We arrived by minivan to Phnom Penh after a 5 hour ride to stay at the Frangipani Fine Arts Hotel. It was a very sweet and quiet place with a nice courtyard and friendly staff. It cost us about $60.00 US dollars per night. This hotel was located in the heart of the art district and Denise bought as many original paintings (not the copy style are seen all over southeast Asia) as she could carry home for gifts. There were plenty of tuk-tuks, restaurants, and other infrastructure is important for the weary traveler.
There was also plenty of poverty and street dwellers due to a very slow economy. Denise had the chance to speak with several Cambodians who said people were barely making enough money to eat. When the tuk-tuk driver says he needs a little more money today, he is usually being honest. One day, Denise was walking to an appointment for a manicure and she saw a man laying on a piece of cardboard with an infant no more than 6 months old. The man and infant were sound asleep, and wearing dirty clothes with their foreheads touching and the man’s hands were gently holding the baby. The baby’s face was as serene as can be imagined. (It is an image that will forever be in my memory).
We found an organization called the Daughters of Cambodia that has a small shop, a restaurant, and a small salon to do manicures, pedicures, and shoulder massages. The women that work here were former sex workers that accepted rescue and a new job. A lot of women are sold into sex slavery from a young age and others fall into it to make enough money to survive. This is where we ate many of our meals and Denise had her manicure/pedicure.
We had front row seats to watch authentic Cambodian dance one night sponsored by the Cambodia Living Arts in the garden of the National Museum called the Plae Pakaa. www.cambodianlinvingarts.org.
The next day, we went to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and Site 21 where many Cambodians were tortured and executed during the time of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. It is known as one of the worst extermination or genocide attempts in known history when an estimated quarter of the population was murdered. At the Killing Fields, there are still bits of clothing, fragments of human bones, and many communal grave sites visible. Over 8000 skulls are on display and arranged according to sex and age at the Memorial Stupa.
We also met one of the survivors, Bou Meng, who survived weeks of torture but was spared being murdered due to being an artist. He was selected from a row of prisoners to paint portraits of the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot. The artists that did not paint a portrait becoming to the ruthless leader were executed. His wife died at site 21 and he has a photograph of her on his table where he sells his books. Denise got the opportunity to give him a hug and he became choked up. It was a very special for her to meet a person that was so gentle and had survived such horrors.
In contrast to the above, we toured the Royal Palace that seemed kind of out of place to the rest of what we had seen. At this point we turned to each other and said “I think we are ready to return home.”