The day started with a tour of Tuoi Sleng, the infamous S21 prison, where the Khymer Rouge interred around 17,000 men women and children, between 1975 & ’79, before shipping them off to the killing fields at Choeung Ek. The prison was originally a secondary school and the 4 classroom blocks were used, Block A was for VIP prisoners. In the other blocks the rooms were divided into cells 2 metres by 1. There were no doors on the ground floor cells as the inmates were too terrified to move. The outside of the buildings were covered in wire mesh after one prisoner managed to commit suicide by jumping from the balcony. We were introduced to a 78 year old who was one of the few people to escape execution and now spends some of his time in his old cell explaining what it was like to visitors.
We folllowed this somewhat harrowing experience with a vist to another of Phnom Penh’s temples before moving on to the Bopha Restaurant,
which is located on the riverbank and opposite the night market, for lunch. It is quite a plush venue with big comfortable chairs and plenty of room. As is standard on these tours a set meal is organised and one pays for ones own drinks. The starters were “riverfish” skewers, a kebab of freshwater fish, onions and peppers with lemongrass glaze. The main course consisted of Khmer Chicken curry with potatoes and carrots accompanied by fried mixed vegetables with cashew nuts and the inevitable boiled rice. All extremely tasty when washed down with a bottle of Angkor beer. The sweets, which were billed as Bhopa pastries, turned out to be a sort of varicoloured solidified custard served with cane sugar syrup. Disappointing compared with the rest of the meal.
Following on we visited the National Museum, which, if one does not have at least a passing interest in Hindu and Buddhist cultures, would be quite hard going to say the least. Luckily they are subjects with which I have become quite enamoured during our travels and the museum guide was a fount of knowledge on these and Khmer history.
Officially this ended our day, however, I felt that having come this far it would be remiss not to go out to Choeung Ek.
This is now the national memorial centre for all those slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge in the various killing fields. There are over 120 mass graves there of which so far they have excavated only 89. The horror of people butchering their own countrymen, women and children en masse and by hand is something that one is unlikely to forget. It is estimated that 20,000 were killed in Choeung Ek alone.
Having paid our respects we returned to the hotel for a much needed beer. It actually turned into two beers as they run a BOGOF from 4 – 8!
We engaged a tuk-tuk to take us back to the Bhopa for dinner. I had assumed that not only did the driver know the name of the restaurant but he knew where it was, having shown him the menu card with the name on it for good measure. I became a little perturbed when we reached one of the boulevards which I knew was on the far side of town! He then stopped at a restaurant I had never heard of. There was a tourist policeman outside to whom I showed the directions and he redirected our driver. Finally reaching our destination he was most put out when I paid him for the direct route!!
Dinner was fine and there was a floor show with a traditional trio and Khmer dancer.
After that we wandered around the night market. The only troublesome thing here was the flies which , seeing as they are no trouble at all anywhere else, was realy surprising.
We picked up a tuk tuk and headed back to the hotel and awared ourselves a wee whiskey!