leaving siem reap a few days late but with plenty of good, as well as a few bad memories behind us, we arrived into phnom phen without much prior warning about the welcoming committee that awaits your arrival. we hadn't even left our seats before people shoved colour pictures of their "cheap cheap" guest houses onto the windows of the bus. getting off was fun, more like crowed surfing at a rock concert, there was so many people waving booklets and laminated sheets of paper in our faces the driver had to fight them off so we could get our bags. a few english swear words and international hand signals helped us maneuver through the crowd and find a quieter place to get a tuk tuk to a guest house. this was where we had our first encounter with jay. he was our cambodian driver who spoke immaculate english but every sentence was pronounced with a different accent, be it cockney, scouse, irish, american or australian. it seemed he had a serious identity crisis, or he couldn't figure out where we were from as the traffic in phnom phen is louder than timmy mallett's dress sense. thankful we still had all
out possessions, we found a guest house and set up camp.
phnom phen is very different to siem reap. for one it doesn't look like a demilitarised war zone, and poverty doesn't seem to be as apparent here. siem reap was like spending time in a oliver musical, with all the kids picking a pocket or two, and the divide between rich and poor was overwhelmingly evident. phnom phen provides less hassle from siem reap as the tourist trade is mainly backpacker orientated and not concentrated in and one area. there are a few around wats and tourist attractions but is felt like a breath of fresh air instead of hearing ten kids say, "hello mr, you buy postcard".
there are only a few attractions to visit in phnom phen so it was simplest to hire a driver for the day and see the main ones. the first stop was at school that was converted by pol pot and the khmer rouge into a torture and execution centre, known as Tuol Sleng. the people kept here were supposed to be 'important prisoners' or people of stature or education, but from the immaculate records that were kept, it is
possible to see thousands of pictures of men, women and children that were tortured and murdered here, some only babies. many of the victims endured horrific deaths and you can still see the gallows where people were hung upside down until they passed out, then were dumped into vats of waste to bring them round. in the old classrooms the beds where people were tortured, the restraints and torture equipment still remain, along with a photo taken by the khmer rouge showing a person on the bed, either badly beaten or dead. it really is a sobering place to visit and it is impossible to understand the terror that once existed in these now deserted rooms. there are also rooms filled with pictures of thousands of victims and provides a better understanding of how many were tortured here, and how many were just normal civilians. some are mug shots but some show the true horror of Tuol Sleng with pople beaten to within an inch of their lives and some clearly lifeless. there are so many pictures it is difficult to imagine this was just a small proportion of the total fatalities, too many to remember but to many to
forget. the killing fields are just outside phnom phen and where the destination for most of the captors at s21, and its here that most victims were killed not by shooting but beaten to death with the butt of a rifle, apparently to save 'valuable' ammunition. we were advised it wasn't really worth the visit so we decided to miss it out, and its hard to imagine how it could have a bigger impact than s21.
the rest of the day was spent touring the city and getting refused entry to the royal palace (something about them not allowing men to wear heals?!) and looking around the central market. we got hopelessly lost trying to find our tuk tuk around the labyrinth of stalls and traders, but after going in a few circles we finally found our way.
unfortunately the decision was made that night to go for an indian 'all you can eat', which quickly materialised into 'all you can excrete' and the next few days were spent nursing a fever and bad stomach, that led lucy to suspect malaria. fingers crossed a few days later i feel much better and hope lucy never has the idea
to take up a career in medicine.
note: we were unable to load photos here, will try again soon!
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