Ever since the fall of Angkor in 1431, the once mighty Khmer Empire has been plundered by all its neighbors. It was colonized by the French in the 19th century, and during the 1970s suffered heavy carpet bombing by the USA. After a false dawn of independence in 1953, Cambodia promptly plunged back into the horrors of civil war in 1970 to suffer the Khmer Rouge’s incredibly brutal reign of terror, and only after UN-sponsored elections in 1993 did the country begin to totter back onto its feet.
Much of the population still subsists on less than the equivalent of US$1 a day, the provision of even basic services remains spotty, and political intrigue remains as complex and opaque as ever; but the security situation has improved immeasurably, and increasing numbers of visitors are rediscovering Cambodia’s temples and beaches. Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor, now sports luxury hotels, chic nightspots, ATMs, and an airport fielding flights from all over the region, while Sihanoukville is getting good press as an up-and-coming beach destination. However travel beyond the most popular tourist destinations is still an adventure.
Cambodia is in Southeastern Asia, bordering the Gulf of Thailand, between Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. Its geographical coordinates are 13 00 N, 105 00 E. Its 2,572 km border is split among Vietnam (1,228 km), Thailand (803 km) and Laos (541 km), as well as 443 km of coastline
Size: Total area 181,040 square kilometers, about size of Missouri; country shares 803-kilometer border with Thailand on north and west, 541-kilometer border with Laos on northeast, 1,228-kilometer border with Vietnam on east and southeast, for a total of 2,572 kilometers of land borders; coastline along Gulf of Thailand about 443 kilometers.
Climate: Temperatures range from 10°C to 38°C. Tropical monsoons: southwest monsoon blowing inland in northeasterly direction brings moisture-laden winds from Gulf of Thailand/Indian Ocean from May to October with period of heaviest precipitation September-October; northeast monsoon blowing in southwesterly direction toward coast ushers in dry season, November to March, with period of least rainfall January-February.
(2015 prices) All visitors, except citizens of ASEAN countries need a visa to enter Cambodia. As usual the visa can be obtained at any Cambodia Embassy or General Consulate overseas. Visa is available on arrival at Pochentong International Airport (Phnom Penh), Siem Reap International Airport, Ka-om Samor, Poipet border checkpoint, at Bavet and Hat-Lek/Koh Kong border checkpoint. Note that only these entry points (as of now) give out visa on arrival. You will need one passport-size photo, filled forms and a passport which is valid for at least 6 months. Tourist visas cost US$ 30 + 7 $ and Ordinary visas US$ 35 for 1 month and can be extended indefinitely. The tourist visa is valid for 30 days and can be extended for another 30 days in country itself at a cost of US$ 45 after that you must live the country.
If you are planning on staying in Cambodia, don’t bother with a tourist visa and start with an ordinary visa instead.
Phnom Penh (/pəˈnɔːm ˈpɛn/ or /ˈnɒm ˈpɛn/; Khmer: ភ្នំពេញ, Khmer pronunciation: [pʰnum peɲ], formerly romanized as Panomping) is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. Located on the banks of the Tonlé Sap and Mekong River, Phnom Penh has been the national capital since French colonization of Cambodia, and has grown to become the nation’s center of economic and industrial activities, as well as the center of security, politics, cultural heritage, and diplomacy of Cambodia.
Once known as the “Pearl of Asia,” it was considered one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina in the 1920s. Phnom Penh, along with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, are significant global and domestic tourist destinations for Cambodia. Founded in 1434, the city is noted for its beautiful and historical architecture and attractions. There are a number of surviving French colonial buildings scattered along the grand boulevards.
Situated on the banks of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac rivers, the Phnom Penh metropolitan area is home to about 2.2 million of Cambodia’s population of over 14.8 million, up from about 1.9 million in 2008. The city is the wealthiest and most populous city in Cambodia and is the country’s political hub.
Phnom Penh Weather
Stretching over some 400 sq. km, including forested area, Angkor contains the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century CE. These include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations.
