Published: April 17th 2011September 5th 2010
Sunday, 5th September
Vietnam done. Ticked. Finished. My final thoughts - beautiful country, sad history. Sadder that we couldn't really connect with the people. Just too aggressive. You could argue that their perception of Westerners was ruined by the Westerners themselves, but then it could also be the political agenda stuffed down their throats with all the shrimp porridge. I have no idea what to expect from Cambodia with an arguably even sadder history.
We got the bus. Same as always. Have to say - getting out of Vietnam was a lot easier than getting in. 2 minutes and through. Evidently the general suspicion of foreigners is lessened when no-one's got anything worth stealing.
The bus arrived in the capital, Phnom Penh, to what can only be described as ridiculous rain. It was less 'rain', more 'this is how I am gonna die'. We got wetter than a Paul Rudd rom-com (why does he keep doing those?). Somehow we managed to blag a free tuk-tuk to get us to the Sunday Guesthouse where we paid extra for air-con that was so loud we didn't want to turn it on. D'oh.
What with the rain we didn't venture out
much today, but that can only last until the Shreddies monster shows up. Making sure we had our flip-flops on we hit the streets with just one umbrella - the source of all divorce. Hayley's too short, I manage to drip it all over her back. Let's hope the rain stops before one of us wakes up tomorrow with it inserted in our anus.
We are in a quiet end of town, but then I don't expect anywhere is that busy. No tales of Dick Whittington here. Streets are paved with mould maybe. There's a historical significance too but you can wait for that until the context is there. Yes you can. YES. YOU. CAN. The streets are less streets, more the gaps between buildings that tuk-tuks park in. The most important thing to note is that we haven't been hassled yet. Turns out I have developed a twitch to these people. Just looks silly when I shout "NO!" at nobody.
ATMs hand out dollars here not Riel (the actual currency). We ate at a chain restaurant that was not unlike McDonald's. If I see a fat person I might just forget where I am.
one. Monday, 6th September
We arose early (Asian early) to catch a tuk-tuk out of the city to perhaps the most significant place in Cambodia's history - the Killing Fields of Choueng Ek. For a change I'll not make a joke of everything here. For those who hate change don't worry, I still won't be funny. The ride out of town showed Phnom Penh to be remarkably one dimensional; the enitre city is one big market stall. The residential doesn't seem to exist, people must live inside their shops. At least they don't have to deal with rush hour traffic. Just a one second walk to work. Fall out of bed and risk ruining the merchandise.
Literally all anybody sells is food or moped parts. You want bed linen: cabbage leaves.
So on to the sombre fields of Choueng Ek. A site of 129 graves. Sorry, 129 mass graves. Over 20,000 were slaughtered here. Probably one of the few places you can feel death through your nostrils and tingling your fingers (and I've been to Sachsenhausen).
Before the brutal details perhaps some context. The slaying of 3 MILLION Cambodians didn't take place before people knew better.
It wasn't even pre-World War. It was the swinging Seventies. "Dancing Queen" and "Staying Alive". Actually the latter is probably appropriate - the population of Cambodia 30 years on is only 9 million. You and your two best mates having a drink. One of you is definitely dead. And probably the smartest of the three. All down to the Khmer Rouge.
The Khmer Rouge, led by the almost condimentally named Pol Pot, were ultra communist. They wanted to reset the World clock to zero. Back to agrarian society and complete displacement of cities. Everybody shipped out to the rice fields. If not - shot. Banks. Closed. Schools. Closed. Hospitals. Closed. No markets, no money. All dictated by a man who studied (and flunked out the sh*thead) in Paris. Communism = Utopia? It's a far cry from the idealism of South America.
Apologies now for entering the graphic but it's all historically relevant. The museum exhibit focussed on the atrocity since without it the message might be lost, and that should never happen (Cambodian logic being that only by remembering can it be stopped from happening again). Lots of skulls filled glass cabinets, smashed in by hoes, canes and
axes. Intellectuals, foreigners and even those in glasses were all put to death. Perhaps most disturbing - babies smashed against trees, I feel sick as I write this, for fear of them "exacting revenge" in a distant future. Pol Pot watched too many films. He wasn't in power long enough to ever have his toe nails pliered off by a crazed man-child. It's for the best, but only a truly gruesome punishment would have been just.
Pol Pot died in his sleep. B*ll*cks. Bureaucracy at its worst preventing any timely justice. At least he'll be getting bummed by Josef Stalin for eternity. Except that he banned all religion because he didn't believe in it. Of the remaining leaders of the Khmer Rouge only a few have reached trial and just an abhorrant one person pleaded guilty. Most are dead. Stalin will be busy.
Funny the Americans weren't that bothered about here. What chance would they have had after the publicity of Vietnam? They're not the World's police but f**k off any self-righteous hippy who says they shouldn't be able to step in and save a group of people who aren't able to save themselves. Yes I mean Iraq
We watched a video (thankfully no killing) ready by someone who used the word inaugunated and also cloths instead of clothes. Hmmmm. Afterwards we took a walk around the graves which having been excavated so the bones could all be placed into a tastefully superb 17 storey monument looked like bomb craters. Some clothes could still be seen in the ground washed up by the rain.
We laid flowers at the monument. Possibly capitalism at its worst but who cares, if it has even the slightest effect on anyone who suffered through this time then it's worth it.
In the afternoon we took an afternoon stroll in the sunshine to try and shake the blues off our backs. Instead the skin peeled off it it was that hot. Families were out on the street peddling, chilling. We walked by but decided not to visit the museum and Royal Palace. All around a strange tribute to the Slovak Republic struck us with red, white and blue. We never found out why. Away from the Slovak flags by the riverside a hundred other flags blew in the warmest wind this side of Venus. Almost as many
flags as pizza joints here.
Later we walked past the Cambodian/Vietnam monument, significant because they used to be enemies. Can't have that on our holidays. All of a sudden we were surrounded by monks and umbrellas on some sort of mini pilgrimage to the nearby temple. We slyly tried to get a few snaps. Stalin offense? Hope not.
Later we saw a PwC. Do I want to second? Nah.