The mighty Mekong
The river, not the man
Our next destination was Cambodia's capital city Phnom Penh, located on the banks of the Mekong River. After researching online we decided to take the Mekong Express
bus from Siem Reap. Although it was about $2 more expensive than other buses, it had good recommendations from other travellers. You also get a receipt for the luggage you store underneath the bus which you must produce at the end to claim your bags. The journey also includes a bottle of water and a snack as well as much karoke on tv as you can stomach (well, in fact, much MORE than either of us could stomach), so not a bad all-around service.
We arrived at our hotel in Phnom Penh to find that it did not match the description on the website we had booked it and that for the price we were paying, it was pretty awful. We decided to jump ship, losing our room deposit, and found a different hotel a little closer to the main tourist area. We found a twin room at the Waterview Hotel, which was good enough for us for one night and then shifted across the hall to a cheaper, but
The royal palace
windowless, double room the next night. Neither of us we thrilled to be back in a big city again, but it was a means to go a visit The Killing Fields
. We spent the evening walking around the main tourist drag of the city across from the river and settled on a restaurant situated on the corner of the street across from the Mekong for dinner and a couple of Angkor Beers.
The Killing Fields
The next afternoon we booked a tour of the Killing Fields for $5 USD. The Killing Fields is the name for a series of sights in Cambodia which contained the mass graves of the victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide which was carried out between 1975 and 1979. One site lies in the small Cambodian town of Choeung Ek
, a 15km drive from Phnom Penh. It is estimated that around 1.7m people were killed by the Khmer Rouge in those years, and buried in more than 300 mass graves. Choeung Ek itself is about the size of a football field with its mass graves containing the bodies of around 20,000 Cambodians. At the same time many more Cambodians died from disease and starvation,
Came in handy
particularly from forced labour, an extremely distressing example of genocide. Those targeted by Pol Pot
included anyone accused of being involved in the former government, intellectuals, professionals, as well as the cleansing of ethnic Chinese and Thai.
The site itself was been somewhat dismantled but is intact enough to serve as an eerie reminder of what went on. The site is laid out with signs showing you where the prisoners were transported from the prison camp (a converted school on the outskirts of Phnom Penh) and there are still remainders of mass graves which had ben dug up. One contained the bodies of 140 headless men, while another the bodies of naked women and children. The largest mass grave on the site contained the bodies of around 450 people. The site also contains what has been named the "killing tree" where Khmer Rouge soldiers bashed the skulls of babies before throwing them in the mass grave. Also on the site is a memorial created for the victims of the Khmer Rouge, containing the skulls of 8,000 people. When the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot took control of the country Phnom Penh was immediately evactuated, with the city becoming a
Memorial to the dead
About 8,000 skulls were in here
ghost town within four days.
We walked around the site, passing by the sign posts beside the graves and the killing tre which gave brief details about the site. There is also a museum on the site offering more information and historial background as well as a 15 minute movie to watch.
After about an hour at the site we got back in our mini van and went to the second site on the tour Tuol Sleng
, a former school which was then used as a prison and torture sight. More than 17,000 people were brought to the site during the Khmer Rouge regime, with only seven people surviving. The site itself is quite disturbing with the original beds which prisoners were chained to still lying in the cold concrete cells with very graphic photographs of the prisoners found tortured and killed, still lying chained to the beds hung on the walls. After about 40 minutes walking around we had had enough and returned, quite somberly, to our hotel.
We still had about four days until our visa for Vietnam kicked in, so we decided instead of spending it in Phnom Penh we would get
Brent checks out the sign infront of a mass grave
out of the city and see another part of the country. We decided on Sihanoukville, Cambodia's main beach resort site, a four hour bus journey south. We got back on the Mekong Express and after a trouble free trip we were fighting through the crowd of tuk tuk & taxi drivers. The tuk tuk drivers at the bus station are all part of a cartel and inflate their prices to tourists. They offered to take us to our hotel for $8 USD when the trip should have only cost $1-$2 USD. We told them where to go and got an airconditioned taxi for a more appropriate price of $2 USD. The taxi got us straight to our accomodation for the night, the Golden Sands hotel in about 5 minutes.
