Pol Pot - "Better to kill an innocent by mistake, than spare an enemy by mistake" Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge Genocide

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Asia » Cambodia » South » Phnom Penh
March 1st 2013
Published: March 1st 2013EDIT THIS ENTRY

Day 163 (Sun 17thFeb)

I was glad to be leaving Sihanoukville first thing this morning. I’ve not really enjoyed the last 3 days here as much as I thought I would. Apart from the Police incident which was amusing I felt Sihanoukville was way too touristy for my liking. I can see why some people like it but it wasn’t for me. The bus to Phnom Penh picked me up and I was on my way.

On reaching the outskirts of Phnom Penh around 4 odd hours later there was a loud crunch. I had earphones in and I could still hear it. On looking under the bus the wheel had pretty much come off. There was no way this bus was going any further. I managed to get a tuk tuk into town with an American lad and a Belgian girl. It took ages to get into town and the road was really bad, pot holes everywhere. I got to my hostel around 4pm, had a lie down then headed to a local restaurant for tea. I asked for a draft beer and was served a jug. I asked how much and was told it was $1.50 for the equivalent of 4 beers whilst eating and $2 afterwards. A couple hours later and 3 jugs down I headed back to the hostel to sleep as I was getting quite drunk. I was just sat at a corner restaurant watching the world go by.

Day 164 (Mon 18th Feb)

Today I wanted to see all the main sights within the City. Firstly I headed off to Wat Phnom. This was pretty close to my hostel so figured I’d start there first. It’s a nice temple on top of a little hill of which Phnom Penh has none. It’s a very flat city and I’ve read even the Mekong here sometimes flows backwards upstream as it’s hardly above sea level. It’s a nice spot and is surrounded by some pretty gardens.

There was a weird thing going on at the top of it. Locals had loads of bird cages with very small birds in it and for $1 you could buy a bird and release it. I am sure that the locals just re-catch them later in the day and re-sell them every day. They are making money for absolutely nothing. Unfortunately there are way too many birds in each cage and they don’t have a lot of space.

I then headed to the Independence monument which is right in the middle of a monster roundabout. From here I got lunch and then headed to the Royal Palace. It wasn’t quite open yet but next door there was a temple that was open to bide a bit of time while the Palace opened. It was quite impressive but only took 10 minutes to wander round and take some snaps.

I then headed into the Royal Palace. It’s a little pricey at $6.50 for a ticket in considering it only takes around an hour to see it all. The palace halls and pagoda’s are very impressive indeed and definitely worth a viewing. It has only recently opened again after being closed for 3 months due to the King’s death last October. He only had his funeral a couple weeks ago, but everything is now open again as usual.

I then had my usual late afternoon lie down. It is currently 38 degrees during the day and after walking around the town for 5 hours I was knackered. The hottest part of the day seems to be around 3-4pm so it’s a good time to hide away inside for a couple hours until around 6pm when the sun has set and the temperature lowers 10 degrees or so, then its manageable to go out for tea.

Day 165 (Tues 19th Feb)

Today I got up around 9am. I headed down stairs and asked the reception how much a tuk tuk to the killing fields would be. I then headed outside and hopped in one and off we went. I had wanted to go to the prison first but it shuts between 11am-1pm so not to rush it we went to the Killing Fields instead.

This was a day I had been waiting for, for the last week or so. I watched the film about it a week or so and have read plenty about the Khmer Rouge so wanted to see where the worst of it happened. The tuk tuk ride took around 45 minutes. The driver said he’d wait and I headed in. You get given a headset on paying to get in and then you follow a path around the Killing fields pressing numbers on the machine as you see the signs. The audio guide is incredibly interesting and depressing at the same time. Most of the actual buildings there were destroyed the second the Khmer Rouge fled by the Vietnamese and the locals who lived nearby so there are only signs now.

There are still lots of graves there to view and the memorial stupa which contains over 9000 recovered skulls from the graves. Some of the graves there still produce new bones and teeth which come to the surface every now and again. This sounds odd but apparently every couple of months the experts have to collect the new bones and teeth that have surfaced.

The saddest part of the Killing Fields in my view has to be the Killing Tree. This was a tree that was used by the Khmer Rouge to kill babies. They would hold their legs and smash their heads against the tree to kill them then throw them in the grave next to it. On the retreat of the Khmer Rouge they apparently found the tree covered in blood and brains.

I finished by looking into the Memorial Stupa at all the skulls and bones. After this I headed out, found my driver and we headed back into town. After what had been a tough hour and a half the ride back into town was quite nice and refreshing, even with dust from the road going everywhere.

He took me to the S-21 Tuol Sleng prison, the place where the prisoners were held and tortured first before being taken to the killing fields to be slaughtered. The prison is pretty much in the same state it was when the Khmer Rouge were chased out. The cells and some of the torture tools are still there as well as rooms full of pictures of all the victims. There are also pictures and accounts from the few remaining survivors. Only 7 adults from 17000 made it out of there alive which is an amazing figure. 2 of the survivors are actually on the premises. They just sit there and it looks as if they are trying to sell possibly their stories. Inside Building C are accounts written shortly after the Khmer Rouge left from the survivors. There are pretty grim to read but I think its the sort of thing you should definitely know about, as it is pretty recent history we’re talking about here. It has definitely been the hardest day I’ve had so far but also very interesting and educational.

Feeling more than enough depressed and sad I left. The Olympic stadium is pretty nearby so being a sporting enthusiast I headed over there. Obviously Cambodia have never held an Olympics and were never in the running to but they have a stadium anyways. It was built to host the Asean games but that also didn’t happen, not sure why though. The stadium now I think is just used to football, it is quite large however. Older Cambodians also seem to use it as exercising grounds.

Days 166-167 (Wed 20th - Thurs 21st Feb)

The past 2 days I have done very little. I left Phnom Penh yesterday on a bus to Kampong Cham, which took around 4 hours. This is a town on the way to Kratie where I will be heading in a few days. I figured I’d break up the journey and try and take in some other places in Cambodia where backpackers rarely visit. There are a few here, which was handy as when I got dropped off I had no idea where I was. The first white person I saw I asked if he knew where the guesthouses are, he directed me in the right way and I got settled in.

I have used the day and a half here to roam the streets and have a look around. My room has a balcony looking out onto the Mekong so spent a bit of time staring at that. I have been a little under the weather the past 2 days so it’s been nice to have my own room. The people here though are very friendly, most people will say hello to you as you walk down the street. There are not so many westerners here so they seem happy to see white people. I don’t think they speak much English but they do like saying hello. I have also enjoyed spending a lot of time asleep in bed, having my own room and a large double bed is nice. I am off tomorrow to Sen Monorom, really in the middle of nowhere to see if there is anything going on there. It’s also quite nice to be away from travellers for a bit. It saves all the usual chatting you have to go through with everyone you meet. That is nice but after a while can be tiring. I have no idea how long this bus is going to take tomorrow so little bit cautious about it.

Next – Sen Monorom, Kratie and Banlung

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6th March 2013

Just started following your blog recently after your dad told me about your trip.bloody great effort, looks amazing! I guess it beats a winter on the rock....
7th March 2013

Winter on the Rock
It certainly is better than a bleak winter at home Bob. Been 6 months now and certainly in no rush to return, not sure i could get used to the weather. Plenty more countries and places to see yet !!

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