Sihanoukville - Phnom Penh - Kampong Cham

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December 30th 2017
Published: January 2nd 2018
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We arrived in Sihanoukville mid afternoon and checked into our guesthouse. Sihanoukville, named after King Sihanouk, is a beachside town in southern Cambodia. Me, Bill, my dad and team Canada went to a nearby pub (run by an Aussie from Byron Bay) for a few beers before dinner. The weather was cloudy with some showers. Pear said it was going to rain the next day and didn't recommend a boat trip to the islands the next day. We then met for dinner and walked to the beach which has many bars. We had a nice dinner then some loud tourists came in and the DJ fired up! Dinner and drinks soon turned into dancing and a lot of drinks! My dad was even dancing too – I lost count of how many times Despacito and the famous reggaton song Gasolina was played but me and Bill busted out our Merengue moves and with a few more drinks my belly dancing moves including hair flicks came out! Anyway it was a good night had by all but suffice to say we had a good sleep in the next day!

The next morning after 10am, me, Bill, my dad, Andrea, Louise and Celine went for coffee and a greasy very western breakfast! Then we went for a walk along the beach and saw team Canada perched on the beach who had apparently been there since 9.30am! Then us Aussie crew went for a walk back to the hotel via a market St. I had a mini rest at the hotel, then left Bill there and as I was leaving I saw Andrea so we went meandering to the various tourist shops and along the other side of the beach to take photos. We eventually met up with team Canada, Louise and Celine. Me and Andrea looked at market st shops again and eventually settled with the rest of the girls on the beach and had a snack. I went swimming twice, the water was glorious! First swim on this trip, I’m not usually a beach person but I can handle an afternoon of beach time! Me and Celine were the last to leave the beach, and decided to get massages after a shower. The massage was fantastic and cheap though I am intrigued to try a Khmer massage maybe in Siem Reap! We then all (minus the Germans) met for dinner at a more local restaurant where I had a giant fish with chilli and spices yum!

The next morning we departed early to Phnom Penh. My only gripe about this portion of the trip we have 2 half day, one nighters in Phnom Penh. It would have been great to gave at least a full day there. We all minus the Germans and Khalid decided to do an optional tour to the Killing fields which us just outside Phnom Penh and the Tuol Sleng prison where the brutal Khmer Rouge regime detained and ultimately killed the prisoners.

What started as a revolt against the King, leader Pol Pot and his army of soldiers formed the Khmer Rouge (red army of Khmers) and their revolt against the government ended up being a brutal regime between 1975 and 1979. Millions were killed (almost 3 million out of a population of 7 million – 40% of the population) and everyone was forced out of the cities to the fields to work as farmers. Intellectuals, government workers, religious leaders e.g. Monks and priests, even those who simply wore glasses were targeted. Don't work hard enough in the field, revolt or simply steal a bit of food because you were literally starving you were killed. That is why today Cambodia is considered one of, or even the youngest country when it comes to age. A very high proportion is under 45 because of the genocide. The Khmer Rouge emptied the city of Phnom Penh in just 3 hours saying the Americans were going to come and bomb and the people were taken the fields to work, many never returned.

The killing fields if Choeung Ek, located in Choeung Ek village, is where approximately 17 0000 men, women and children were taken to be executed between 1975-1978. They were prisoners from the S-21 prison and were blindfolded and transported by trucks to this extermination camp, many were forced to dig their own graves and where killed by knives as guns a) made noise and b) bullets were too expensive. 300 people were executed each day, and it takes at least 2 bullets to kill a person so that was deemed too expensive. In their eyes, bullets were more valuable than a human life. The remains of 8985 people where exhumed and examined by scientists in 1980. They were examined and crucial information such as sex, age and ethnicity were examined. There were also a number of non-Cambodians were discovered in the remains also. Near the entrance, there is a Memorial Stupa monument, erected in 1988 that houses over 8000 skulls and bones found in the area after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. I bought a flower and incense as an offering, and to mark respect shoes are taken off as you walk in the small building that was a tower, piled high with human remains and clothing which were sorted by sex and age. Walking around the killing fields, where a wooden walkway has been erected so as to not step on human remains, our guide pointed out a sugar palm tree with really sharp palm fonds, and this was used to kill and decapitate people. As they used it quite often, these razor sharp fonds weren't so sharp so people were often still alive and left to bleed to death. We also say some graves were covered and their were fabric bracelets on the wooden posts to mark respect and remembrance. There was a grave specifically for decapitated people and what was shocking a grave for babies and children who were bashed against a tree to death – this grave was under the very tree where this took place. The Khmer Rouge had a saying if you kill the grass, it needs to be killed from the root. So killing a parent wasn't enough – they killed babies and children. Why, children don’t know anything about government and revolt against them, but they will grow up and have revenge in their mind. This is the Khmer Rouge's mentality. Such a horrifying place, the Choeung Ek Killing fields is one of hundreds in the country. I purchased some memoirs and the shop as I am keen to read about the survivors. We then went back to Phnom Penh to the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide, which was formerly a high school converted to a prison by the Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge were against education, the educated, basically anyone who wasn't a farmer so schools were closed down. In 1975, the Tuol Svey Prey high school was closed down and turned into the security prison 21 (often called S-21) which was the largest prison of torture in the country during the Khmer Rouge. People were sent here to be tortured after they were captured for being a dissident being an intellectual or just simply being a city person. I asked the guide why Pol Pot wanted to re-create history and start from ‘day zero' and he said Pol Pot basically wanted any evidence of the society under the previous government to be wiped out. 7 people survived this prison, and only 2 are left today. Both men are at the museum daily sharing their stories and selling book, 40% of the proceeds going to a foundation the men developed helping survivors of the regime. It was very touching to meet these men and I bought a book from one if the men and took a photo with him.

