Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda of Cambodia

The Throne Hall

The Royal Palace is situated in Phonm Penh and was a 5 minute ride in a tuk-tuk away from our hotel so i thought i'd have a cheeky nose around. The Palace is a complex of buildings which serve as the Royal Residence of the King of Cambodia. The kings of Cambodia have occupied the grounds since the 1860's.

The Throne Hall is where the kings generals and officals used to carry out their duties, it is still used today as a place for religious and royal ceremonies (royal weddings etc). I had a look inside and the whole building was massive but you couldn't walk through much of it as it was all cordoned off, i tried to take a picture and got told off, so i headed to the next building.

The Silver Pagoda

The Silver Pagoda houses many national treasures, such as gold and jewelled Buddha statues, there was so many cabinets full of gold antiques and jewellery it was breathtaking. There is a life sized gold Buddha which is decorated with 9584 diamonds, stunning. I just wish i could of taken some pictures inside to show you all. On the floor of the Silver Pagoda is more than 5,000 silver tiles and you can hear them moving as you walk over them, but you cannot see them as the whole Pagoda is covered with red carpets.

Statues outside the Silver Pagoda
The whole area outside the Pagoda is filled with statues and small temples, most of them are dedicated to Kings. The building which surrounds the Throne and the pagoda is probably about a mile long and the whole inside is decorated with muriels and paintings, no attention to detail lost here.

Mini Angkor Wat
Also outside the pagoda is a mini version of the angkor Wat temple, which has koi carp swimming around the outside! It was a really cool place to visit and learn about the heritage of another country.


Tuol Sleng Prison (S-21), Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Prison Cells from outside

 Today we went to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.  Formerly the Chao Ponhea Yat High School, the five buildings of the complex were converted in August 1975, four months after the Khmer Rouge won the civil war, into a prison and interrogation center. The Khmer Rouge renamed the complex "Security Prison 21" (S-21) and construction began to adapt the prison to the inmates: the buildings were enclosed in electrified barbed wire, the classrooms converted into tiny prison and torture chambers, and all windows were covered with iron bars and barbed wire to prevent escapes.

Bed used to torture prisoners

 This is the prison where those killed on the Choeung Ek Killing Fields were previously held, although many thousands of the prisoners were killed inside here and never made it to the killing fields.

From 1975 to 1979, an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng (some estimates suggest a number as high as 20,000, although the real number is unknown). At any one time, the prison held between 1,000–1,500 prisoners.

Mugshots of Prisoners

 They were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured and killed. In the early months of S-21's existence, most of the victims were from the previous regime and included soldiers, government officials, as well as academics, doctors, teachers, students, factory workers, monks, engineers, etc.

Counting down the years in blood

The museum costs about $2USD to get in and we spent around 2 hours looking around the prison.  It is amazing sight and much like the Killing Fields, the place was eerily silent, even though there were many visitors walking around the complex.  The cells in which the prisoners were contained were tiny.  About 8 foot high, 3 foot wide and 7 foot long.  Awful conditions.  As you walk around, you can still see the dried bloodstains on the floor from the prisoners - this is because when it was captured by Vietnamese forces, they contained the area and it was kept exactly how it remains - in state.

Blood-stained floor

Again, it's hard to image that what happened here occured in the same generation of my parents.  You feel like your visiting somewhere which is hundreds of years old beacause it so hard to comprehend that something like this went on so recently - and i'm sure, somewhere in the world, something like this is sadly going on today.

Life of Torture

~ Adam

Friday, 10 June 2011

Lighthouse Orpanage

After visiting the Killing fields and the Prison we visited the Lighthouse Orphanage. It was a 15 minute Tuk Tuk ride from our hotel. The Orphanage is situated in a very poor part of Phnom Penh and we got some very strange looks from the cambodian people as we passed by them. They are just so unfamiliar with seeing western people that they just look at you and i noticed people staring especially at my feet!?

The orphanage houses 98 children aged from 3 to 18 years old, which have been rescued from poor families or have been abused for various reasons. The orphanage does not recieve any funding and relies of donations from locals and tourists to keep surviving.


Rice and cooking oil

I went shopping for essentials needed for the children, i got Soap, Toothpaste, Toothbrushes, combs and hairbands. I probably spent no more than £15 and it was the best money i have ever spent. At home i would spend that sort of money without even really thinking about it, but in poorer countries the money can go such a long way and really make a difference. On the way to the orphanage we picked up a sack of rice, cooking oil and some fruit. The sack of rice cost $35 (about £20) and would last the orphanage just one day- no wonder they struggle to feed the children.

