Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh, CambodiaAfter being satiated with crumbling Khmer temples and visions of Lara Croft it was time to board our plane for a short flight to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh. Located at the meeting place of three rivers, the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac this city of 2 million continues to recover from te nightmare years of the Khmer Rouge. Once known as the Pearl of Asia there are still remnants of its French colonial past.

Outskirts of Siem Reap, CambodiaWhile there we visited the Royal Palace which thankfully has been restored to much of its former glory. There are also a number of restaurants along the riverfront that cater to westerners and upwardly mobile locals. One that I enjoyed for it's view and Western menu was the Foreign Correspondent's Club which is open to the public. Sitting at the bar I could imagine working on tomorrow's byline, drink firmly in hand while the world or that which is borne on the Tonle Sap river floats silently by.

However my favorite restaurant in Phnom Penh is run by an organization called Friends-International “Mith Samlanh” in Cambodian. Friends-International works with street children in a developmental and sustainable perspective in accordance with the Convention of the Rights of the Child (UN-CRC). The organization runs two main restaurants and the one I prefer is called Romdeng Restaurant and is located at #21 Street 278. It carries food from several provinces in Cambodia. The waiters are all former street kids as I assume are many of the cooks but contrary to what you might think the service and presentation of the food would put many upscale establishments in the United States to shame. The idea is to teach skills adequate to find work in the burgeoning tourist service industry along with a sense of pride and accomplishment..

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Phnom Penh, CambodiaPhnom Penh, CambodiaPhnom Penh, CambodiaPhnom Penh, CambodiaOutskirts of Siem Reap, Cambodia
Killing Fields
S-21 Prision - Phnom Penh, CambodiaOn April 17th the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot marched into Phnom Penh and marks the occasion with the date as 'Year Zero'.  The cadres soon began a ruthless program to "purify" Cambodian society of capitalism, Western culture, religion and all foreign influences. Pol Pot's vision for Cambodia was of an isolated and totally self-sufficient Maoist agrarian state. Foreigners are to be expelled, embassies closed, and the currency abolished. Markets, schools, newspapers, religious practices and private property were outlawed. Within days the capital is emptied of its inhabitants as the entire population of over two million people are marched into the countryside at gunpoint.

Pol PotPol Pot, born Saloth Sar studied radio technology at the Ecole Francaise de Radioelectricite in Paris. In March 1970, General Lon Nol initiated a coup while Cambodia’s hereditary leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, was out of the country. A civil war then broke out in which Sihanouk allied himself with the Khmer Rouge while Lon Nol received the backing of the United States. Finally, on April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge entered the city and ended the fighting. About half a million Cambodians had died during the civil war, yet the worst was still to come.

Pol Pot's vision of an April 17th People or New People resulted in his fellow citizens enduring a dystopian future of being worked or starved to death, of death by disease or exposure and of summary execution for any infringement of camp discipline. These so called infringements punishable by death included not working hard enough, complaining about living conditions, collecting or stealing food for personal consumption, wearing jewelry, engaging in sexual relations, grieving over the loss of relatives or friends and expressing religious sentiments.

Killing Fields, CambodiaThe killing fields, as they as they became known would have a rich harvest in the days ahead. Captured Khmer Rouge records from the Tuol Sleng interrogation and detention centre in Phnom Penh (also known as S-21) show that 14,499 "antiparty elements", including men, women and children, are tortured and executed from 1975 to the first six months of 1978. Only seven of those detained at the centre will leave it alive. At least 20 other similar centers operate throughout the country. Terror and paranoia reign, reaching a climax in 1977 and 1978 when Pol Pot launches a bloody purge against "hidden enemies, burrowing from within". At least 200,000 of their own cadres are executed.

Only an invasion from Vietnam would end Pol Pot's murderous reign when on the 25th of December 1978 the Vietnamese launched a full-scale military invasion of Cambodia. Pol Pot and the defeated Khmer Rouge would retreat to the country's remote western region and continue to fight the invaders for another 20 years. With the Khmer Rouge resistance crumbling and he himself about to be turned over to the government authorities, Pol Pot dies in the evening of April 15th 1998, his body cremated on a pyre of old car tires beside a village latrine.

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