Tuol Sleng Phnom Penh – Angkor Wat Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Tuol Sleng Phnom Penh, Cambodia

After our up and down trip through Laos – we headed down to Cambodia and to the capital of Phnom Penh. Cambodia has had a really dark and painful recent history, so while in Phnom Penh we decided to visit Tuol Sleng Genocide MuseumTuol Sleng was a former high school which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge communist regime from its rise to power in 1975 to its fall in 1979.

Angkor Wat – Siem Reap, Cambodia

After the sadness and pain of what we witnessed at Toul Sleng in Phnom Penh, we were excited to head up to Siem Reap and explore one of the biggest and amazing temple areas in the world – the famous Angkor Wat. Nothing apart from visiting Angkor Wat can really give it justice – the crowds, all the temples, the amazing sunset which we experienced alone … it was a really amazing, and tiring day.

famous Angkor Wat sunrise

famous Angkor Wat sunrise

I "Heart" Siem Reap, Graffiti Art In Cambodia

I “Heart” Siem Reap, Graffiti Art In Cambodia

5 Things I’ve Learnt About Cambodian People While In Cambodia

Our visit to Cambodia was an interesting experience. I never really managed to get a grip of the country, I was confused, to say the least. Sometimes I didn’t like it at all, other times I felt like I could easily settle down there for a longer time. Cambodia was to me a country full of contradictions, and although I was happy to leave I would like to return again some time to see more. In the end, these are the travel experiences that I treasure the most. The country made me love it and hate it at the same time.

Cambodian People While In Cambodia

Cambodian People While In Cambodia

These feelings are hard to write down or to explain to others, and often I can’t quite point out exactly what made me feel so great or bad about a place. But here are some impressions that for me sum up a bit about the Cambodian people:

1. The Women Wear Pajamas All Day Long

Really, it’s not a pajama-looking outfit, they actually are real pajamas with teddy bears and everything. They wear it as casual outfits, and not just at home but sometimes even at work on the street. When they dress up, they wear the most amazing outfits. There was a wedding in a village we stayed, and for some reason most of the men seemed to stay at home or at the shop while their wifes went to the wedding – they looked absolutely stunning.

2. They Eat Anything!

Thick, juicy fried spiders in broth? No? How about some cockroaches? This is no joke, no tourism stall for eager people to try disgusting things – this is real. Deep fried tarantulas is a common snack all over Cambodia on the streets in small villages and markets in Phnom Pehn. I’m not just talking about yucky things when I say they eat anything, it’s things like empty, plain baguettes: I’ve never seen plain baguettes without any topping being so commonly consumed and enjoyed as much as here.

3. They Speak English Very Well

I was surprised to see how many people spoke English so well, some even spoke with an Australian or American accent! Kids, tuk tuk drivers and random people, they all spoke English really well in the cities.

4. Their Humor Is So Innocent And Free

Nathan was wearing broken glasses (better than nothing when it’s that sunny) on a bus from Laos to Cambodia, and no-one noticed until we crossed over into Cambodia, then a few 20-something guys on the bus noticed and thought it was SO funny – they couldn’t stop looking, and laughed for like 15 mins! This was one of many situations in which we found Cambodians laughing at things we in the West wouldn’t at all consider funny – it was as though they had the same humor as an 8 year old – which I think was so great to see. That freedom to just let go, be curious and laugh at anything was one of the best things about the Cambodian people, and it’s something which I think is lacking in the West.

5. The Country Has Not Recovered But The People Move On

Khmer Rouge

Khmer Rouge

I didn’t realize how little I knew about Cambodia until I got here. I thought I knew more than I did, and seeing how the country has far from recovered from the horrific recent history was difficult to deal with. The people have been betrayed from so many different sides, both from their own people as well as others. The impact from the land mines was sad to witness, and so was Tuol Sleng. But despite the fact that the criminals behind the Khmer Rouge still haven’t faced any consequences for their actions, and despite the fact that 45 people died from old land mines in 2010 – the people seem to want to leave it all behind – and forget…Despite all the terrible things done to these people, they still put up such a bright face. They smile and laugh often, but the ways they dealt with confrontation made me wonder.

Are they suppressing it? While we were there the Thailand/Cambodia border started shooting at each other and people were killed on both sides. Our tuk tuk driver told us the same night, in a very strange way. He laughed about it, nervously, so we had to ask him if he was telling us the truth – he was serious for a moment, but then he smiled and laughed again. I wanted to ask more, but it was obvious that he didn’t want to talk about it.

14 Responses to Tuol Sleng Phnom Penh – Angkor Wat Siem Reap, Cambodia

  1. Sandra March 6, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    WOW, that was a heartbreaking and eye-opening episode Sofia. thank you for sharing this with us, and showing what happened there!

    • Sofia - As We Travel March 7, 2011 at 1:48 am #

      Hey Sandra, yes that was a really hard episode to do – so sad and messed up what happened to the people of Cambodia during that time.

  2. Andi Perullo March 6, 2011 at 6:38 pm #

    I had to pause this video several times, as I kept tearing up. This was so powerful to watch and you did such a good job of shining light on this part of history. I hope lots of people see this, so that they can become more aware. <3

    • Sofia - As We Travel March 7, 2011 at 1:50 am #

      Thanks for the lovely comment Andi – even after watching 20+ times I still feel so sad thinking about what happened there not that long ago … :(

  3. Niclas March 6, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    Thank you for bringing light on this diffcult issue on such a personal level – brave!

    • Sofia - As We Travel March 7, 2011 at 1:51 am #

      Thanks dad :=) it was hard, but really needed, since in Cambodia they don’t seem to want to deal with it or share what happened there.

  4. Ordinary Traveler March 6, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

    What an intense video. Great job for shining light on this so that people can realize there is more to Cambodia than Angkor Wat.

    • Sofia - As We Travel March 7, 2011 at 1:53 am #

      Yeah it was a really intense experience – people LOVE the angkor wat period, but like you said there is so much more to Cambodia.

  5. Cat March 15, 2011 at 7:40 pm #

    Wow! I see others have reacted like I did. That was a really powerful and intense video. Your emotionally raw portrayal was very well done. I had to look away and fight tears. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Brock G April 13, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your very genuine and honest experience and feelings Sofia. It is one of the few places I’ve visited that left my stomach in actual knots.
    Nathan you edited it together extremely tactfully. Everyone should see this video.