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A Morning of Beauty & an Afternoon of Horror

by Véronique and Mike

12 November 2014 • What a difference it makes. Yes, we are in busy, bustling capital Phnom Penh but we sleep on a ship. We wake up on the calm water, away from the city noise. So different to sleeping in a pink hostel years ago where, whenever I stepped outside, tuk-tuk drivers yelled at me to choose their vehicle (no thanks I like to walk…).

It gets a bit busier later on in the port as other ships arrive. No problem we have plans.

We disembark to pay a visit to the Royal Palace. It has been built in 1866, first in wood. The present solid version dates from 1917. It consists of a series of buildings surrounded by gardens and courtyards. The King Norodom Sihamoni, former ballet dancer, still lives here. 

Different stupas Cannonball tree - represents enlightment in buddhist countriesWall Silver PagodaInterior traditional Khmer house

Next we visit the National Museum. The first stone was laid in 1917. During the Khmer Rouge regime the museum was devastated and many of the employees lost their lives. The museum was reopened in 1979. The museum holds a nice collection of Buddhist and Hindu sculptures.

Linga - representation of Hindu deity ShivaGanesha (Hindu god)Museum courtyardLeper king

We had lunch in the open-air restaurant near the waterfront (and our ship), Bopa Phnom Penh. Once more we were treated by a show of an Apsara dancer while we ate. The location and comfort is fantastic as for the food; simple but nice. 

Apsara dancerFood @ Bopha Phnom Penh

After lunch we went to the S21 or Tuol Sleng prison. I was here before and once again I fell silent. Here no fancy multimedia presentations and displays of what happened during the Khmer Rouge genocide. Everything is still there as it used to be. You can visit the different prison cells with different sizes (size depending on the importance of the prisoner). You can witness the many faces of the convicted, alive and dead (the Khmer Rouge wanted to prove that the persons were dead for their records). When you see the building you can still imagine how once it was a high school and you don’t associate it right away with all the horror that happened behind its walls. 

When we were leaving the prison we met Chum Mey, one of the only survivors of the genocide. He survived because of his capacities to repair machinery for the Khmer Rouge. He was there with a broad smile, selling his book. It felt surreal but courageous. 

Some of the passengers preferred to do their thing, which is shopping. They went ahead to the enormous market hall. As more of the people wanted to go to the Central Market (Psar Thmei) instead of the Russian Market (Psar Tuol Tom Pong) where mostly designer clothing labels are sold at cheap prices , plans were changed. So we went to the beautiful dome-shaped market, constructed in 1937. Here all kinds of goods are displayed; electronic devices, gold, blankets, food…

It had been a busy day filled with impressions and emotions and it was good to go back on board. Sadly this was already our last day in Cambodia. 

Monks waiting for their boatTogether with our smaller sistership we're leaving for new destinationsA Pink Cocktail to end the day

text: Véronique

Photos: Mike & Véronique

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