A photo caption in a previous version of this story incorrectly identified a structure outside the resort restaurant as a stupa. It is actually a spirit house. The text has been corrected below.
Swimming along the bottom of the saltwater pool at the Memoria Palace & Resort, I open my eyes and look at the neat blue-and-white tiles spread out before me, trying to square the pristine sight with what I’d heard a few hours earlier about the land beneath the water: It used to be chock-full of mines.
“One-hundred and twenty pieces!” owner Panhavuth Long had told me over a late-morning breakfast of coffee and fried noodles on my first morning at Memoria. He had bought the property several years ago from the local commune chief. After it was deemed safe for development, he opened Memoria in August.
Quoting the exact number of life-threatening objects that used to be in the ground was not out of character for Panhavuth Long. Like other Cambodians I’ve come to know since moving here in 2012, he seems to have filed away certain distances and dates in his memory, available for retrieval at a moment’s notice. He can cite the precise number of kilometers from Phnom Penh to Cambodia’s outlying provinces, figures drummed into him in school. It’s the same with history. One common way of referring to the Khmer Rouge regime, which took power in April 1975 and caused the deaths of at least 1.7 million Cambodians, is to cite how long it lasted: “three years, eight months and 20 days.” And so it is with the land mines — which, by the way, have been cleared.