkor Wat. Although the temples of Angkor Wat are absolutely stunning, to ignore Cambodia’s past would be discourteous. As only had one week to spend in Cambodia, we split our time up in between Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor region.
Before travelling to Cambodia I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t know much about what a traumatic past the country had to endure in the 1970s under the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot regime. We’ve all heard of the Nazi genocide, but after visiting Phnom Penh, my eyes were opened to the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, who were responsible for one of the worst genocides of the 20th Century. It’s hard to comprehend the horrors, but in less than four years (1975-1979), more than 30% of Cambodia’s population was executed. We visited two sites in Phnom Penh and both were incredibly shocking and heartbreaking.
Before 1975, the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (The Killing Fields) were a vast fruit orchard – now, it’s a memorial. Upon entering, each visitor is given a headset with an audio tour which describes each sign, building and tree. During 1975-1979, the Killing Fields (pictured directly below) were a number of sites in Cambodia where collectively more than a million people were killed and buried by the Communist Khmer Rouge Regime.
Just outside of Phnom Penh is Tuol Svay Pray High School. In 1976, the Khmer Rouge renamed the high school S-21 and turned it into a torture, interrogation and execution centre. Similar to Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, upon entry each visitor is given a headset with an audio tour, this time walking you through the courtyard, buildings, photographs and cells within S-21 Prison. Over 15,000 people are known to have entered (possibly more), only seven survived. S-21 is not for the faint hearted and some of it is quite graphic, but if you want to learn about the country’s past, there is no better place to start.
The Killing Fields and S-21 Prison serves as a stark reminder of the country’s all too recent past. To skip past Phnom Penh and these sites would be unjust.
On a lighter note, earlier this year, some of the world’s most respected street artists took their talents to some of Phnom Penh’s streets. All around Phnom Penh you can find street art scattered about but we found a few pieces by David Choe, Esao and James Jean.
Our next and final stop was Siem Reap.We arrived at Angkor Wat around 4am, the perfect time to catch sunrise over the temple. Angkor Wat is one of the seven wonders of the world, and no wonder – the sheer size and beauty of this temple complex must be seen to be believed.
Arriving for sunrise, we spent hours travelling around via tuk-tuk to the various temples each with its own unique feature in this UNESCO site. Although many temples have been well preserved or restored, many still show signs of the war and the Khmer Rouge (many Buddhas were beheaded by the Khmer Rouge regime).
Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. There are magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century and include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and right next to it at Angkor Thom, the many stone faces of the Bayon Temple. You can easily spend a few days touring the temples as there are too many to count on one hand.
If you’ve never been to South East Asia before, then step outside your comfort zone of holidaying in the Caribbean/Europe as you won’t regret it. After a few weeks in Vietnam (to read more, click here) and a short stop in Cambodia, we fell in love with the people, history and beauty of both of these countries.
– Chenessa Lam