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Day 9: Phnom Penh and the S-21 prison and torture facility

Day 9: Phnom Penh and the S-21 prison and torture facility

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We spent the entire day in Phnom Penh and intended to get our visas to Vietnam today as well, but that did not happen. In Siem Reap we bought a guidebook on Vietnam and started reading about Saigon (HCMC), which we intended to go to meet a friend of Mateo’s who is studying at a university there. It turns out, though, that his friend will be in Bangkok on vacation the week we wanted to visit them. Without a friend to visit in Vietnam, we reevaluated our desire to visit Saigon. The guidebook we bought was not too optimistic about the city of 6 million and gave a full page of warnings to tourists about scams and pick pockets.

With this in mind we headed off to the Vietnam embassy to get our visas. We encountered a guard outside the embassy that said we have to give him our passports. In return he gave us a handwritten receipt and told us to come tomorrow and pick them up at the cost of $35. We handed over the passports, but when I heard the cost a bell went off in my head. Our guidebook told us that the cost was $30 and that you could get the visa in 15 minutes at the embassy. That was a COP, though. Why would he be scamming us? I didn’t trust him though, so I took our passports back from him and we walked away towards the actual embassy entrance, 100 feet away. We almost got taken…by a COP. That is absurd.

In any case, we sat down in the Vietnam consular section front desk and started to fill out our visa applications. Before we were finished we started talking, though, and convinced ourselves that not going to a big city of 6 million with no one to visit or show us around was NOT our idea of fun. So we scrapped the idea, saved ourselves $30, and headed to the market.

There are two big market areas in Phnom Penh, the Central Market, and the Russian Market, the latter of which we visited today. There is nothing at all Russian about the Russian Market. It is an enclosed market area jam-packed with stalls and stands selling odds and ends. I found some extremely nice silk that I wanted to buy, but I didn’t know how many meters I should get for Signe to make a nice dress out of. Hopefully she can get back to me tomorrow morning before we head to Central Market.

After the market, we had some lunch at a local place and I had an extremely delicious drink from a local street stand that consisted of sugarcane juice and tangerines. The sugarcane was strained through a press at the stand. The drink was poured into a small plastic bag with some ice and tied at the top with a straw in it. Drinking from a plastic bag seems like a genius idea to me. The juice ruled, and for only 500 riel (about $0.12).

After lunch we headed off to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, or S-21. Before 1975 Toul Sleng was a high school, but when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rogue took over they converted it into a prison and torture facility where people were tortured before being driven out to the “Killing Fields” of Choeung Ek some 16 km away to be brutally murdered by clubs and farm equipment. Over 17,000 people were processed at S-21, but only 7 came out alive. The museum is amazingly in tact, and it is eerie walking through the rooms were so many people were detained and tortured. The Khmer Rogue kept very extensive paperwork, and all of the victims at S-21 were photographed and documented. Many of those photos are on display there as well as paintings, maps, and a room full of skulls. There are also many painting of the types of tortures performed at S-21 as well as the devices used to implement them. Among them was my personal super-hated torture: the hand of a victim is clamped down in a vice and the fingernails are ripped off one by one as rubbing alcohol is poured over them. YUCK YUCK YUCK YUCK YUCK!

The rest of the day has been uneventful. We will relax tonight and tomorrow spend one more day in Phnom Penh exploring the other side of town.

Until then, take care!

  • jason again

    Read an interesting quote today, "It's not too difficult to imagine in fifty years Cambodia won't even exit at all. It'll just be swallowed completely by Thailand and Vietnam." not sure if that's true or not. The book talks about war that happened back in 1997 and it says that for the past 27 years the Khmers keep trying to kill each other. Still, I would love to see Cambodia before its fifty is up.
    • Re: jason again

      This is a really nice place to visit. I think that we have become quite comfortable here. If you are planning a trip to SE Asia, I would highly recommend Cambodia.
  • " In return he gave us a handwritten receipt and told us to come tomorrow and pick them up at the cost of $35 "

    Yeah, good thing you stopped yourself. The thing with S.E. Asia is never forget that the police are corrupt. I have lots of stories from the Philippines of special treatment bought with $5 at customs (aunt smuggled illegal goods in) and from friends in Indonesia moaning over the fact they couln't bribe the police as much anymore... >.<

    I've wanted to go to that museum in Cambodia..okay, well, no not WANT to go, but I think it's a good experience and what not. Even with the skulls and the torture and pictures >.
    • Yeah, we have learned first hand how easy it is to be scammed here. You always have to be on your toes. :)

      The S-21 museum is worth going to. It is a powerful experience, to say the least.
  • (Anonymous)
    howdy, Brent, from soi 1 guest house here. I read your travelogue, a lot of the parts of it I could have written (such as all the scams re: transportation)

    mine is at http://brentinasia.livejournal.com

    have fun on the rest of your trip.

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