Phnom Penh

Mar 06, 2018 - Jahan

In the morning as we approached Phnom Penh along the Tonle Sap River, a gorgeous sunrise greeted us to start the day. After disembarking Jahan, we used another unique form of transportation, local cyclos (bicycle rickshaws), to get oriented with the city and watch it come alive throughout the streets. Our first stops in Cambodia’s capital were the majestic Royal Palace and extravagant Silver Pagoda. The Royal Palace buildings act as the Cambodian King’s residence, while the Silver Pagoda stores national treasures including gold statues and the “Emerald Buddha.”

We continued on to the National Museum, Cambodia’s largest museum, which focuses on cultural history and archaeology. With thousands of exhibition items, we saw some of the most exquisite Khmer sculptures, artwork and archaeological discoveries in the country.

Following our lunch at an amazing restaurant, we experienced one of the most significant, yet sobering sites in Phnom Penh – Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, or S-21, which stands for Security Office 21. S-21 was originally a high school, but during the Khmer Rouge’s reign from 1975 to 1979, it was transformed into a detention area. Officers would torture civilians and extract confessions before sending them to one of the many killing fields.

Our understanding of the atrocities carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime continued at Choeung Ek, a well-known killing field about 17 km outside of Phnom Penh where approximately 9,000 bodies were discovered in mass graves. Many of those remains are displayed in a memorial stupa commemorating the lives lost. During the regime, approximately 2 million people lost their lives due to execution, starvation and disease. Our local guides shared personal accounts of family members lost and the personal struggles encountered. While the visit and stories were heart wrenching, it was also an essential piece of history that shed light on horrific tragedies that current generations still grapple with.

Back aboard Jahan, we learned about the gorgeous Apsara dance, its origins, movements, practice and costumes. And this lesson was perfect timing; our evening was capped off with a private Apsara dance performance on-deck, along with a BBQ dinner as we sailed along the Tonle Sap River. It was a wonderful ending to an amazing day!

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About the Author

Eric Kruszewski

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

An editorial photographer and videographer based in Washington, D.C., Eric Kruszewski's multimedia work focuses on reportage and travel. His work is represented by National Geographic Creative, and he is a regular contributor to National Geographic's Image Collection.

About the Photographer

Eric Kruszewski and David Brotherson

Eric Kruszewski and David Brotherson

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