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Sihanoukville, Koh Rong Island & Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

CAMBODIA | Sunday, 17 November 2013 | Views [2331]

After an intense wide range of emotions experienced in Takeo, we shared a taxi for 3.5 hours with some of the other NFO volunteers down to the beaches of Sihanoukville. Serendipity is the main beach, completely catering to backpackers. Its a neat town packed with bars, restaurants, tourist offices and shops. Every inch of sand on the beach is covered with chairs and sun loungers belonging to the waterside strip of funky bars. Its an awesome place if you are wanting to party, but not exactly quiet and peaceful which we preffered at this point.
The following day we jumped on a boat for 2 hours which took us to the island of Koh Rong Samloem. Its fairly deserted, covered in dense bush, except for the tiny main town where the locals lived very simply. Basic wooden shacks on the sand or built out over the water with swinging hammocks and barefooted children running around in amongst the wild chickens and dogs. No roads that we could see. We attempted to snorkel but the water was quite murky and our snorkelling equipment wasnt of the best quality. We saw many menacing looking spikey black urchins though! Near the town there was no main beach but the island is known for its unspoilt peices of paradise. Unfortuntely, staying in the bungalows where the beautiful beaches are on the other side of the island was a bit outside of our price range. Bungalows were around $35-$65 per night which in the western world is an absolute steal, but being unemployed and long term travellers....
Another boat took us half an hour away to the busier island of Koh Rong. We arrived to powder white sand, clear blue waters and rows of palm trees. It was stunning. Unfortunately though, tourism is destroying it. Rubbish littered the ground and there were puddles of smelly stagnant water. Basic wooden buildings lined the beach which housed hostels, restaurants and bars. We met up with Laura & Katie from NFO and spent 2 days relaxing, swimming, sunbathing and drinking a few cocktails. In the dark we waded out into the water and witnessed plankton lighting up like fireflies or glitter as we moved. Unfortunately the full usual effect that we had heard about was dimmed by the water being infested with these weird jelly like creatures (not jellyfish). It felt disgusting thudding against our skin so we didnt last long in the water! 
The island was incredible but being the nana that I am these days, I couldnt cope with the lack of sleep. The bungalows were away from most of the noise but the hostels were above the bars. We were in a hostel of course and the music pounded on into the early hours until the whole islands power shut down (which happens every night). Then the drunken rowdy voices continued on much longer. Our room walls were paper thin so we could hear every word and bodily function of our neighbours - one of which decided to have a loud skype conversation at 2am and then watched a movie. Then the builders next door start up at 7am. Even the insects have a high pitch squel thats constant and grates on the nerves. The local kids catch them, impale them on a stick, cook them over candles and eat them. Gross!
We ended up heading back to Sihanoukville. The 4 of us checked out Otres beach which is quieter than Serendipity. We had lunch at this neat cafe / hostel on the beach where all the buildings were made with a thatched roof shaped as a mushroom. Cute!
The girls left to Siem Reap and a day later we got a 5 hour bus to Phnom Pehn. As we walked to a hostel I saw a whole lot of ducks tied onto the back of a motorbike by their feet. They were still alive. Ive seen cages so full with pigs and chickens too that they stand on top of one another and their legs stick through the bars. I understand that animals are just food here but it makes me so sad to see how cruelly they are treated :(
We spent 3 nights in Phnom Pehn and I finally had a full uninterrupted 8 hour sleep for the first time in a few weeks. Bliss! The city was a lot more modern than I expected. There are loads of main brand shops and new looking buildings. We explored the streets, visited pagoda's, did a little shopping at the massive markets, and ate along the riverfront in one of the many modern looking restaurants. We went to the Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda and the buildings were beautiful but they are definitely pushing the prices up to take advantage of tourists!
One day was spent learning more about Cambodia's history. It was tough, emotional heartbreaking day. For 3 years, 8 months and 20 days between 1975 - 1979, the Khmer Rouge (a Cambodian communist group), led by Polpot - Cambodias version of Hitler - took over the country and forced everyone into slavery in the countryside. Phnom Pehn was completely cleared out. People worked 12 hours a day on next to no food - many of which died of starvation or exhaustion. Anyone who was educated, lived in cities, could speak english, worked for schools & hospitals, were monks etc were murdered.  3 million people died - out of the then population of 8 million.... The Khmer Rouge soldiers mainly consisted of uneducated impoverished young farmers who were told that city people were greedy & evil and if they joined the movement, they would be promised food and a solid career. They were forced to kill people - even thier own families & friends - or they would be killed themselves. Whenever I see someone over the age of 45, I know that they have lived through this horror. I have complete respect for their strength & they are still capable of seeing beauty & happiness in this world.
We visited Tuol Sleng Musuem which was once a school, then converted into a prison. People who was deemed traitors (educated people, monks etc) were housed here in tiny cells & shackles. They were tortured..... Blood stains still mark the concrete floor. Now the rooms are full with mugshots taken of the prisoners as they arrived. Their faces wore many expressions - confusion, hope, anger, terror, defeat. Some already looked dead inside. 20,000 people went through that horrible place - men and women, elderly and children. Reading about it, it just feel surreal. How could it be possible that we were capable of doing this to one another? But looking into the eyes of each person in those photographs - it really hit home. The worst though, was the close up photos of the tortured mutilated starved dead bodies & their lifeless slack faces....
We also went to the Killing Fields which is where most of the prisoners were taken to be disposed of. By this point they were too weak to fight, even if they wanted too. They were herded by the truckload, knelt infront of pits, & beaten to death with sticks & farming tools (as bullets were too expensive). Their bodies were piled on top of thousands of others & they were buried. Babies heads were smacked against trees & added to the pile. Now, walking around the field with our audio guides, its hard to imagine what happened there. The buildings are all gone and the pits are now just water filled holes all next to each other in a row. But during the rainy season, cloth and small bones & teeth still raise to the surface. All the bigger bones have been excavated already but the major reminder of the horror is a tall skinny glass building filled with thousands of cracked skulls & jaw bones.
I would like to think that if I were faced with my own death or being forced to kill someone, especially a loved one, I would choose death. But how do we know how we would react? How do we know what we would be capable of? Facing torture would be terrifying. One of my biggest fears is not of death itself, but of dieing slowly & painfully. Murder is bad enough, but torture? Its the worst thing imaginable. It absolutely sickens me that Greed, Power, Money & Religion is capable of causing murder and war. It really makes me so disheartened by the human race. We are the only creatures in the world that kills for fun, or just because we can....


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