Published: February 3rd 2011February 2nd 2011
One of the things I love about backpacking around in this way, other than seeing the countries themselves, is meeting people along the way. I meet local people but I might also meet others from around the world having their big trips. It's great to do stuff with people I've just met, but it's possible that we meet again futher down the line, if we have similar plans. Much time is spent in internet cafes keeping in touch, cordinating plans and establishing where we all are in relation to each other. Some of the people I have met are doing similar trips to me so it's a good opportunity to compare notes on where we've been or to find out what might be in store further down the line.
Phnom Penh is a great place to visit and I get the feeling that it is a place on the cusp of a commercial and tourist explosion. It has come along way since the 70's and 80's, hardly the place it used to be. Like Vietnam, it has had a rocky past.
Just before the end of the Vietnam war, the Khmer Rouge, under the command of Pol Pot decided
that he (to cut a long story short) wanted to turn the country into a nation of peasants and slaves. He wiped out anyone who wasn't a pure Cambodian or who showed any intelect. In the mid 70's he had these people arrested and took them away to be executed. He forced the people who were left to work as slaves for the country, in the rice fields and on farms etc. People were arrested and taken away without explanation to the families, and indeed whole families were sometimes taken as well. He took them to Choeung Ex, known at 'The Killing Fields' just outside of the capital and executed them. To save on bullets, they just blind folded them and hit them over the head with axes or similar. They couldn't kill them fast enough so set up a holding prison, known as S21. Here they were held until they got to them. The Killing Fields, today, is a monument open for viewing. The whole process lasted for over three and a half years and was kept secret. Vietnam stepped in in 1979 to over throw Pol Pot and his regime and liberated the country, after they had fought
their own war! The rice fields weren't replanted for years afterwards and famime followed. I remember having a Blue Peter bring and buy sales at our school hall in the early 80's to help raise money for them :-)
These days, apart from the monument to the dead, you would never know. For such a tragic event to have happened relatively recently, people are, on the face of it, happy and kind and in direct contradiction to the old regime, are commercially aware, inteligent and welcoming of foreigners. The country is growing and developing fast and I'm certain Cambodia will be a destination for the 21 century.
There are more photos below