We stayed on the coast of Cambodia for a week; a few days in Kampot, a few days in Kep, then back to Kampot. It’s a beautiful area with plenty to see. There are mountains, beaches, national parks, and caves, but best of all, abandoned buildings!
From Kampot, we took a motorbike up the mountain to Bokor Hill Station, a group of abandoned buildings built by the French from 1921 onwards. I had been longing to see these buildings ever since I learnt of their existence. Wikipedia calls Bokor a ghost town, but that’s a bit of a stretch for a handful of buildings scattered over a fairly wide area. The most significant buildings are the old casino and the church.
The old casino is a massive structure that looms large over the surrounding landscape. The exterior has been rendered recently, so it has lost a bit of its crumbling charm, but it is still a breathtakingly beautiful building. Inside, I was struck by the light and airy feel of the rooms. The space that I imagine was to be the main casino floor is grand, but on a scale that allows it to retain a bit of intimacy at the same time. The sweeping stairways have a lightness about them that is surprising and unexpected in a concrete structure.
Below are some photos of the casino.
Photos of the other buildings to follow soon – I will put them into this Flickr album: https://www.flickr.com/photos/124733761@N03/sets/72157647828507516/
Here is Jeremy owning our pink rented motorbike while thinking ‘Not another old, empty building. When will this end? Does she really need to go inside every single one of them?’
I feel as though I can’t write anything about our time in Cambodia without first acknowledging the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. The first time we came to Cambodia, we visited Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields. Both were horrible and incredibly sad, but of the two, Tuol Sleng, with room upon room of photographs of the people detained, tortured and killed, was for me much more confronting.
I decided to visit Tuol Sleng again when we arrived in Phnom Penh. In some way I felt it would have been disrespectful if I didn’t; almost as if it would be wrong to enjoy the wonderful Khmer hospitality without first paying my respects to the people who lost their lives, families and futures under the Khmer Rouge.
Here are some photos. There are some links at the bottom of this post.
This is view through what used to be classrooms, but were used by the Khmer Rouge as individual holding cells for the civilians they arrested. The classrooms have been divided up into about 20 individual cells.
The windows in Tuol Sleng are barred and ugly.
Both times I visited Tuol Sleng, I walked through the rooms full of photographs of the people held there. I tried to look at each face and imagine the person captured as a human being with a family, hopes, dreams, and emotions. I tried to see beyond the fear, but in so many cases, it’s so pervasive that it is not possible to see anything else. I looked at the photograph of this lady for a long time. I was captured by her confident and defiant stare. How did she find such bravery within herself, in the face of torture and death?
In this image, the faces of the Khmer Rouge soldiers have been scratched out. On my first visit to Tuol Sleng, there was a photograph of Pol Pot and his eyes had been scratched out to the point that they were gaping holes in the photography paper. That photograph has now been removed, but this one shows the anguish and anger of today’s Khmer visitors to Tuol Sleng.
- The Tuol Sleng photographs
- The story of the Tuol Sleng photographer (apologies if this link does not remain active)