The last day of my park pass. The plan was to go see the floating village and then go to Angkor Wat for sunset. The floating village was quite far outside Siem Reap, maybe 20 minutes in the tuk tuk. It was a small village on a lake, but the water level was really low and it was really dirty, garbage everywhere dirty. The horde of tourists packed onto boats to go see the floating market down the river. From what I saw there wasn’t much to see just a big dirty shallow lake.
We still had a lot of time to kill before sunset and Na said he was going to bring me to see something else on the way. We took a surprise detour at Wat Thmei.
Wat Thmei is a Buddhist temple. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge however, it was used as a prison. The Khmer banned all religion and all the monks were forced to leave the order. Next to the Wat is a small shrine, enclosed are skulls and bones they found in the area after the reign of terror ended. It was horrifying to look at a glass case full of skulls, many of them still had teeth.
My tuk tuk driver told me he lost both of his grandparents to the Khmer Rouge. I have a specific memory of a political cartoon depicting Pol Pot standing on a mountain of skulls. Then, it was just facts I had to learn, but seeing it with my own eyes made it a real event.
It is hard to think that life happened before your own lifetime, because to everyone their world is centered around themselves and they know nothing else, no before and no after. This was a kind of jolting reality that life and death happened for millions of years before me and it will happen for millions of years after and I will have had no part in any of it. I was trying to guess how old the driver is if he lost his grandparents during that time, 75 to 79 so he is probably around my parents age, meaning that my parents have lived through at least four different genocides throughout the world, and I myself have lived through three that I know of and an ongoing one. The things in history books are very real. Somehow though, it seems we are still not able to learn from the mistakes of the past.
Between the temple and the shrine of skulls there is a small museum dedicated to the monk Li Song (I hope I am remembering his name correctly) and his life and survival of the prison. The museum was all paintings, but I still had trouble stomaching it. Especially the depiction of Tibia Torture, where they would cut out a prisoners tibia bone slicing away at the skin with a hatchet then rub ash in the open wound.
I didn’t take any pictures here thinking out of respect to the driver, it would’ve been completely inappropriate. We took a moment, I didn’t know what to say to him I can’t imagine how emotional it is to see, and bring tourist after tourist there. Tourists who can’t fully appreciate the reality of what happened, like myself.
After, we headed into the park. It was still too early for the sunset so we drove past Angkor Wat to Phnom Bakheng a small hill with a pyramid ruin on top.
I am grateful that I had this once in a lifetime opportunity to see this amazing site.