We Weren’t Prepared for This When We Visited Cambodia
My husband and I visited Cambodia in March. I had always wanted to see Anchor Wat, and the “Laura Croft” temple. Ruins and temples were on the agenda. We expected to hear about the history of the country. We hoped to experience the daily life of Cambodians. There’s a wide range of things to see and do in Cambodia. A comprehensive list of attractions and activities is available here.
Of course, we had heard of Pol Pot and the atrocities he had committed during the seventies. However, we were not prepared for the utter devastation that Pol Pot wreaked, and the impact still being felt many years later.
Phnom Penh is a typically busy, congested, hot and humid city in the far east. We visited all of the typical tourist sites including the Royal Palace, the National Museum, and Wat Phnom.
Our next stop was the Tupi Sien Genocide Museum and Cheoung Killing Fields. The systematic slaughtering of the country’s intellectuals in the most inhuman way possible left the country bereft of leaders. The country was reduced to a nation of farmers and peasants, all too frightened to question the leadership.
Pol Pot was born to a relatively wealthy family north of Phnom Penh. While studying in Paris, he became involved in communist activities. Upon his return to Cambodia, the country was involved in a revolt against French colonial rule. Eventually, Pol Pot led a coup and seized control of the country in alliance with the Khmer Rouge.
Once in power, Pol Pot ordered that all of the country’s intellectuals be rounded up and stripped of their possessions. They were forced to work in the fields to be “re-educated.” Children were taken from their families and forced into the military. Any complainers were sent to a detention centre known as 5-21, a former school, now the Tupi Sien Genocide Museum.
The museum chronicles how the inmates were tortured until they eventually told the “truth.” We saw the metal beds that the prisoners were chained to, leg irons, barbed wire barricades, and pictures of the victims.
After being tortured, victims were sent to the Choeung Killing Fields via truck. They were blindfolded and frightened. Holding hands, victims were led to the fields where they were killed. Their bodies fell into shallow graves. Today, you can see their bones and bits of their clothing on the slight indentations in the ground.
All of this is mind bogglingly horrible. One has to wonder about the capacity that humans have to inflict such atrocities on one another, and to develop indifference toward the suffering of their countrymen.
Fortunately, there is a movement in place to help Cambodia recover from the devastation.
The hotel where we stayed, The Sunway Hotel Phnom Penh, hires and trains Cambodian students to work in the tourist industry.
Similarly, a place called Tabitha sells Cambodian crafts made by abused women who found shelter there.
A third example is Friends restaurant, a spot with incredibly delicious food and drinks prepared and served by young Cambodians being trained to work in the service industry.
These are only three examples of people and organizations trying to help the country recover from their horrific past.
Then we were off to Siem Reap, which is being nourished as a tourist destination. It is here that we stayed at a resort called the Victoria Angkor Siem Reap. It is a beautiful, tropical resort with French colonial architecture and decor. The gorgeous grounds are centred around a pool. The food is scrumptious.
We enjoyed our time at the Victoria Angkor very much. A highlight was being handed a cool towel after touring temples and ruins each day. Again, the hotel is committed to providing training and employment to Cambodians.
Back at School
When we returned to Tashkent, the grade sixes were studying the concept of poverty in an Economics unit. When I introduced the unit to them before going to Cambodia, we were really just dealing with a theory of poverty.
After I returned from Cambodia, I could bring them the literature from the Sunway Hotel that showed the multitude of ways the hotel is actively helping Cambodians move forward. The kids were all eyes and ears! An academic exercise became far more grounded in reality, and kids began thinking of real changes they could make.
Visiting Cambodia was a huge learning curve for me, and I believe I was able to have a big impact on the students in my class. I do hope that one day they will engage in some truly meaningful activity to contrast with some of the needless evil in the world.
Thanks so much to Profound Journey tribe member, Fran K., for contributing this tribe story. This is Fran’s second story for our site. The first —Fran K’s Second Ending, 15 Years After the First One – tells of her encore as an educator, in places as diverse as South Carolina and Uzbekistan.
Fran’s time in Cambodia was a long-awaited trip before her second retirement. Now that Fran is officially retired (again!), it will be interesting to see what she gets up to next. Hopefully she will share her new adventures with the rest of us.
Would you like to visit Cambodia? What did you find most interesting in Fran’s account?