Cambodia, also known in the past as Kampuchea. It is a country that sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand. Although not as famous as its neighbours on the Southeast Asian tourist trail, Cambodia has lots to offer, namely the stunning temples of Angkor and the tragic remnants of the Khmer Rouge. We can find these places in the two of Cambodia’s most populous and prominent cities, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
For most visitors, the allure of gazing at the five magnificent corncob-shaped towers of Angkor Wat, among the foremost architectural wonders of the world, is simply too attractive to resists. Angkor Wat has located just a short drive from the Siem Reap city centre. It is the best-preserved of all Angkor temples. Incidentally, the temples of Angkor were all designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. Angkor Wat was first built as a Hindu temple and then converted to a Buddhist one later. It is Cambodia’s most iconic symbol, appearing even on the national flag and currency.
The first glimpse of Angkor Wat’s breath-taking majestic facade will linger in the memory of all visitors. Angkor Wat is the biggest religious monument in the world. King Suryavarman II built the template to honour the Lord Vishnu. Which makes it very unique as most of the other Angkor temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva. One can spend a whole day admiring and scrutinizing its gallery of bas-reliefs and stone carvings depicting the Battle of Lanka in great detail and Apsara, the female spirit of the clouds and waters for Buddhists and Hindus.
Within a stone’s throw away from Angkor Wat is Ta Prohm, another Angkor temple that you don’t want to miss. This temple monastery gained worldwide recognition due to its association to a movie entitled Lara Croft: Tomb Riders by Angelina Jolie in 2001. Many local Cambodians did not even know the name of this temple before the movie featuring it. The French explorers have features this rare temples. As it is left in its “natural state”. Similar to how Angkor looked when discovered in the early 19th century.
Besides its Hollywood fame, To Prohm can stand on its own with its unique feature of appearing as it swallowing by the encroaching jungle. The great trees and roots intertwined among the ruins with a snake-like quality certainly add to Ta Prohm’s distinctive atmosphere.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Most tourists’ itineraries of the capital of Cambodia and the heart of government, Phnom Penh, include the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The high walls and barbed wire surrounding the museum. It stands aptly on the former torture ground of Khmer Rouge Security Prison 21 or S-21. An estimate of 15,000 people passed through its gate to their death from 1976 to 1979.
Originally Tuol Svay High School. The school were seized by the Khmer Rouge and dividing classrooms into small cells designed for single prisoners. The larger rooms were used for mass prison cells and interrogation rooms. The majority of prisoners are Cambodians comprising doctors, professors, engineers, technicians, and students. In fact, anyone deemed as an intellectual or a skilled worker was regarded as an enemy of the Khmer Rouge.
The regime was indiscriminate in its choice of victims and as such. The Khmer Rouge will imprison the whole families and brought to the S-21. They torture the prisoners in every unimaginable way. Subsequently executed in cold blood even though many of them were innocent. As a result, out of 15,000, only 7 survived imprisonment at S-21.
Photo by Roland Neveu on Time Magazine
The Horror Linger
Nowadays, on the ground floor of the museum, solitary rusted bed frames and blood-darkened tiles await visitors. Today, visitors can see the photograph of the body displayed on the wall of each cell in the museum. Grimly reminding visitors of the atrocities that had occurred.
There are hundreds of S-21 victims’ portraits being displays in the next room. In another particular room, exhumed skulls are on display. Featuring gaping holes from bludgeoning as the Khmer Rouge used blunt force or tree trunks to kill. It’s as part of their bullet-saving measures. Moreover, the museum also houses the Khmer Rouge’s instruments of torture to bring their victims to their knees. These include the waterboarding boxes and tables designed for fingernail removal. It also has a host of simple farming tools that include spades, rakes, scythes, and axes. Few people who visit Tuol Sleng leave untouched by the gory sights.
The Haunt of Khmer Rouge
While the spectra of the Khmer Rouge may still haunt Cambodia. Optimism is slowly returning and there is an entrepreneurial zing to the place. One thing for sure is that the soaring towers of the majestic Angkor temples will stay etched in the memory… Even long after visitors have left Cambodia.