Published: August 8th 2007May 4th 2007 Public bus from Siem Reap to Kampong Cham
Attractive temple building at Phnom Pros
Hiding ugly attrocities of the killing fields inside the lotus flower - a pile of skulls.
Another early start, this time to experience our first public bus. Our half-day journey would take us from Siem Reap (Blog: A fascinating journey through Cambodia begins : Angkor
) to Kampong Cham. The roads were good, as was the bus - none of these packed, dust covered buses we'd feared. No, these buses had aircon, so there was no need to open the windows and let the dust in to cake us from head to toe. It was such a relaxing journey, I actually managed to sleep most of it.
Arriving at our destination, the bus was beseiged by tuk tuk drivers and beggars which we feared we'd have to fight through to get off the bus. Fortunately Yong, our group leader, had already agreed with the driver he'd drop us off at the door to our hotel! Superb, this saved us carrying our rucksacks a distance in the heat of the day. The hotel was a little eerie, with vast unused open spaces for corridors, but the rooms did the job. Kampong Cham
We swiftly made a beeline for lunch at the Lazy Mekong (taking its name from the mighty river it overlooks), which happens to be
run by a really nice guy from Reigate back home! After discussing with him how the heck he ended up living out in Cambodia in a sleepy little town that doesn't see many westerners, we headed off for a tuk tuk tour up to some temples. Yeah, we were starting to get templed-out, but they were well worth the visit. However, what held our interest more was Yong telling us more about Cambodian history, particularly under the Khmer Rouge. A lot of Monkey business around the temple also entertained, as we sat having a drink and a chat with some local street vendors, who kindly fanned us from the intense heat. The Khmer Rouge
Many of the Buddhist temples were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge's short but explosive reign. Religion was banned and many monks killed. In fact, anyone considered intelligent was usually tortured to death. This included academics, teachers, doctors, office workers and anyone who wore glasses. I kid you not, the Khmer rouge also checked peoples' hands : if soft, they must not have worked the land, so have no future in Cambodia. Also, people of lighter skin tone must also not have been out in the
sun as much as you'd expect a farmer to, so were dealt the same gruesome end. The Khmer Rouge returned Cambodia to Year Zero. They did not need family, food, or a home or even history. The Khmer organisation, Angkar, would be all of these and more to them. The population was either tortured/executed or sent to the fields to farm the land, working about 13 hours a day, only to get 2 meals of watery rice in what later became known as the Killing Fields. The weak and sick died, with anyone who showed any resistance being executed. There were to be no hospitals or healthcare. This country was very much returned to the dark ages under some dilussional belief of returning this country to its Khmer Empire days of glory by means of a socialist, agriculture based way of life. In doing so, the country also shut itself off from the outside world. This country had had enough of foreign involvement in its affairs.
We soon saw evidence of much of the above, with temples at Phnom Pros still under reconstruction - although the Khmer Rouge's reaign ended in 1975, it has cast a shadow over this
country ever since, particular until Pol Pots 'death' in 1998, until which time it guerilla tactics continued to kill many. Then, before I was quite ready to see it, we saw an attractive little building, which after a double-take revealed it's ocuppants - a pile of skulls. The area we were walking in had been one of the many Killing Fields.
Yong then also told us how the Khmer Rouge went about building an army of children to fight the Vietnamese, to regain lost territory. The way the regime went about this brought a new meaning to 'shotgun wedding' : they built a wooden house with many bedrooms with romantic presentation. They forced couples who had never met to marry then immediately consumate their marriage. There were spies ensuring that these strangers didn't hesitate in starting the 'production' of Pol Pot's child army. Bamboo bridge and fasting Buddha
After being entertained by the monkeys and captivated by Yong's impassioned talks, we moved onto another temple, then onto a bamboo bridge that crossed the Mekong to an island in the centre, linking the residents of this often flooded small island to the city of Kampong Cham. We were getting
A rebuilt reclining Buddha
At Phnom Pros. Original destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.
many curious looks, which then broke out into smiles, hellos and enthusiastic waves. The locals do not see many westerners. As ever, they were as welcoming as always. We then crossed the road and saw the strangiest Buddha we've seen yet. It represented the Buddha whilst fasting, so you could see it's ribs.
We only had one night here, so the next morning we were bound for Takeo via Phnom Penh by public bus.
There are more photos below