AmaDara inaugural cruise: Days 7 and 8

Bags, bags, bags, fakes, fakes, fakes.
Bags, bags, bags, fakes, fakes, fakes.

Capital Capitol Phnom Penh

How many different kinds of watches – fake designer or otherwise – can there be?

The answer lies in Phnom Penh’s Central Market where booth after booth after booth displays mountains of different kinds of wrist-worn timepieces beneath and above the glass counters.

Want a genuine fake Hermes bag? Gucci? Valentino? Keep walking through this high-domed, circular edifice to merchandise and head to the many spokes of covered and semi-covered stalls.

Everything from designer knock-offs to toothbrushes can be found here. Real, or maybe not, Sony, Nikon or Canon products? Right this way, madam.

Brilliant gems or pearls by the hunks – glass, perhaps? Probably. Next to the watches.

Haggling is first nature here as is Buyer Beware. Few of the knockoffs would be mistaken for the genuine thing by the trained eye, but getting your purchases through customs could be an expensive effort. Confiscation and fines equaling cost of the genuine article are not unusual.
Evening found a group of stalwarts headed to the renowned Foreign Correspondents Club for an after dinner drink. Nothing fancy inside, but a first class bar, interesting photos and a great view from the third floor terrace provided the perfect ending for our long day.

Photos of prison victims.
Photos of prison victims.

From Giddy to Grim
Not all can be fun and games for sadly, reminders of ultimate tragedy and cruelty are around every corner. If you ever saw the film “The Killing Fields,” this is where it happened. It’s hard to imagine such cruelty lurking in teens or adults, but it was, is and here the truth can be seen.

Guests aboard AmaDara have the option of several port excursions, one of which is the Killing Fields tour. Grim as it sounds, this is something I and most others felt needed to be seen just as much as the Royal Palace (which we did later in the day).

In the city, three buildings were TuolSvay [sic] Prey High School until Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge turned them into the infamous S21 Detention Center. At least 20,000 prisoners of nine different nationalities were killed. There may have been more; only 40 percent of the records were recovered. Two men and three children survived, primarily because their skills were needed.

Now the Genocide Museum, Building A is the VIP prison it was, where the elite were held one to a cell for torture-wrought confessions before being killed. In front of it, lie the graves of the 14 bodies, including those of a woman and a child, found when the Khmer Rouge abandoned Phnom Penh.

Building B is used to display photographs of the victims. In one corner is a cage of busts of Pol Pot, whose creation saved an artist’s life. His relatives have written a book about it and continue to tell his story. In the floor, metal hoops to which prisoners were manacled, remain.

Building C is left as it was, narrow, rectangular cubicles with a box for a toilet and hoops for manacles. Prisoners here slept on the floor.

Victims’ clothing still leaches up after rains.
Victims’ clothing still leaches up after rains.

Chum Mey, now 85, had mechanical skills and could repair the typewriter with which confessions were taken down. He greets visitors, telling his story and offering books about it for sale.

Thoroughly sobered, we rode the nine miles to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, a former Chinese cemetery. There were 400 of these across the country where the teenaged Khmer Rouge executioners brought detainees to be further tortured, cruelly knocked unconscious and buried alive in mass graves.

Descriptions are horrid. Suffice to say, after each rain fragments of teeth, bones and clothing still leach up along the paths and grass of what would otherwise be a pleasant, shady spot.

Aah, spa and best foot massage ever.
Aah, spa and best foot massage ever.

The pagoda memorial will take your breath away.

Worst of all is how little was or is being done by other nations of the supposedly civilized world. When asked, AmaDara guides were frank and open about their families’ experiences, personal feelings, the current political situation and the fact that many of the Khmer Rouge higher-ups are still in positions of authority in the government.

Glorious relief
After lunch aboard, we headed out for lighter fare, the Royal Palace complex. From elephant house, where the king’s white elephant resided, to the dancing pavilion, the museum of costumes and artifacts and the Silver Pagoda, it is well worth your time.

The National Art Museum was on our itinerary but we ran late and 15 minutes was not enough to do it justice. Instead, three of us jumped ship and headed to a spa for foot massages. Our hearts were still hurting for Cambodia’s people, but we left with the happiest feet and legs in town

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