We arrived in Phnom Penh on a boat from Chau Doc via the Mekong River. As we pulled into the dock, colorful long-boats were racing in the river as a part of a water festival. We disembarked and made our way through the streets to our hotel. Alexa went to the national museum as Jason was feeling ill and stayed in the room.
While in Phnom Penh, we had planned to go to Tuol Sleng (S21), the museum on the Cambodian genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. Due to the national river boat festival occurring on the days we were here, most of the museums were closed. We had heard of the killing fields and grisly murder of millions during the time the Khmer Rouge was in power (1975-1979). What we did not know was the complex history of how the killing was stopped.
After the Vietnam war ended and the Americans pulled out of Vietnam, the South Vietnam government quickly fell and country was united under the communists and sided with the USSR. Given the simmering hostilities of the Sino-Soviet split, this made the Chinese angry. To counter Soviet influence in Indochina, the Chinese supported Pol Pot (Brother Number 1) and the Khmer Rouge. When the Khmer Rouge took control of the capital city of Phnom Penh, they forced most of the residents into collective farms in the countryside and then proceeded to butcher about 1.5 million Cambodians (1/5 of the population). They also abolished currency. To this day, the Cambodians barely have a currency and the whole economy runs on, and is priced in, US dollars.
The Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot and the Vietnamese Communists did not get along at this time. The Khmer Rouge attacked Communist Vietnam in 1975, and the Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia in 1979 and disposed of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. In response to the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, the Chinese invaded northern Vietnam. The experienced Vietnamese army successfully defeated China in the north and simultaneously kicked the Khmer Rouge out of Cambodia in 1979. The Vietnamese installed a new Communist government,and the Khmer Rouge retreated to Thailand. For some sick reasons, the UN continued to recognize the Khmer Rouge as the rightful rulers of the country (even though they killed 1/5 of the population) and let the Khmer Rouge retain the Cambodia seat in the UN assembly until 1992! When the Vietnamese finally pulled out, the United Nation Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) moved in to rule. With the thousands of UN workers flooding the capital to rule the country, it is well documented that prostitution and AIDS skyrocketed. After all these years, the lasting legacy of the UNTAC is not a functioning country, but a thriving sex slave industry.
WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IS GROSS
Jason became sick in Chau Doc and spent most of the time in Phnom Penh in our room. Normally, we have not shared the disgusting details of these occasional instances of “travelers stomach”, as each event has been relatively short. This time the nausea, fever, vomiting, stomach-ache and other ‘diarrhea-like-discomfort’ lasted longer than normal. One noticable problem was the lack of diarrhea. His guts felt something awful like normal diarrhea, but with no ‘release’. The diarrhea finally arrived after three days of cramps and nausea, and lets just say it was angry (you were warned that this would be gross!). This time we used some antibiotics to nuke the guts and all the bacteria that had days to fester. Jason is now feeling better and able to move around.