The man that showed us around had worked in the orphanage for 8 years and spent almost every day and night there- without pay. He showed us a few of the buildings where the children sleep. They were quite spacious and looked very colourful. The buildings had been donated one by Norway and one from Australia. 

The children wake up everyday at 6am and go to school for 7am. They attend a public school in the morning and in the afternoon they head back to the orphanage to learn english. After this they can kick the footy around, play with tourists or wind each other up!

We spent some time playing with the children and talking to them. They especially enjoyed taking videos on my camera of themselves, I now have about 6 10 minute videos of them all screaming and posing for camera! Most of the children there seemed happy and at home and all of them spoke very good english. Two of the young boys asked us if we knew Justin Bieber and then gave us a rendition of one of his songs! 

I really enjoyed visiting the orpanage, but just wish they had more money to depend on. Please take a look at their wetbsite and if you can spare some money, please do it! It will go a very long way!!!!


Thursday, 9 June 2011

The Killing Fields (Choeng Ek)

Entrance to the Killing Fields

Today we went to the most famous site of 'The Killing Fields, or 'Choeng Uk'.  IF you have seen the film 'The Killing Fields, then you'll probably know a little bit about what happened here, and at dozen of other execution and labour camps across Cambodia during 1975-1979.  If you haven't seen the film or you don't know too much about it, i will do my best to explain.

Skulls of Murdered Men, Women and Children

The Khmer Rouge killed nearly two million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979, spreading like a virus from the jungles until they controlled the entire country, only to systematically dismantle and destroy it in the name of a Communism. Our tuk tuk driver who also acted as a very informative tour guide (not requested but deeply appreciated) explained that Pol Pol (Khmer Rouge leader) wanted to turn Cambodia, which he re-named Kampuchea, back to "Year Zero," and intellectuals, businessmen, Buddhists and foreigners were all purged. Often by execution but sometimes simply by working people to death in the fields.  They would work 15 hours a day and survive on a bowl of Gruel a day, once they had done their job, they were not longer needed and simply executed and buried in mass graves, a lot of them were buried alive.

Mass Grave of more than 100 women and children

It's hard to understand that what went on here only occurred 40 years ago.  Our driver lost his father to the killing fields when he was 6 years old and has since been back to the prison (see next blog) to find a picture of him; but couldn't find anything.  I cant imagine how that would feel.

The site isn't too big, but make no mistake, there are many many bodies here.  Most have been exhumed and re-buried or the remains placed in the Skull Crypt (top) but every now and again when the rain comes down and the soil turns, new remained pop up.  We spotted countless fragments of skull, bones, teeth, so you really have to watch your step.

Surface remains - possibly a leg bone.

What makes the experience even more chilling and tragic is that there are also clothing items on the surface which are still popping up.  Personally, this brought home the reality of the event as I could really make the human connection and only imagine what went on with the body inside those clothes.  Also, many of the clothes are small, so you can see that a child is buried here somewhere.

Child Clothing surfaced

There are also a lot of clothes which have been recovered and are now located in the Crypt underneath the skulls.  You can still see the dried bloodstains on certain garments.  I tried to imagine what their last moments were like as those drops of blood fell from whichever wound they had sustained - which we were told were likely axe wounds, trauma from bamboo sticks or other blunt objects.  The reason?  Bullets cost money, a life was worthless, save the money for something more important.  Tragic.

Bloodstained Clothing removed from exhumed bodies

There is a small museum towards the end of the tour which goes some way to explained what happened here and why it did.  Most of the dead were taken from a prison, which was converted from a Secondary School, called Tuol Sleng, better known as S:21 (See next blog).  The 'crimes' they had 'commited' ranged from 'speaking their mind', being intelligent, opposing the regime, or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time - These were all punished by a long spell of backbreaking agricultural labour, followed by - if you were lucky - a quick execution followed by a mass burial; many times next to your own brothers, sisters, parents or children.

Remains of Human Head, Blunt Trauma to the back of the skull and above the right eye

I am glad that we got to experience this place.  It is regarded as sacred ground amongst the Cambodians of today and serves as a reminder of just how bad mans' inhumanity to man' really can be.  There is an eerie silence around the site and the expressions on peoples faces were a mixture of shock, sadness confusion and despair - something the Cambodian People are unfortunate to have to live with for the rest of their History.  Later on we are off to the prison, which still in it's original state, to see why this happened and how prisoner's were captured and detained.

