Cambodia Part 1.

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December 6th 2010
Published: December 6th 2010
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Our first stop in Cambodia was Phnom Penh. Getting off the bus here we were faced with a ridiculous amount of tuk tuk drivers trying to get us to go with them to get commission from a guest house they would choose for us. I know this is 'the way' of doing things but I also know that rarely will the accommodation they're offering be the cheapest and often they will blacken the reputation of perfectly good places to benefit themselves. I understand the reason for this but essentially everyone in Cambodia needs money from tourists so I would always rather give it to someone who is a little less pushy.

Anyway, rant over. When we got to the hotel, we realised this town was going to be a bit of a chill. Our livers were bruised and although everyone said Cambodia was cheap, Phnom Penh was actually more expensive than all of 'Nam. On the Sunday, we decided we would do the touristy stuff- namely The Killing Fields and the S21 Prison. It's funny thinking back to that morning- we got our tuk tuk to the Fields but it wasn't until we got there that I really comprehended what we were about to see. The site we were to visit was that of many victims of the Khmer Rouge who persecuted anyone perceived as deviant from their own beliefs. At this site, thousands of bodies were dug up after the regime ended.

I knew it wasn't going to be a light-hearted day out but I think in hindsight I had been rather blasé about the whole thing. As soon as you enter the gates to the site, you are drawn to a large monument. This is where the skulls, other bones and clothes of the dug-up victims are kept. They are all classified according to age and sex and placed in order accordingly. This completely shocked me. I've never seen a dead body and have a very naive view of the morality of human life due to the fact (touch wood) that the only person I've lost is my Great Nan who was over 100. I found the whole thing really upsetting and this was only worsened when walking around the fields and seeing the burial sites. We didn't get a tour-guide but other people had and when I listened to the venom in the voice of one of the tour guide’s, I got really choked up.

Later that day we went to the S-21 prison which was another site of torture during the regime. It used to be a school which somehow makes I more chilling. In most of the rooms, there were beds and tools used for torture. In one of the rooms there was a box that would have been used for excrement. It wasn't just prisoners who were killed but also their family members. There were pictures of hundreds of the victims. Seeing these blank, motionless faces and knowing their fate was really horrific.

The whole thing was really traumatic. I found it really hard to stomach and afterwards felt that I wanted to talk about it but there really was nothing to say. What struck me the most was how little I knew about this. Similarly with the Vietnam War, this regime is something that I am ashamedly ignorant about and this is something that I am going to change. Until I had come here, if someone had asked me to think of examples of mass genocide, this wouldn't have even crossed my mind- indeed I'm sure the most resonate image is that of World War two and the victims of concentration camps. It's crazy to think of the recentness of this and the mass destruction that was caused. The fact that so many people still alive today were directly affected by the Khmer Rouge is almost unfathomable.

So Phnom Penh was quite a tough experience and certainly not trivial... However, just when things were getting a bit heavy, we rocked up at Siem Reap, a surprisingly good party town.


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