Angkor was declared a World Heritage site in 1992 – the same year it was also placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger. UNESCO has now set up a wide-ranging programme to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.
Angkor itself has no accommodations and few facilities. The nearby town of Siem Reap has become the tourist hub for the area and now boasts several large hotels, as well as the areas only major airport with flights arriving from Bangkok , Phnom Penh and other nearby cities.
Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide in Phnom Penh
By David Chandler
S-21 was a top secret facility. Its existence was known only to prisoners, prison officials and a handful of high ranking Khmer Rouge. When suspects were arrested they were not told that they were going to S-21. Instead, they were called to study or “summ oned for consultation. To industrial workers quartered nearby the prison was known only as a place where “people went in but never come out.
Because prisoners at S-21 were often accused of plotting to overthrow DK their confessions were of interests to Pol Pot who is referred to in S-21 documents as “the organization or as brother number one” (bong timuoy), eerily recalling Big Broth er in George Orwell’s futuristic anticommunist novel 1984. Copies of important confessions and summaries of related texts were routed to the minister in charge of national security Son Sen or to Pol Pot himself with comments by Duch and his associates. Pol Pot’s and Son Sen’s replies have not survived.
Because of Angkar’s interest in S-21 the prison’s operations were probably the most fully documented ones in Cambodia at the time. On arrival prisoners were tagged photographed and made to fill in autobiographical forms. According to Heng Nath o ne of only seven people known to have survived incarceration the next few days were marked by frequent scheduled beatings. Prisoners were given little food. no exercise and hardly any time to sleep. When interrogations began the prisoners were exhausted d isoriented and suggestible. Many confessed to “treasonous activities without being tortured. Others were broken by tortures so intense that several prisoners died. Still of hers committed suicide one by grabbing a sentry’s gun to shoot himself and another who flung himself off the balcony that encircled the third floor of the prison.
As the confessions were prepared in multiple copies and as prisoners poured into S-21, an enormous archive of photographs, administrative materials and confessions was built up. It has come down to us almost by chance. The Vietnamese army that reached Phn om Penh on January 8, 1979 found an abandoned city. When their patrols stumbled across the prison, they discovered the bodies of a dozen recently murdered prisoners whose blood was still drying on the floor. Journalists from Communist countries were token through the prison before the month was over. By then, mass graves in the vicinity had been dug up. The journalists were sickened by what they saw and smelled. Toward the end of the year after Vietnam had installed a sympathetic Cambodian regime in Phnom Penh, S-21 was transformed with East German assistance into a Genocide Museum. Photographs, confession texts and other documents were organized into files. Places where prisoners were tortured and had slept were left undisturbed. Thousands of photographs of prisoners and selected pages of confessions were mounted on the walls. Weapons of torture, photographs of killing fields, busts of Pol Pot curved by prisoners, abandoned clothing, fetters, chains and a survivor’s paintings of torture completed the gru esome exhibition.
In 1980 the archive was opened to foreign scholars. At that point, it consisted of roughly 6,000 photographs, 4,000 signed confessions covering over 200,000 typed and handwritten pages and perhaps 20,000 pages of administrative material, including noteboo ks of instructions for interrogators, entry-lists, execution lists and miscellaneous periodicals and pronouncements. The photographic archive was cleaned and cataloged by the Photo Archive Group in 1994, after the American photographers Chris Riley and Do ug Niven discovered thousands of negatives stored in a rusty file cabinet. apparently forgotten and already damaged by humidity and insects.
The Killing Fields
The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, a former orchard near Phnom Penh, was where the Khmer Rouge exterminated 17,000 people.
Today, Choeung Ek is a memorial, including a Buddhist stupa, that can be visited by the public.
The main reason to visit Sihanoukville are the beaches. They are not as crowded as many of those in Thailand, but can be cramped on weekends and holidays. Like many beaches in Southeast Asia, they are covered in a lot of rubbish, but Otres Beach is very clean.
All pictures by the author
Text is available under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0,