|Phnom Penh, Cambodia|
|Cambodian Auto Rickshaw, better known as a Tuk-Tuk|
With all of the activity and commotion around me, it was easy to forget that not so long ago, this city was completely abandoned for nearly four years. When the infamous Khmer Rouge gained power in 1975, all of Phnom Penh's residents were either evacuated from the city and put into forced labor camps, or were tortured and executed. The genocide which took place during the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge ranks among the worst in human history. Two million Cambodians, a giant chunk of the country's population, lost their lives. I visited the Choeung Ek Killing Fields outside of Phnom Penh, and saw mass graves and an eerie stupa filled with the skulls, bones, and clothing of excavated victims. Afterwords, I stopped at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that was converted into a notorious prison by the Khmer Rouge. Thousands were tortured to death here. I really cannot put into words the horror that one feels while visiting these places, imagining the evil that once transpired where you stand. So, instead of writing about it, I'll share these photos that I captured in Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng, and hope that the mood conveys visually.
The memories of the Khmer Rouge's bloodthirsty reign undoubtedly still haunt many Cambodians. But over 70% of the country's modern day population was born after those traumatic events. While the legacy of internal destruction has left the country far behind in infrastructure, education, and other areas, the economy is developing. Two blocks from my hotel, Phnom Penh boasted a new shopping mall with a modern cinema showing the latest Hollywood hits. I was going to head out to catch a flick one evening, when sudden downpours persuaded me to change my plans. The photographic opportunity created by the flash flooding on the busy street below was too good to pass up!
The worst flooding in over a decade was swamping the region, and the flat landscape of Cambodia had been hit especially hard. This was clearly evident on my bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, launching point for visiting the wondrous ancient temples of Angkor Wat. From my bus window, I was stunned to see that the entire countryside was underwater. Rice fields were completely inundated, and the terrain looked more appropriate for watercraft than any land transport.
|View of Cambodia's Flooded Landscape from my Bus Window|
I arrived in Siem Reap and caught a tuk-tuk to a guesthouse. Immediately upon arriving, I overheard other guests murmuring about heavy rains to come. Sure enough, the next morning when I awoke the street in front of the hotel had been turned into a river! Overnight, the city of Siem Reap had been completely flooded in knee-deep waters. This was going to make exploring Angkor Wat an interesting venture indeed!