Sunday, 20 July 2014

Cambodia Day 4 (Phnom Penh) : Royal Palace + Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)

5D4N Cambodia Feb 2014 : Phnom Penh

I realised Cambodia focus greatly on their services line which boosts their tourism sector. Tourists can plan their itinerary and book tuktuk services online before the trip. Convenient! Fast! Good attitude! Helpful! Comes with reasonable prices! *thumbs up* #neighbourcountrypleaselearnok

We booked our driver for around 6 hours today for 3 places: Royal Palace, Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) and Russian Market including our dessert break at Toto cafe. He quoted us U$15.

Royal Palace

Preah Timeang Tevea Vinicchay : The Throne Hall

The Throne Hall was built in 1866 to serve as the residence for King of Cambodia and as a venue for diplomatic and other official meeting in the past. It was a symbol of the Kingdom. Today, it is served as a place for religious and royal ceremonies (such as royal weddings).

front view

Hor Samrith Phimean also know as the ‘Bronze Palace’

Preah Reach Damnak Chan - currently houses the administrative offices of the Royal Palace.

Silver Pagoda (Wat Preah Keo Morokat - The Temple of Emerald Buddha)

Within the same walled compound, Silver Pagoda sits next to the Royal Palace only separated by a walkway. The floor was laid with solid silver tiles and hence came the name. This is the place where the King and the monks gather for religious topics. Unlike other pagodas, there is no monks live at this pagoda.

Ramayana Frescoes

Silver Pagoda and Royal Palace are separated by this walls that is covered with stunning frescoes painting depicting Reamker stories but is fading away due to neglected care.

Stupa - hemispherical structure containing the ashes of HM King Suramarit and HM Queen Kossomak 

Statue of HM King Norodom Equestrian statue of the King Norodom.

Model of Angkor Wat

Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
Address: Samdech Sothearos Boulevard, 2 km from Wat Phnom
Admission Price: U$6.50/pax
 Opening hours: Daily 7:30am-11:00am / 2:00pm-5:00pm.

Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) 

Tuol Sleng (in Khmer) 
"Hill of the Poisonous Trees"

We visited the place where it was known as one of the bloodiest genocide in history happened between 1975 to 1979.

Chronology of Cambodia

Khmer Rouge is the communist party of Kampuchea in Cambodia. After they have won Cambodia Civil War, they have turned Toul Sleng which previously was a high school into a detention/torture/interrogation facility. They have renamed to S-21 which stands for "Security Prison 21". The prisoners were those who against them during the war.

The classrooms were divided up into tiny cells to serve as prison or torture chambers.

The rooms were divided into small cell by brick walls or wooden separators. 

Above were the 10 strict regulation that the prisoners must follow.

Photographs of victims were killed by torture and execution. They even have the display of the instruments used during the interrogation.

Extensive records of stories or confession from victims themselves.

Building was also enclosed in a fishnet of electrified barbed wires to prevent escapes or committing suicide.

There was very minimal of sunlight in the rooms/tiny cells. Although there was no awkward smell, the overwhelming negativity magnetic field made us very difficult to breathe.

A rusting iron bedframe in one of the classrooms

This bigger room was used to detaining cadres who were accused of leading the uprising against Khmer Rouge. The windows were paneled with glass to minimize the screaming being heard outside of the facility in times of torture.

A picture on the wall illustrated a tortured victim on the bed with bloodstain on the ground.

Estimated around 17,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng where the prisoners were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates who were against the Khmer Rouge. Any disobedient prisoners were suffered to physical torture, such as electric shocks and searing hot metal instruments and hanging, until they confess to the crime they did or did not do.

The illustrated picture shows how this torture tools was being used.

With these kind of inhuman torture, I guess anyone would rather to admit to any crime they did not do than repeatedly being tortured physically and mentally every single day. Even if they conceded, they were still killed after confession. 


Before S-21, this wooden pole was used by students to conduct their exercise. The Khmer Rouge utilized this as one of the interrogation places. The prisoners were tied both hands behind their back using a rope and lift upside down. When they had lost consciousness, their heads were then dipped into the barrel of filthy water. This shocked the prisoners back into consciousness and the interrogators could continued their interrogation.

Unable to take the torture or the unhygienic living condition or being murdered, many had died and were buried within the same compound as the prison. However, soon they ran out of burial spaces, the prisoner and their family were taken to the Choeung Ek extermination centre (Killing Field), fifteen kilometers from Phnom Penh where we were going later in the day.

Heard from other tour guide, there were only twelve survivors out of 17,000 prisoners. These survivors were kept alive because they had skills that the Khmer Rouge deemed to be useful. As of 2011, only three are believe to be still alive. We saw one of the three at the museum promoting books who we did not buy the book. 

Compound is surrounded by rows of corrugated iron fence covered with dense barbed wire.

The former prison – once a school – is a chilling sight. Nobody thought a school would turn into a prison and  finally a graveyard. Today, it serves as a museum, a memorial and a testament to the inhuman act of the Khmer Rouge.

Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)
Admission: U$3/pax
Open everyday, including holidays 8:00am-5:00pm. 
Address: Corner of Street 113 and Street 350 4.3 km from Wat Phnom

Friday, 11 July 2014

Cambodia Day 3 (Phnom Penh) : Crocodile Sunset Cruise + Dine in the Dark Restaurant

5D4N Cambodia Feb 2014 : Phnom Penh

After a super long tiring day the previous day spent at Angkor temple tour and horse riding, we woke up at 6 am to catch 7.30am coach to travel from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.


