This morning, Jahan cruised down the Tonle Sap River toward its confluence with the Mekong. Up ahead lies a soaring skyline of high-rises that populate the national capital of Phnom Penh. We cruise past stilt houses, floating houses, and a myriad of small fishing boats.

Once ashore we take cyclos (our latest traditional mode of transport) for a meandering tour through the city streets, as we navigate the busy markets of the French Quarter. Next, we see the Royal Palace, with its beautiful gardens, ceremonial halls, and treasuries. Just north of the palace is the National Museum which holds many cultural treasures of the Khmer civilization, from prehistory right up until the modern era.

After lunch, we learned about the tragic modern history of Cambodia, in which the Khmer Rouge attempted to radically re-engineer society by ending all Khmer traditions and create a classless agrarian utopia. This took us to Tuol Sleng (S-21) and the Killing Fields, sites which served as a prison and mass grave respectively, from which thousands of people never returned.

Pol Pot’s ill-conceived experiment failed, and the Khmer cultural arts endure, thanks to organizations like Cambodia Living Arts.