Three are buildings in total, and the empty classrooms were converted into prison cells, beds with chains in them, while other buildings show photos of victims, so many if which are children even some foreigners, including journalists, a backpacker and NGO workers. I the rooms with the bed and chains there was a bottle and a box. The bottle is for peeing the other is for excretions, the boxes were emptied into a huge vat of human excrement and when prisoners did something wrong they were often dunked head first into this vat of human stench. The rooms filled with photos were very moving. Andrea and Tina couldn't take it anymore and left. Which I understand it is all so overwhelming particularly if its your first time going to such a place. I think its just so incredibly important to visit, learn and to pay respect to those who passed at such places. And again, to learn and to help ensure that atrocities like this don't repeat itself. Unfortunately, so many conflicts and regimes in the world today are repeats if horrible atrocities. Me and Bill have been to many of these such places such as Auschwitz in Poland (our first experience of going to such a place just horrible), Vukovar hospital in Croatia which was heavily bombed during the war and various museums and tunnels in Sarajevo to learn about the war and siege of Sarajevo and Dachau concentration camp in Germany. There was a graffiti room where people wrote on walls messages, and a room with photos and biographies of those Khmer Rouge top shots responsible for the torture in the prison. Many weren't captured until 2007, with a defence team including a Cambodian lawyer and at least 2 western lawyers! Can you imagine being on the defence team – I know everyone has a right to a fair trial but everyone also has the right to live and these murderous people took it away. It takes a heartless defence lawyer with no conscience to do that job. The final room we saw has a large gold bell and a message tree where you can write messages as well as another room with more photos.

Afterwards, we left – deflated and down. It was important to visit and pay respect, but impossible to understand the mentality of the Khmer Rouge. After relaxing and reflecting we met for dinner and tuk-tuk'd it to the riverside and ate at an upmarket expensive restaurant run by really slow wait staff. The German didn't join us again, and Celine had initially come out with us but had problems with her ATM card went back to the hotel. Pear joined us for awhile but went to see her family who were visiting the city. We even saw Mark from our previous trip as he had joined another Intrepid Cambodia tour, but he seemed to be engrossed in conversation with another young lady.

After dinner we walked, then tuk-tuk'd a short distance to the night market. It really wasn't much just clothes, some food towards the back and a performance stage. It was closing up anyway. We did a quick whip around and left.

The next day we departed by mini van to Kampong Cham, a river city on the Mekong. Along the way we stopped a ‘spider market' famous with foreigners for the friend insects including Tarantula spiders, crickets and silk worms. There was even a real tarantula there and when Celine discovered it was real, she screaaaamed and ran away!! At first I was like what the......and discovered it was one of us! Both Pear and Khalid handled the tarantula, and Pear bought ‘ snacks' for the bus. Not many people wanted to try it, so my dad ate the tarantula leg and bum with eggs. Tanya had a leg as did I. Surprisingly it was that bad, all I tasted was the marinade- fish sauce chilli, garlic and sugar and it was crisp from the deep frying. The cricket on the other hand which Tanya and I tried, had a strange aftertaste I preferred the tarantula!

We arrived in Kampong Cham and the hotel was new and very very fancy. It reminded me of Mukdahan in north-east Thailand as there is a large bridge across the Mekong. But here the other side of the river is still Cambodia, whereas in Thailand the other side of the Mekong is Laos! We declined on the optional activities as we just wanted to relax. We all (minus the Germans) went to lunch. But Khalid went back as he wasn't feeling well. Pear took us to a restaurant and then left. It supposedly was the number 1 restaurant in Kampong Cham according to trip advisor but service was slow and food not very nice. After that we all went back to the hotel for a rest in the air con, except Bill and my dad. I had a sleep then joined Bill, Celine and Louise for a couple of rounds of monopoly cards. The we headed to dinner minus Pear, Khalid and the Germans. The streets suddenly became alive at night with food market stalls and music pumping from the sky bar. We went to SMILE restaurant, run by an organisation of Buddhist monks who give work and initiatives to Cambodian orphans and underprivileged people. The food and service was fantastic, much better than the other place. They even had a little co-op shop selling handicrafts and photos of all their initiatives and children they have helped. I can't believe this was only number 3 on the TripAdvisor list it should be number 1! This morning, we even got up extra early to walk and have breakfast there!

Right now, we are on the bus almost at Siem Reap. Tomorrow is New Years Eve and we are getting up at 4.00 am to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat!


18th July 2019

Hotel Kampong Cham
Hello! I would like to know what was your hotel in K.Cham, as I hardly can find one for our next trip to Cambodia in August! In the Lonely Planet book, they talk about the "Tmor Da Guesthouse", but I just can't find it anywhere (no email adress, no website, not found in TripAdvisor...). Would you please give me informations about your hotel in Kompong Cham?.. Thanks a lot Best regards Anne, from France
18th July 2019

Bonjour! We stayed at the KC River hotel - it is a large, clean hotel by the river. You can find the hotel on it is around $25USD a night. Enjoy your stay in Cambodia :)

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