Backpacking in Cambodia (Part 2): The Historical City of Phnom Penh

From Ho Chi Minh City, we traveled six hours to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh via bus. As mentioned in a previous post, our tickets were provided by our Ho Chi Minh hotel as a way of apologizing for forgetting to pick us up at the airport. :D

Crossing the border was quite an experience since we couldn't understand what everyone was saying. We handed our passports to the bus operator and then we had to get off the bus and go through the check point. It took a while before we heard our name being called by the immigration staff. We just mostly followed what the other people were doing. haha I can't seem to remember much of the details, only that I was very confused and scared that the bus might leave without us. It didn't and we actually made it to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

We arrived in Phnom Penh and checked in at the beautiful Monsoon Boutique and Spa where we would be staying for the night. The hotel was not the only monsoon that greeted us that day. It rained the whole afternoon and well into the night but we didn't let it dampen our spirits.

We had an early dinner at a place just across our hotel and tried to eat as the locals do.

We did a bit of grocery shopping and ended up eating again when we came across this stall selling various street food on sticks. It's something you just don't walk away from.hehe

The next day, we headed out to do some historical sightseeing.

Wore this hat I got from Vietnam and locals would usually ask if I was Vietnamese.haha

Our first stop of the day was at the Choeung Ek Genocide Center, the best known monument of the Killing Fields. These are mass graves where more than a million people were killed and buried during the Khmer Rouge regime, under the rule of Pol Pot from 1975-1979.

I will let Wikipedia explain this:
The judicial process of the Khmer Rouge regime, for minor or political crimes, began with a warning from the Angkar, the government of Cambodia under the regime. People receiving more than two warnings were sent for "re-education," which meant near-certain death. People were often encouraged to confess to Angkar their "pre-revolutionary lifestyles and crimes" (which usually included some kind of free-market activity; having had contact with a foreign source, such as a U.S. missionary, international relief or government agency; or contact with any foreigner or with the outside world at all), being told that Angkar would forgive them and "wipe the slate clean." This meant being taken away to a place such as Tuol Sleng or Choeung Ek for torture and/or execution.
The executed were buried in mass graves. In order to save ammunition, the executions were often carried out using poison, spades or sharpened bamboo sticks. In some cases the children and infants of adult victims were killed by having their heads bashed against the trunks of Chankiri trees, and then were thrown into the pits alongside their parents. The rationale was "to stop them growing up and taking revenge for their parents' deaths."[14]
Some victims were required to dig their own graves; their weakness often meant that they were unable to dig very deep. The soldiers who carried out the executions were mostly young men or women from peasant families. ( 
The Khmer Rouge classified people by religious and ethnic background. They banned all religion and dispersed minority groups, forbidding them to speak their languages or to practice their customs.[They especially targeted Buddhist monks, Muslims, Christians, Western-educated intellectuals, educated people in general, people who had contact with Western countries or with Vietnam, disabled people, and the ethnic Chinese, Laotians, and Vietnamese. Some were put in the S-21 camp for interrogation involving torture in cases where a confession was useful to the government. Many others were summarily executed. (

The atmosphere was very solemn, and all the visitors were very respectful of the place.

We were given headsets to guide us through the memorial.

The last stop was a Buddhist stupa where you will see thousands of human skulls and bones of the victims.

Our next stop was at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This was a former high school turned into a prison and execution center, also during the Khmer Rough regime. 

We weren't allowed to take photos in many areas, mostly prison cells and torture devices. Photos can be found on other sites online, though.

I can't explain how heavy our hearts were after leaving these two sites. 

We also got very hungry afterwards, so we ate at the first restaurant we saw.

In the afternoon, we took a stroll around Phnom Penh and booked our bus tickets for Koh Rong Samloem.

We spent time at the park right in front of the Royal Palace and enjoyed watching the pigeons.

We then entered the grounds of the Royal Palace, the residence of the king of Cambodia. Inside were beautiful gardens as well as miniature versions of the country's famous tourist spots.

After a long day, what better way to relax than to lie down in bed with amazing dessert? Blue Pumpkin was the perfect place for that. It came highly recommended by friends and it was easy to see why.

Dessert in bed!!!!

To end the day, we had a quick dinner at KFC, did a bit of shopping at the Phnom Penh Night Market, and got ready to take the bus to to our next stop. :)

Read about the rest of our Cambodia adventure here:

Cambodia Part 1: Backpacking in Cambodia

For more on our 16-day Indochina backpacking trip (full itinerary + expenses), click on the photo below.