Published: July 10th 2010July 7th 2010
Four weeks of seeing the beautiful Vietnam with my Mum and Peter, their holiday had unfortunately come to an end, so we all headed back to Bangkok the day before their flight back to London.
After some more shopping in the shopper’s paradise that is Khao San Road and MBK Mall, we went for a meal and then back to our hotel ready for another early start the next day. We took the free shuttle bus from Plai Garden Hotel (near the airport) and said a teary goodbye to them both, it was so nice to have them here with us and sharing our experiences with them but sadly they had to go back to the ‘real’ world and leave us to it.
We were planning on taking the Sky Train to the city centre but it stops at 10am and doesn’t open again until about 1pm. It worked out ok though as we found the bus stop and paid £3 each and got on the bus that went straight to Backpacker Central, Khao San Road.
One night there was enough. The last time we stayed there was 2 years ago and you forget how bloody noisy it
can be, all hours of the night/morning people are coming in drunk stomping like elephants up the stairs - thank heavens for good earplugs!
The flight to Phnom Penh from Bangkok was good, it was meant to take 1 hour and 10 minutes but we landed ahead of time only spending 50 minutes on the plane.
A short tuk tuk ride later and we were in the centre of Phnom Penh, we had heard from a Dutch couple we met, that Phnom Penh was a lot worse than Saigon. I disagree, well in some ways it is worse. People here seem to be much poorer and there are many more people asking for money. The streets are dirtier and things appear to be less organised, but the traffic is definitely not as heavy as Saigon.
Our Guest House (Spring Guesthouse) is comfy and spacious, it isn’t far from the centre (but then Phnom Penh isn’t that big) and is only costing us $7 per night.
Our friend from home, Emma, has come to meet up with us in Cambodia for a holiday and arrived a couple of days before we got here, so has already been
to see the sights so we booked on a quad bike tour online for the next day.
We were picked up at our Guest House at 7:45am by 2 French men and were given helmets to get on the back of their motorbikes. Neither Phil nor I have ever been on a motorbike before so were both a bit nervous, but it actually turned out to be so much fun - apart from the exhaust burn I got on my leg when I got on. I have heard so many people say about being careful when you get on a motorbike/scooter because of getting burnt and we have met a few people who have the burns to prove it. I completely forgot, so just a warning to other people who are thinking of getting on a motorbike or scooter with shorts on WATCH YOUR LEGS!!
They took us to their business where we picked up our quad bikes and helmets and headed out in to the beautiful Cambodian countryside. We started on a tarmac road but after about 5 minutes we were soon on a dirt track, navigating around various potholes/chickens and children.
We passed lush green
fields, rice paddies with men and women throwing the rice in to grow the next batch of crop, a man with a plough churning up the field knee deep in mud, cows and chickens wandering in the road and people going about their everyday lives far from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The children could hear the noise of the quad bikes, so as we were going pass they would come running out waving and shouting ‘Hello! Hello!’. Even the local men and women would wave and smile at us as we were passing, our first impressions of Cambodian’s seem to be they are very friendly, warm, loving people that have been through hell and back but seem to slowly be getting on their feet again. All it takes is a smile from us to a quizzical looking local and they are smiling right back.
Our adventure through the country side lasted around an hour and a half, it lead us back to where we started, then it was on the motorbike again and a few minutes down the road to the Killing Fields. The Killing Fields of Cheung Ek
The Killing Fields are
not something you go to visit as a tourist destination; you go to see it to try and appreciate what the evil Khmer Rouge did to their own people and think about all the millions of people that died over just a few years, and to pay your respects to the many thousands that were executed at this one camp.
Being from England, we learn alot about the First and Second World Wars but I wasn’t taught anything about the Khmer Rouge occupation in Cambodia when I was at school and all that I have learnt has been from reading about it for myself. A really heart wrenching book, which I read whilst in Vietnam, is called ‘First They Killed My Father’ all about the story of a lady who was 5 when the Khmer Rouge stormed into Phnom Penh and told everyone to leave their homes and belongings behind, it details the appalling and shockingly sad life her family and her had to live whilst the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot were in power.
We all know at home about the concentration camps like Auschwitz, but I doubt many of us know about the 15 hour days
people were forced to work in the fields in 45+ degree heat, being starved and beaten to death, or the fact that in the Cheung Ek Killing Fields there is a tree that still stands which babies and children were ripped from their mothers and fathers arms and beaten to death against.
There are many ‘Killing Fields’ in Cambodia, this particular one happens to be about 15km outside of Phnom Penh and is the closest one to the capital. We were both prepared for how upsetting it would be, and I had to hold back tears as we walked around the grounds seeing the ‘Killing Tree’ and the many mass graves, some of which have been excavated, they are still working on excavating many more.
As you walk on the dirt path you tread on shards of bone which have been bought to the surface by the heavy rain over the years. All this is located in a small village, which we were lucky enough to ride through on our bikes, as you are in the fields you can hear lots of small children just outside singing, laughing and chatting. It’s quite surreal to try and imagine what
actually happened here 40 years ago.
There is a small room at the site which has photos of some Khmer Rouge Cadres (their soldiers), and victims who were killed there, there is also a photo of Pol Pot when he died under house arrest in the 80’s.
On show at the back are the ‘tools’ that were used to murder people. The Khmer Rouge did not want to use their precious bullets to murder so they used axes, hoes, hammers and general gardening equipment. They also made everyone wear the same clothes, a simple black long sleeved top and shorts and a checked red and white scarf. The general idea was to make everyone ‘equal’.
There really are no words you can use to describe the Khmer Rouge or what they did, it is so awful it is truly unbelievable.
We watched a short video on the fields and then left to meet our motorbike drivers back at the front for our ride back to Phnom Penh, thinking hard about what we had seen that day.
There are more photos below