Historical places in Asia
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Phnom Sampeau outside Battambang
Like the Killing Fields, the Killing Caves at Phnom Sampeau are where the Khmer Rouge took their prisoners to kill them. There are three caves on the backside of the mountain of Phnom Sampeau, where this took place. The Khmer Rouge soldiers would either just push the victims over the edge of the skylight into the caves or cut their throats before throwing them in. It has been estimated that about 10.000 people were killed in these caves alone. Today, shrines, peaceful Buddha statues and cages with bones make out this grim memorial of the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge. If you want some fresh air afterwards, walk to the top of the mountain, which is one big complex of temples. The views from there are astonishing.
Killing Field at Choeung Ek
17 km outside Phnom Penh
Choeung Ek is just one of many killing fields used by the Khmer Rouge when they ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Enemies of the regime, which pretty much could be anyone, were first imprisoned then later killed. Prisoners from S-21 were marched to this old Chinese cemetery and then killed before put into mass graves, though sometimes they didn't even bother doing the killing. To save bullets, the Khmer Rouge soldiers used whatever they had at hand to kill the victims. People got knifed, bashed with tools or had their throat cut with sharp palm leaves. Babies got smacked into tree trunks.
After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, 8895 bodies were discovered here at Choeung Ek. Today, the graveyard has been turned into a memorial with a Buddhist stupa containing 5000 skulls of the victims.
Toul Sleng museum, Phnom Penh
When the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia in 1975, they turned the country into a Maoist state. Everyone of higher education was considered an enemy of the state and therefore had to be executed. For that purpose, a high school in central Phnom Penh was turned into a torture center, named S-21. Throughout the four years of Khmer Rouge control, more than 16.000 Cambodians were tortured here and eventually killed, either here or at the killing fields at Choeung Ek a bit out of town. The Khmer Rouge kept meticulous records, including photos, of all the prisoners and their horrific torture. These can today be seen at the high school which is turned into a museum. A grim memorial of how bad men can treat each other.
The Forbidden City was the imperial palace for the Chinese emperor from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) throughout the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). The construction of the complex was finished in 1420 and consists of 980 buildings which also functioned as home for the imperial household and centre for the Chinese government. The Forbidden City is located in the middle of the Imperial City, separating it from the inner city of ancient Beijing. The main entrance to the Forbidden City goes through the Tiananmen gate in the south which first leads to the Imperial City which then again leads to the Forbidden City through the Meridian Gate. The iconic portrait of Chairman Mao is decorating Tiananmen gate. If anything happens to that picture, a new will be up within minutes.
The East Qing Imperial Tombs contain 15 tombs hereof five for emperors from the Qing Dynasty along with a long list of empresses, princes, princesses and concubines, including the tomb of Empress Dowager Cixi (she is portrayed in the movie "The Last Emperor"). The largest tomb is also the first which dates back to 1663 and is for the first emperor, Shunzhi, of the Qing Dynasty. Though the complex has some fine elaborated tomb chambers which are open (e.g. the ones for Emperor Qian Long and Empress Dowager Cixi), the most impressive thing about the tombs is the whole layout which follows strict feng shui principles which incorporates spirit paths guarded by statues and the surrounding mountains.
Chairman Mao's Memorial Hall, Beijing
Chairman Mao had wished to be cremated when he died, just like Lenin and Ho Chi Minh had, but just like Lenin and Ho Chi Minh he got embalmed and put on display for the public so they could honour their dear leader for many years to come. As a symbol, the mausoleum got built out of materials from all over China - apparently even sand from the Taiwan Straits. It proved more difficult to embalm the body and construct a transparent coffin, for the Soviets were the specialists and they didn't want to share their secrets with the enemy (remember this was during the Soviet-China tension). The Chinese got the embalming fixed by sharing notes with the Vietnamese, who had embalmed Ho Chi Minh 7 years before, but they had to work hard regarding the crystal casket. Mao Zedong's pickled corpse is still on display today and in the best Chinese tradition, you are forced through a cascade of Mao souvenir stands before exiting the mausoleum.
Imperial Garden, Beijing
The Summer Palace is a huge palace park with a man-made lake and hill. It was built in 1750 during the Qing Dynasty and extended over several centuries and served as playground for Empress Dowager Cixi who fixed up the place with the navy's money, wasting silver on extravagant things like the marble boat you can see today. The park is traversed by walking trails that are sprinkled with pavilions, temples, halls and bridges which Chinese garden design are so famous for.
Keep in mind that the Summer Palace is a prime sight for local Chinese tourists and draws millions of visitors every year, so be prepared for Chinese tour groups led by guides with flag and loudspeaker hanging around their necks.
Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven was originally built in 1420 and used by the emperor (Son of Heaven) once a year to pray for good harvest and favourable rain. It was designed, and redesigned, by all the heavenly rules any human being could think of: Feng shui, symbolism, geometry, numerology... you name it. Nothing was allowed to go wrong when the nation's livelihood depended on it. The temple complex consists of several parts: the Round Alter, the Echo Hall, some smaller halls and then of course the jewel of them all, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The temple complex lies in a huge tranquil park with shady trees and benches, which the tour groups thankfully disregard.
One hour drive outside Xian, Shaanxi Province
A must sight for any traveller coming this way. Three pits filled with clay warriors (or the remains of) which were put into the ground around 210 BC to protect the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, in his afterlife. They were accidentally found by some farmers in 1974, while digging for a new well. The pits are still not fully excavated, but the estimated numbers of warriors are over 8000. The warriors were grouped into army units like soldier, chariots and cavalry, and all are made in full size. While the bodies of the all soldiers are made from same mold, all of them have different faces. So while the exhibition is good, the story behind is even better. Keep in mind that the Chinese consider this an "Eighth Wonder of the World" and have turned the place into a souvenir black hole, that only Chinese can be fond of.
In the tranquil riverside town of Savannakhet lies this tiny Dinosaur museum. The palaeontological finds are all from the area and the one room exhibition is a very low key affair. A dinosaur is drawn in full size along three of the walls and outlined by Christmas lights. The curators are very friendly, though not speaking much English, and will pull out drawers to show you hidden stuff up close. You might even get a tour in the store room behind, where all the new finds are. Don't expect a lot of explanation, all signs are only in Lao and French. We like... bravo!