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Pomtie Tales Follow the adventures of a Pommie and a Soutie, travelling the world.

Cambodia - Phnom Penh

CAMBODIA | Thursday, 9 October 2014 | Views [434]

Our plane trip to Vietnam was awesome. We got emergency exit seats, so we had soooo much leg room. It made me wish it was a longer flight. After the horrible one we had from Korea to Vietnam, it was pure luxury! We arrived in Phnom Penh just after 1pm, sailed through customs, and went out to look for the driver our hotel had sent to pick us up. We waited for about an hour, until we just got a tuk tuk driver to take us. Turns out we had just missed a torrential downpour, and the roads were all flooded, so our driver didn't go to fetch us. It was crazy, driving down roads where water was almost coming into our tuk tuk. 

We got to our hotel and checked in. We then decided to walk around and explore, but met our first hurdle. Our hotel reception people could speak no English, so trying to ask them directions was really ridiculously frustrating. We had a map, and after pointing to the name of the hotel, and doing the universal shoulder shrug for where, while pointing at the map, we were still met with blank stares. We pointed to the mekong river and pointed to indicate "left? or right?". Finally one of them told us to go left, and we found the river, and worked out for ourselves where we were on the map. We got some dinner and a few drinks, and chilled out for the night.

The next morning, we went to the killing fields. I never knew about what happened in Cambodia with the Khmer Rouge, but it was CRAZY. They loaded villages of people into trucks, and took them to camps. There they were forced to work, as prisoners, and every night the Khmer Rouge would play loud music to drown out the screams of the people they were killing. They didn't have much ammunition, so instead of shooting people, they would be bludgeoned to death, or in some cases buried alive. It was awful. There is a huge tree in the middle of this compound, where they used to kill babies. They would hold them by their ankles and smash their heads against the tree. They made sure that they didn't leave any of the family alive to eventually exact revenge. There are mass graves cordoned off, and you could see bits of clothes and bone and teeth. Every time it rains, more things wash to the surface, so the staff at the killing field go around and clear the debris every month or so. When you get to the killing field, they give you a headset, and it explains everything, told by a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime. The one story that he told gave me goosebumps. He was only 15 years old when he was taken to Tuol Sleng prison. There was an older man who used to fight with the guards and ask why there was a young boy in a prison for adults. After a while of this, he was released. He said that his biggest regret in his life was that he couldn't remember the old man's name to thank his family, because he realised afterwards that the old man had sacrificed his life for his freedom. I have never been to Auschwitz, but I feel like the same kind of evil surrounded this place! At the end, there is a huge remembrance for the dead, and it is just rows and rows of skulls and bones and clothes that they have found in the mass graves. It is chilling!

After the killing fields, we went to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was a school, which the Khmer Rouge took over and turned into a prison. The classrooms were turned into torture rooms. Some of the rooms were divided into little boxes where prisoners slept. They literally had about 5ft by 2ft of space and an empty ammunition tin for a toilet. Other rooms had metal bed frames, without mattresses, where the prisoners were tied down and beaten, often to death. Outside were gallows where prisoners were hung upside down and dunked in dirty water during interrogation and punishment. There were other torture devices and tools that were used for beating and killing prisoners. One thing that got to me was that the buildings were covered in barbed wire, which was not to prevent escape, but rather to prevent prisoners from committing suicide. In the other rooms, there were walls and walls of the prisoners' photographs. Some of them looked so young, including a few babies. No one was spared.

We ended up just "relaxing" for the rest of the afternoon. The killing fields and the prison are really exhausting. It was good to relax. 

One thing that I really didn't like about Phnom Penh was that I felt unsafe. They have motorbike gangs who ride past and steal things, and as soon as we got the tuk tuk from the airport, the driver warned us to hold on tight to all of our bags. That night while we were having dinner, we heard people down the road shouting "Chow", and it was like a mexican wave. All of the Cambodians around us started shouting "Chow" and ran into the street. It was weird and we couldn't work out what was happening. Turns out that 'chow' means thief. The next morning at breakfast, we heard a foreign girl telling the table next to us that it was her who was almost robbed. She was riding on the back of her friend's motorbike, with her bag across her body. Two guys rode up next to them and grabbed the bag, but because she didn't have it just on one shoulder, they ended up just pulling them over, and they rode off. The Cambodians ran out into the road, but they zipped down a side street. 

On Tuesday we woke up and wandered over to the pagoda on the riverfront. It is really pretty, but we only needed about 20 minutes there. We then headed out to the palace. Along the way, two different tuk tuk drivers told us we couldn't go in. The first said that we needed to be wearing long sleeve shirts that covered our elbows. We told him we were going to look at it anyway, and he gave up. The second told us that they were closed for lunch until 2pm, so he would take us to other places until then. He was really persistent, and kept pointing at a closed gate, but luckily I had experienced the same thing in Thailand, so we walked around and found the gate, still open, with just over an hour before lunch! Scamming tuk tuk drivers!

After the palace, we felt pretty much done with Phnom Penh. There are so many beggars, and dirty children who beg you to buy things. So on our way home we decided to buy bus tickets out of there. We booked the one o'clock bus to Sihanoukville, got our things, and headed to the bus station.

Tags: khmer rouge, killing fields, palace, phnom penh, toul sleng


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