Cambodia’s History

We have a lie in today, although I’m sure Cambodia has so much to offer as our time here is very limited we will be spending most of the next 2 weeks divided between Siem Reap and the capital Phnom Penh. As we are still tired from yesterday we are going to buy our passes for Angkor after 5pm today. The passes cost 40 dollars each for 3 days but if you buy them after 5pm you can visit the temples and watch the sunset without using up one of your days.

Simon spends an hour doing some science with the kids which seems to go really well, they are doing the physics bit on light and sound and it is quite a large section that will take some time. I spend a few hours reading and trying to get my head around Cambodia’s complicated history so that I can explain it better to Ali and Maisie.

The guidebook describes it as the good, the bad and the ugly. The good was the Angkorian period, culminating with the building of a massive empire and the huge temples that we have come to see. Next the bad, from the 13th century Cambodia was invaded by its neighbours the Thais amongst others. Then the ugly – civil war, bombing by America and the brutality of the Khmer Rouge during the 1970′s.

Before we arrived here we didn’t know that much about Cambodia’s past but although we have only been here just over a day I think for us Cambodia will be defined by its history.

During the 1960′s Cambodia remained a place of peace whilst war raged in neighbouring Vietnam. However that was about to change, the government allowed the communist North Vietnamese to use Cambodian territory in their fight against South Vietnam and the USA. In turn the US bombed Cambodia relentlessly causing 250,000 deaths.

Between 1975 and 1979 Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge implemented one of the most brutal restructurings of a society ever attempted. Its goal was to transform Cambodia into a peasant dominated co operative and within days of taking Phnom Penh the entire cities population including the elderly and the sick were forced out of the city and into the fields to work. 1975 was declared Year Zero and currency, postal services and religion were banned. Cambodia was cut off from the rest of the world. Disobedience of any kind meant immediate execution and everything important to the Khmer people was stripped away.

After a quiet day spent lazing around we get some food and sit in the restaurant, some people are watching The Killing Fields and despite seeing it yesterday it’s compellingly horrible and we sit staring at the TV again. Hesitantly one of the girls who works here starts to talk about the film and quietly tells me how scared it makes her feel. She describes how her parents witnessed many killings. She asks us to watch a film called The Bloodiest Domino and we take it and watch it on the laptop. It is another thoroughly depressing look at recent Cambodian history and gives us more to think about.