Published: September 16th 2008September 12th 2008
---Some stories and pictures will be graphic----
Sorry everyone, I couldn't resist the Dead Kennedy's reference in the title! We arrived in Phnom Penh after our Mekong Delta adventure. We were immediately greeting by probably 25 tuk tuk drivers all trying to get our business. It was quite overwhelming. The city was buzzing with tons of motos and people and I needed to take a second to get my bearings. After realizing I couldn't find any street signs so walking to the hotel was impossible, I settled on bargaining with a tuk tuk driver. We had picked up a kiwi couple that was on our Mekong tour, so the 6 of us set off to Top Banana guesthouse. The area the guesthouse was in was much nicer. Still vibrant with people and restaurants, but not nearly as chaotic as where we had been dropped off.
My first impression of Cambodia was craziness. There were tons of people, markets, trash, tuk tuks and everything was bustling. I have come to enjoy the chaos and really like the Cambodian people. In the wake of all the recent tragedy, they have come out smiling and it is much appreciated. They are a
Same Same But Different
You just have to come to Asia to know the joy of this saying
poor country, but with a rich spirit.
Our first day in Phnom Penh we got some needed sleep and then hired a tuk tuk driver to take us out to the killing fields and S-21 prison.
Quick history: In 1975 Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia. They marched into the cities and forced everyone from their homes saying the Americans were going to bomb the city (we had just been at war in Vietnam) and they were going to rescue the people. Instead of rescuing the people from anything, they sent thousands of people to work in the country and killed millions. He killed many educated people, hoping that an uneducated public wouldn't stand up against his genocide. In 1979, the Vietnamese came in and most of the Khmer Rouge went into hiding near the Thai border. Pol Pot died in the late 1980's, but to this day small factions of the Khmer Rouge still exist in Cambodia.
So... the killing fields of Choeung Ek are where many many people were killed at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and placed into mass graves. Some of the graves were opened in 1980 and they
created a memorial with 8,000 human skulls. We hired a guide to show us around. He took out some of the skulls in the memorial and showed us the skull damage. Some were killed by ax, bamboo stick, hammer and hoe. You could tell the difference in the ways the skulls were mutilated. This was definitely disturbing, but it only got worse from here.
As you walked around through a dirt path, past the mass graves, there were human remains everywhere. The place was very surreal because they left it much the same as it was when they found it. There were clothes of the dead people buried in the dirt, sticking out for you to see. There were also piles of clothes near many trees. There were human bones sticking out of the dirt and teeth remains near many of the clothes. It was the worst thing I have ever seen in my life. Two million people lost their lives at the hands of the Khmer Rouge genocide and seeing remains of many them was unreal and unsettling. I just walked around and wondered how we could let this happen to these people for four years. Even when
the Vietnamese came in to help, the UN declared this as an unlawful invasion and we did not recognize the new Cambodian government for 10 years. I just couldn't believe it, but then I think of the things that are happening today in many places, like Darfur and I assume that it's probably the same thing.
Ok enough preaching, it was just very disturbing and left a lasting impression on me.
After the killing fields, we headed to S-21 prison, which is now the Tuol Sleng museum. The prison used to be a high school, but was turned into a prison to house and torture Khmer prisoners. The prison was full of pictures of prisoners, torture machines and small cells. They had a lot of pictures of when the killing fields were excavated in 1980. The most disturbing photo was that of a skull with a blindfold still on. The skill had rotted away, but the blindfold was still there.
They also had many old Khmer Rouge prison guards giving their side of the story, which I found interesting. After so many negative things, I really had no sympathy for them, so I was happy to hear
what they had to say. Most of them simply said they do not regret anything. They did what they had to do in order to survive at that time. If they had not done this, the Khmer Rouge would have killed them too. I understand to a degree, but couldn't believe the lack of remorse.
There were numerous times we were walking through the prison cells and got chills (and it was 90+ degrees outside). If you believe in ghosts, I am positive they are there!
All in all, it was such an educating and depressing day. We all finished the day sick to our stomachs with an eerie feeling over us. It was definitely time to meet up with our kiwi friends, get dinner and a beer and try to forget. Too bad you don't forget something like this. We spent almost the entire dinner talking about how awful it all was.
The next day we spent wondering around the city of Phnom Penh. We looked at all the amazing buildings the city had to offer. Throughout the city there are temples and palaces all with architecture like I have never seen before. These spires poke
Inside the memorial
Shelves like these went from the floor to ceiling of the giant monument
through the tops of the city buildings and you can follow the spikes to this amazing building. One after another. This is all hid between the hustle and bustle of the streets. There are tons of people and tuk tuks and it is generally a big dirt field. Somehow- I loved it! We planned to go into the Royal Palace, but seeing as the cost had doubled since Lonely Planet was published we decided to give it a skip[. We did manage to get a soccer game going with some of the local children in front of the National Museum and I think that was probably more memorable than any grand palace would be.
That night we decided to go out into the city center for a drink. There are tons of bars all around and Phnom Penh has a great nightlife. We wanted to steer clear of the fancy nightclubs though since we heard that rich Cambodians and their body guards like to pick fights with tourists. So we were looking for a small place to grab a quiet drink. We ended up picking a bar full of hot Cambodian women and old dudes. We thought it would
The one on the left was killed by axe and the one on the right killed by bamboo stick
be good people watching and we could all have a good laugh. Well... as we walked in there was a sign that said, "35 women and 3 lady boys, you figure it out." Hmm... this should be interesting. What actually transpired was more than I expected. Immediately we were greeting by a good looking girl who took our order. Then FOUR "women” came out to poor each of our drinks. Of course they start chatting me up and calling me the #1 lady since I was with 3 other boys. Then the night gets worse as one girl proceeds to tell me her lady boy friend wants to take Kev, the Irishman, upstairs and she would like to take Chris. It was a good thing I established Jeff was mine at the beginning. I motioned to the boys to quickly finish their beers and we were outta there. Apparently it just gets worse from here, especially in Thailand, so at least I am more prepared this time. I just guess I just thought it wouldn't be so obvious! I was wrong!
The next am it was off to Siem Riep, a six hour bus ride away.
There are more photos below