Sihanoukville, named after King Father Norodom Sihanouk lies in the Gulf of Thailand and is the site of the only deep water port in the country. It was also the site of the last offical battle between the US and the Vietnam Army during the Vietnam War.
The beach is a lot less developed than those in Thailand, which suited as perfectly as it felt like a less spoiled
Toul Sleng prison
The many photos of the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime
Phuket. Although we doubt it will stay this way for long. Thankfully the large development of hotels is away from the beach, instead allowing for a long line of wooden shacks along the beach serving food and drink all day long, many which include sun lounges to sit out on during the way under sun umbrellas, just a 5m hop into the warm water. Bliss you think?!! Well...along with the beaches also come the many many hoards of touts constantly offering you braclets, sunglasses, massages and pedicures. If you sit out or a drink you are met with a constant barrage of them, who often target you individually, so even if Cath has said no 10 times to something, they then will try Brent!!
The conversations normally went a bit like this: Tout
: You buy bracelet Cath:
NO thankyou Tout:
You buy? Cath:
NO THANKYOU Tout:
You buy later? Cath:
NO THANKYOU!! Tout:
If you buy, you buy from me okay? Cath:
NO THANKYOU!! Tout:
Okay, you buy from me later okay? Cath:
NO NO NO NO NO! Tout:
You buy bracelet Brent:
NO Thankyou .. and so on!
At one point we had a beer on the
Toul Sleng 2
Made out of a former school
beach and barely spoke to each other while we drank it for all the touts!
While the touts could be time consuming, they certainly did not put us off enjoying Sihanoukvile. We spent most of our time on the main beach area, Occheuteal Beach
which borders on to the backpacker friendly site, Serendipity Beach
. There is one main road leading up from the beach lined with restaurants, shops and tour offices, with several more on side roads leading around the beach. We opted to eat at a Japanese Teppanyki restaurant the first night which was just gorgeous. The heavens opened while we ate so we had a nice walk back in the pouring rain (even though it's rainy season, we still forget our umbrellas!). Beach day and diving
The next day we were up at 7am and down to the beach early to make the most of it before it became overcrowded with touts and tourists. We found this was the best time of the day as it was nice and quiet. We had a nice breakfast then sat out on the sunlounges taking turns to read our books and swim in the sea. We then had
Back at the beach
Cath just found beer for 25 cents!
to go check out of our hotel as we had found a much nicer, and slightly cheaper hotel called the Beach Club Resort, a two minute walk down the road. We had booked to stay there for another three nights.
The next day Brent left early in the morning on another diving trip, leaving Cath up to her own devices for the day. He visited two islands, Rung Samloem and Koh Kon, a two hour boat trip each way. Brent found the trip out quite long for one day (it would be best to stay out on the islands for a night), while the diving was okay but visibility was poor on the second dive (3m). He still had an enjoyable day and was happy to get another couple of dives under his belt.
Meanwhile Cath enjoyed torrential downpours all day long which put a huge damper on her plans! Instead she managed to catch up on some washing, watch a movie on the laptop and catch up with her parents on Skype.
We had decided to delay our trip to Vietnam by one more day in order to watch the All Blacks vs Australia Tri-Nations/Bedisloe Cup match. Brent scouted out a pub in the morning which was playing the game so we enjoyed a relaxing morning by the pool and a nice lunch before heading over to watch the game. Unfortunately the TV channel playing the match, the Australia Network, blocks the rugby matches unless you subscribe. So we, along with about eight others, had a last minute scramble to another nearby pub which was able to show the game. Another good win for the ABs! After a few games of pool afterwards we went up the road to a cheap & cheerful Thai noodle bar for a nice & spicy Pad Thai for dinner, as Brent was missing his spice! We then called it a night in preparation for our 12 hour journey to Ho Chi Minh City the next day.
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