Remembering the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge genocide
Phnom Penh is a quite challenging place to visit. A confrontation with the country’s cruel history, which is on par with Nazi Germany, is unavoidable. From 1975 to 1979, 25% of the Cambodian population was killed by the Khmer Rouge. Led by Pol Pot, the communist regime planned an agrarian society and orchestrated forced relocations, labour camps and mass execution of all intellectuals and minorities. Those that were not killed directly by the regime, died of malnutrition. Stopped by the invasion of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam in 1979, the KR continued to resist until the late 1990s. Pol Pot killed himself in 1998. He was never put on trial. Today, you can visit the remains of the former regime in Phnom Penh. S21 was one of the KR’s largest prisons. Its spooky abandonned prison cells and torture chambers combined with survivor stories and pictures of the regime’s victimes are bound to get you emotional.
Although S21 seems already like a horrible place, wait until you get to the Killing Fields. S21 prisoners were brought here for cruel mass executions. A moving audio tour will guide you through the vast premises. You’ll see empty mass graves, memorial stupas and body remains from the victims.
A city within the city
Phnom Penh’s plans for the future are ambitious. One of its mega projects is Diamond Island (Koh Pich), a miniature version of Singapore. The 100 hectar island off the shore of Downtown is going to be a playground for Cambodia’s elite…and Chinese investors: malls, thousands of luxury condos, villas, a golf club, funfairs, a clone of Marina Bay Sands and one of the world’s highest buildings (1.800+ feet). A lot of foreign investment is pouring into Cambodia’s capital. Its streets named after US Ivy league colleges, Elite town symbolizes the development of the nation…young, ambitious, moving towards a brighter future.
An unexpected place
I wasn’t sure what to expect of Phnom Penh after hearing some horror stories from fellow travelers. Looking back, the visit was a positive surprise. Me Mates Villa was a great place to stay at. The staff was one of the nicests I’ve met so far and the beds were quite comfortable. If you feel like swimming, head around the corner to Blue Lime, a hotel with very nice outdoor pool and bar.
Stay: Me Mates Villa
Next: Don’t skip Battambang