Entering Cambodia, the differences are imminent from Vietnam, first of all Phnom Penh for a capital city is pretty small at just over a million people. The biggest difference for us was in food, as Khmer cuisine is heavily influenced by Indian and Thai cooking so flavors based on Coconut milk and Turmeric are pretty evident in the dishes. The capital is a peaceful place and despite the fast moving traffic, the people don't seem to be in too great of a hurry to go any place. Along the Tonle Sap River, all nations are represented with their flags fluttering in the breeze and it made us realize that many of these countries do a far better job of being accepting of other cultures and are so eager to learn from them whether it be the language or wanting to know more about current events and history.
The history of this nation is wraught with despair and sadness and is in full view at Tuol Slueng (S-21) security prison, which was used by the Khmer Rouge and built on the orders of Pol Pot to eradicate the population not tied to the revolution. In total 20,000 people were killed at this prison and the surrounding Choeung Ek Killing Fields and only 7 managed to survive using their skills in painting and photography. The black and white photos of the inmates taken before they were killed at S-21 stare back at you in their neutral expressions and makes one wonder if they knew their fate. I even saw a photo of a young man, smiling back. Visiting the detention center was the most horrific site for me as I was the only one in the area and the site of miniature dungeon like holes with swinging wooden doors really was very spooky. The people despite the horrors seem to be carrying on and have a contagious smile that can instantly befriend strangers. I heard a tour guide at Tuol Sleung say "that we are Buddhist, so we can forgive but we can never forget."
After seeing the Killing Fields and coming face to face with the remains of thousands upon thousands of souls exterminated at the site, we were ready for some soul searching, so ended up at the Royal Palace with lots of Buddhas and temples to bring it home for this Buddhist nation.