For Chinese New Year holiday I joined other Fulbright ETAs on a trip to Cambodia. We flew the quick 2 hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh is a dense bustling TukTuk filled capital pressed against the banks of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong, and Bassac rivers. I visited Phnom Penh back in 2012 on a high school trip. The past five years have clearly seen ongoing construction and development. I particularly wanted to visit Phnom Penh to see my high school math teacher Rod Kov. Rod is Cambodian and moved back to Phnom Penh to start the Rodwell Learning Center a school in the heart of Phnom Penh offering science and mathematics curriculum. One of Rods old students and now school manager named Reach picked me up at my hostel and whisked me away to the Rodwell Learning Center. It was wonderful to catch up with Rod having not seen him since 2012. He gave me a tour of his multistory school and I learned about all the classes and teachers he has been organizing over the past two years. Rod then took me to the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) for a great lunch of sandwiches and Angkor beer overlooking the river.
Later that evening I met up with my Fulbright friends and toured the S21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields memorial. Tuol Sleng is a school converted torture prison during the Khmer Rouge genocide. Today it serves as a memorial for the more than 2 million individuals that were brutally killed during the genocide. It was a very sobering and heavy experience to learn of the atrocities and see the faces of every prisoner that was documented at S21. At the end of the tour I met a survivor of Tuol Sleng who shared his experiences and said "don't start crying, if you start crying I will start crying". I had been to Tuol Sleng once before, but this particular visit resonated with me and I think it is essential for anyone visiting to Cambodia to learn and reflect about the difficult parts its past. With the upcoming Netflix Original First They Killed My Father about the Khmer Rouge genocide, Tuol Sleng has been getting a lot of recent attention. Check out this BBC article made the week after I visited about the survivor I met and the prison facility.
Leaving Phnom Penh we took a 7 hour lay flat night bus to to Siem Reap. Upon arriving at 6AM we headed directly to Angkor Wat for the sunrise. We saw a lot of temples!! With a 3 day pass and rented TukTuk driver for the day ($20 dollars/day), over the 3 days we saw over 11 different temples. Here are some photos from my favorite Bayon and Angkor Wat.
The rest of our time was spent in Siem Reap relaxing and enjoying the good markets, food, and drinks on Pub Street. From the picturesque beauty of Angkor Wat to seeing Rod Kov, and the impactful visits at the genocide memorial - Cambodia made for a very memorable trip.