Distance from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh is 314km just like Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We wondered why the former journey time was almost twice than the latter. Thank god for the smooth expressway Malaysia has.

We booked Mekong Express bus online before our trip to secure a seat. Different from Malaysia's coach, Mekong Express bus provides breakfast (1 bun and 1 donut), one mineral water and free wifi. Not only that, they even provide a small cool towel when you get on the coach. How good their services was!

The night before, we were planning to catch up our sleep on the coach since it takes 6-7 hours to reach our destination. We totally regretted our decision due to the rocky uneven roads. After our first but only stop, they switched on the TV and played Avatars! This would be my third time watching after first time on theater and again with 3D. Just nice when it finished, we reached Phnom Penh!

Mekong Express Coach
Price: U$13/pax
Siem Reap Office Phone: (+855) 63 963 662 (+855) 12 31 58 58 
Address : #14, Siwatha st., Phum Mundul 1, Khum Svay Dangkum, Siem Reap province

We finally reached Phnom Penh around 2 in the afternoon. Took a tuktuk to our City Centre Hotel. After settling down, we walked around the vicinity to look for lunch before we head for our evening cruise.

Green curry (left) and red curry (right)

This is my favourite dish in Cambodia! Amok fish! It tasted a little like our otah fish but less spicy and bigger fish meat! I am actually swallowing my saliva now lololo

Here we were at our Crocodile Sunset Cruise! Yea... There was no crocodile... it is just the company name.. How disappointing is that..

We started our 1 hour 15 minutes on our sunset cruise on the south along the Phnom Penh Riverfront and North East over the Mekong Delta.

Other people were holding beer but look at us..... lololo

Skyline of Phnom Penh

I adore sunset more than sunrise. 

Then we slowly cruised over to Vietnamese floating village...

Crocodile Sunset Cruise
Address: Sisowath squay opposite corner street 90/ Saigon city Riverside dock , Phnom Penh 
Tel: 012 981 559/ 069 666 861
Opening hours: 4.45pm to 6.15pm
Price: U$10/pax

We were discussing where to have dinner during lunch while browsing through the guide we gotten from the hotel, then we saw this! I know Singapore has a branch but is way too expensive to have such experience. The prices here was so much cheaper relatively so we decided to give it a try~

Dine in the Dark is a fine dining concept restaurant in which there are no lights inside the dining area. This pitch-dark restaurant provides guests an unique experience to discover local Khmer or international dishes without seeing them! Without the use of sight, hence heightening all non-visual senses to indulge in a culinary guessing game. 

The whole place was lit in purple to soften your sight so as to prep you for pitch dark later on.

Dishes will only be revealed only after the dinner. Believe the staff was explaining the dishes. 

One more thing, this concept has a social purpose and supports the principles of equal employment and job opportunity. Waiters and waitresses are actually visually impaired. This is a form of raising awareness about the daily challenges that a person with vision impairment may face.

The only two questions the restaurant would ask you are:
1) Do you have any dietary restriction?
2) Local Khmer or International cuisine?

No bags nor any lighted devices are allowed to bring it with us. We were introduced to our waiter. We stood in single line and placed our hands on the person in front of us with the waiter leading us towards our table. We were told to close our eyes, trust and follow the person in front of us. After a narrow curvy flights of stair which led us to the second level and going through few layers of thick curtain, we finally reached our table. At this time, we opened our eyes. It was darker than pitch dark, we could not even see our fingers, not even we put our finger close to our eyes. Thinking that our eyes sight would adjust to the absolute darkness and regain some sight but it did not happen.

"Basically, there is no 
difference between 
opening and closing our eyes"

What even more stressful was the glasses which we used for drinking water was actually real wine glasses...The waiter then gave us clear orientation of what was on our table. "On your right, are the spoon and knife. On your left, are the fork. There is a glass for your water on your top right. Also, there is a rose on your left. Happy Valentine Day~!" I went "awwww" when I heard the "happy valentine day" lol

The waiter slowly served us appetizer one by one and he could remember our names easily. He usually would call out our name before he serves. Without our sight, we were all very messy and made alot of squeaking noises between our cutlery and the plates.

"Hey I think I just ate a bread kind of bread"
"Tomatoes! Tomatoes!"
"Why I have not eat the potato yet?"
"I finish the food already anot ah?"

LOL!! Recalling the conversation we had during the course really made me laughing my ass off..

After appetizers, next starter, followed by soup, then main course and lastly desserts. It was a five course meal.

We were brought down by the waiter after the dinner. Surprisingly, our sight came back to us slowly and comfortably. This is what purple lighting is for! When we finally gotten our phones, we then realized we spent nearly 2 hours for this 5 course meal. Probably due to all the funny conversation and singing session we had with the waiter and the table next to us.

Many would think that by dining in the complete darkness, taste buds will become more senstivie to all flavours and textures. However, this logic does not apply to us. We all went "Oooohhhhh" when the staff revealed the dishes to us. I am not revealing here to spoil the fun =D

Dine in the Dark
Opening hours: 6pm to 10.30pm
Reservations are highly recommended
Price: U$25 (If I remember correctly)
Tel: +855 (0)77 589 458
Address: #126 Street 19 (Preah Ang Yucanthor) Phnom Penh 855, Cambodia