From the Fields to the Palace

I woke to what I thought was the sound of birds fluttering around on the roof outside our window, but they turned out later to be otherwise, as I will describe. We had told Sky that we would be ready to ago again in the morning by around 10 am. After having breakfast at the restaurant, we met him outside the courtyard gates, which in this case formed the magic barrier past where he and the other tuk-tuk drivers could not pass. In addition to a number of drivers hanging around outside the gates, there were also a few disfigured beggars. We had already seen one man who had a stump for a forearm the previous day, as he made sure to wave his stump right in front of us as we arrived, so we could not miss the point that he was, indeed, crippled. The man who stood beside our tuk-tuk on this day had his entire face burned and scarred, as if he had been too close to a land mine as it went off. It was an unsettling sight, especially adjacent to the S-21 prison, which stood as a reminder of the horrors which had occurred in Cambodia in the not so distant past.

Our first stop on this day was the Killing Fields themselves. These were located about 20 minutes outside of town via tuk-tuk. Unlike the prison, however, none of the original buildings which were located at that site remained intact, these having been torn down when the site was discovered. They literally are just “fields”, or marshes, actually, since the pits which were dug in them to contain the bodies were all filled with water. It was still quite eerie being there and reading the signs that described the various forms of torture which took place near where they had been placed. The only real structure standing in the Killing Fields is a white monument, called a stupa, which contains shelf after shelf filled with human skulls, over 5,000 in all. We saved a visit to this structure for last, after we had circled the fields and read all of the signs.

Now that we had seen S-21 and the Killing Fields, it was time to see a happier side of Phnom Penh. We next had Sky take us to the Victory Monument, which is located in the middle of a major roundabout and commemorates Cambodia’s independence from France. We decided to have lunch nearby in a restaurant which was located on the upper level of a colonial-style building. After lunch, we headed to the “park”.

Wat Phnom is a temple which is located on a hill in the middle of Phnom Penh. While the hill is encircled by roads, there is a narrow strip of land which surrounds the hill that makes up a public park. We walked the dirty cobblestone path around the hill, in search of monkeys. A lady was giving elephant rides around the hill, but we knew that it would be difficult to top our experience at Angkor Wat, so we decided to pass. I had read that monkeys lived in the park and thought that Brennan would like to see them, especially after all the horrors that had confronted us on our earlier stops.

Sure enough, we found a group of monkeys swinging in the trees near a stairway which led up to the temple. We bought a banana from a nearby vendor (one had asked for 50 cents for one but I just laughed and found someone else that would sell me one for 8 cents) and the kids took it up the hill to feed their new friends. Trudy and I stayed at the bottom, content to watch the frenzy from afar, especially since they wanted to charge people to visit the temple after they climbed the stairs, which we had no intention of doing. When they rejoined us, Brennan reported that he had been able to pet one of the smaller monkeys while feeding it the banana.

Soon we were off for a visit to the Royal Palace. The palace complex is a massive complex which dominates the architecture along the Tonlé Sap. While the royal residence was off limits to visitors, most of the site was open for us to wander around in to view the various buildings, along with the treasures that they held. Prime among these was the Silver Pagoda, which held a solid gold Buddha in addition to a jade Buddha and whose floors were plated in silver. There was also a wide variety of stupa, as well as a scale replica of Angkor Wat in its heyday. The palace complex was Trudy’s favorite thing in Phnom Penh, although she commented on all the wealth that was found inside the palace walls, while directly outside were hoards of poor people, struggling in order to survive. We stayed at the palace for almost 2 hours and then headed back to the Boddhi Tree for the evening.

Justin had started to regret not taking any pictures at S-21, since he figured that he might want to someday give a report about it in class. I therefore gave him the $2 admission fee and he returned to the prison alone before it closed for the day, camera in hand. We sat down for dinner after he had rejoined us, just then it started to rain. As all the tables in the courtyard were getting quite wet, everyone in the restaurant moved inside the small enclosed area next to the kitchen to eat. It was quite cozy in there as we had our final dinner in Phnom Penh.

While we were eating dinner, Trudy saw a rat run across one of the upper beams in the kitchen. It had probably moved inside as well on account of the rain. Surprisingly, she wasn’t totally freaked out, and continued eating as if nothing had happened, not wanting to ruin dinner for the kids (Justin later told us that he had seen it as well). Later, in our room, we finally discovered the source of the “bird” noises that I had heard. It was now apparent that rats were scurrying across the roof, pausing to occasionally fight with one another or to gnaw on the wood. We fell asleep to the sound of the rain on our window as well as the rats on our roof.

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