Phnom Penh was a shock after Kampot, but, like the rest of Cambodia, it goes at its own steady pace. The centre is the area west of the river, just next to the grand palace. I found it to be clean and relaxed, rather than stuffy and manic like other big cities in Asia.
The Choeung Ek Killing Fields & S21
The Killing Fields and S21 interrogation centre must be visited, and its best to do them consecutively. We crammed all the misery into one day, giving a couple of hours for each, wanting to dedicate all our attention to it without rushing off to something else. The Killing fields are tranquil, a patch of quiet nature, but the truth of what happened there is so far from that, the horror of that place is louder than the screams of hell. The most soul crushing part for me was the Killing tree, off which babies heads were swung against for a quick and easy death. I broke down staring at the tree, thinking of the children who were bludgeoned there and the mothers who watched. Others they killed in the night, in secret, hacking them to death and playing music to conceal it. Testimonies and information are provided through an audio-guide. What I heard and what I saw, I will never forget.
S21, also know as Tuol Sleng, had the same double impression. It was quiet, plain, and obviously a school, but when walking and listening all illusions of calmness disappear. Each block has a different use, some mass human storage and some torture blocks. I can’t begin to explain what went on there, only that everyone dreamt of suicide rather than living in S21. The sad thing is that you can still see bits of classroom paintings and the play area, that somewhere so joyful could become something so terrible. More tears were shed here.
After many a temple and the dollar denting our budget, we didn’t see The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. We wondered around town and ate some good food. The river is good for a perch, and there are plenty of bars selling cheap beer with a balcony view. The water is brown and polluted, but is impressively large and forms part of the gargantuan Mekong river. We also found a market -surprise surprise-, a town square and independace monument.