Adam ~

Remains slowly unearthing

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Angkor Wat - Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Thom

Today we went to See the Angkor Thom Temple, part of the Angkor Wat Complex.  The temple complex itself is enormous, it is an ancient site of temples, some still in very good condition, and covers an area of some 400km (154 Square Miles).  It is the largest religious site in the world and is still being renovated and excavated today.  Built in the 11th and 12th century, Angkor Wat was built by King Survyarman II at the Angkorian Empire.  This main image that you normally see on television documentaries and travel shows is only the start of a huge maze of temples, walkways and other Buddhist Architecture.  We arrived for sunrise - the best time to see the complex as the sun rises from behind the Temple and creates a brilliant dark silhouette of the Angkor Towers.  Even at 5am during 'Low Season', it still draws hundreds tourists and Buddhists alike to the area every single day. 

Sunrise Spectators

I find it hard to see how this blog will do justice to just how fantastic and spectacular this place is, but I will do my best. 

We arrived at 5.20am by Tuk-Tuk (motorbike with a cart to carry visitors).  The sky had already started to turn light, but the sun had not yet come up.  The entry to the complex is $20 (£14).  It is quite expensive for an attraction for South East Asia, but a large proportion of the proceeds go towards renovating the sites and paying the huge army of cleaners and security to cover such a large area.

Angkor Moat

The moment we got out of our tuk tuk we were bombarded by street beggars trying to sell everything from Tour Guides, Books, Cold Refreshments, or simply asking for a Dollar.  We walked through the maze of kids and made our way to the main entrance.  After a 5 minute walk you arrive at a large doorway and through there you can see the temple towers.    The main walkway to Angkor Wat is made from cracked and cobbled limestone and the majority of the walkways have not been renovated which is good because you start to get an idea of the history of the place.  There are a lot of Buddhist's Monks on the site who love talking to westerners - and love having their picture taken.

Buddhist Monk at Angkor Wat

There is an amazing lake in front of the temple which is the main spot to snap pictures from.  By 5.35am the area was totally swarmed by tourists, so we decided to move away from this area and sit in a more isolated location to watch the sun come up.  As the sun rose behind the towers, you could hear the constant clicking and snapping of cameras and everybody took their opportunity to pose in front of the enormous towers.

Posing for the Camera

It was a truly amazing site, one I'll never forget and it has been my favourite sight I have seen on my travels so far.  I would recommend this place to absolutely anyone.  It is even worth flying all the way to Cambodia even if this is the only thing you'll see.  Breath taking.

More on this complex to come... for now, I'll leave you with some pictures.


Angkor Towers

Why Not!?

Lake at Angkor

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Leaving Koh Chang

On saturday we left Koh Chang and headed for Siem Reap in Cambodia. We booked our tickets the day before and paid 550 baht each, which is around £11 each.

The minibus picked us up at 7.30 am ! We were very tired as we stayed in the bar till around 2am and only had a few hours sleep between us, but i thought it would be ok we could sleep on the bus- wrong there! It was the bumpiest ride in the world, i even got air a few times from my seat. I took us about 10 minutes to reach the ferry port and about an hours wait on the ferry. We got back on the bus and after about three hours we reached the border town of Poi Pet. Poi Pet is a very poor area compared to where he had been staying but is the key crossing point between Thailand and Cambodia. It is also very popular as a gambling destination as gambling is illegal in Thailand.

We got dropped off at a Visa office/ restaurant and had to fill some forms in for our Cambodian Visa which cost 1200 baht each around £25 each. We waited for about half an hour then got back onto the bus to reach the border which took about 5 minutes.

Here we were met by two Cambodian men who helped us through the check points. He talked to us about the right things to do whilst in 'his' country. He told us to take out Thai Baht from the ATM and change them later in Cambodian Riel. We went through passport control and had some issues as they wouldnt let adam through- i think the woman was confused as we had a double entry thailand visa and thought we had overstayed! Then we had to fill out a form saying we hadnt been ill?! Great stuff.

We finally reached the bus station, i think it was about 2pm at this point. We got onto a bus which took us to another bus station! Here is where we were advised to change our money, but being here 2 days already hardly anyone uses Riel and everyone uses dollars so i think we were about fooled.

We got onto our final bus at about 230pm and adam pulled faces at kids! We were on the bus for about 3 hours which took us to Siem Reap. Near the end of the journey we pulled up at a little restaurant, were the driver conveniently washed the bus whilst we were asked if we wanted to buy food. We decided not to eat but bought a sprite, coke and small bottle of water. I asked how much and she said 60,000 riels, neither of us were sure but we just paid, since finding out it cost us £9!!!! it should of only cost about 1/2 pound around here, great scam!- Get foreigners to turn their money into Riel and then stop somewhere and charge the hell out of them. Its all in the fun of it though, and dont blame them the country is so poor.

Just some guys chilling

We finally got dropped off and reached our hotel by Tuk Tuk, it was a very long journey taking about 12 hours but it was worth it!