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February 19, 2004

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Welcome to Cambodia. Not too long ago this was the most dangerous country in the world. It's still the most mined. However, peace prevails, the country rebuilds, and tourists come to see the aftermath. Oh, there's also Angkor, the gold medalist of temple complexes.

We arrived yesterday evening, fresh off a boat from the Mekong, and plopped our bags at a youth hostel in downtown Phnom Penh. A lake dominates the center like a sleeping, oversized fountain. Pointed wats (temples) stand as exclamation points at the ends of major thoroughfares. Crumbling colonial architecture recalls history, yet recent history isn't fun to ponder. It's unavoidable because grisly historical sites remain within city limits. The first place we visit is Tuol Seng prison, shown below.

The Khmer Rouge governed Cambodia and made war on its own people. They tortured their enemies (and friends) at Tuol Seng prison, a primary school of Phnom Penh turned into a death factory. The ordinary halls make the scene more chilling.
At Tuol Seng, over 17,000 people were incarcerated, maimed, then sent to their execution outside the city. A photographer captured each person's mugshot, and these are on display in remembrance. Among the dead number some foreigners, Americans, Europeans, Asians from other nations, held here before they too were murdered.
Don't think Phnom Penh is only about death remembrance. Most of the city is leafy green, celebrating life and moving on from the past.