Welcome to Cambodia! Country number four of my Southeast Asian exploration (number six if you count my brief stints in Hong Kong and China). I had to get to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia and to do that, I had to take yet another long bus ride from Bangkok, through the Cambodian border, to the capital city. On the way there, I met a couple from Paris who have already been to Phnom Penh, but were returning there to board a flight home. They gave me a bunch of tips that will become handy for my upcoming stay in the country. It’s a shame that weren’t around longer, they were great to talk to. But no matter, I was meeting a couple of backpackers I met a few weeks ago in Northern Thailand. You might remember Björn and Kevin? They are the two German buddies that I traveled with in Pai, so we made plans to meet up later on and travel through Cambodia.
Once I made it to Phnom Penh, I had to rush and find a tuk-tuk to take me to my hostel called The Mad Monkey. I had to rush because I arrived in the city later than what was projected and I was afraid the reception area was going to close on me! I was bombarded with locals who wanted to take me on a tuk-tuk, so I randomly chose one and asked him to take me to Mad Monkey. “Ok, I know!” he said. “How much?” I asked. “Ten dollars” he responded. Ten dollars?! This guy was nuts! The french couple said I should never pay more than $3 when driven around the city. I told the driver that and he said that the hostel is very far and pulled out a map to show me. I had no idea what the scale of the distance was on the map but I believed him (big mistake) and brought it down to $7 which is still way too much. So he drove me around, while I kept looking at my watch hoping the reception wouldn’t close on me. Turns out, this guy had no idea where he was going! He stopped a few times to ask people, but they didn’t know either. It was a bit annoying. I noticed here in Southeast Asia, a lot of locals who try and sell you stuff will say whatever you want to hear to get you to come to their store or taxi or whatever and then switch it up on you once “they have you”. My driver finally found the hostel and I jumped out and gave him a $10, expecting to get change. Oh another thing here, even though the official currency in Cambodia is the Cambodian Riel, US Dollars are actually more commonly used than Riels, oddly enough. My driver told me he didn’t have enough change and handed me back two dollars instead of three. Whatever. I grabbed my bags and rushed to the reception and thankfully, there was a guy there waiting for me and he correctly assumed my bus was just running late.
The next morning, I met up with two of my four favorite Germans (Elisa and Valentina are the other two) at the National Museum of Phnom Penh. It was great to see these guys again! We had a lot to catch up on! They just got back from Laos and I went through Southern Thailand, so of course we had stories to share. The fourth member of our pack, Viola, wasn’t around anymore but I told Viola earlier that we would replace her with another blonde we’d find somewhere in Cambodia ;).
We went inside the museum and walked around and saw all of the artifacts, statues, and other things you see in every single museum you ever go to. As some of you know, I am not a fan of history based museums. The ancient weaponry was pretty cool though. Also, the temple-like structures in the center of the museum with the monks were nice.
After going through the museum, we walked through the city and made our way to Tuol Sleng Museum. The Cambodian Genocide. Years ago, this prison actually used to be a high school before Pol Pot’s regime came and took it over, turning it into a horror story. The classrooms were transformed into rooms filled with torture devices, along with photos of every fear stricken prisoner who was wrongfully captured. The interviews I read from survivors were grisly and definitely made me feel for those innocent victims. The forces would kidnap innocent locals, people who were different in anyway including the educated, wealthy, bilingual, teachers, anyone who “posed as a threat” to their beliefs including woman and children. There’s a lot more to this relatively recent history that I’m not remembering but it’s worthwhile to look it up. It felt a little surreal to walk through the actual rooms where all of this was taking place.
We went back to our hostels and I relaxed a bit with a quick nap in my dorm. What was great about this hostel was the humongous bed I had right underneath the air con :). As I was laying around, in walked a backpacker who just checked in the hostel. I didn’t say anything to him at first, as I was busy fiddling away on my iPad, but later on introduced myself. His name is Rob (Netherlands) and he is also on his third month traveling through Asia. Rob told me he saw a sign when he walked in for All-You-Can-Drink beers for an hour at the bar on the top floor of the hostel. Can’t really pass that up, so we both went up and enjoyed a few rounds. Kevin and Björn met us there, and also another backpacker I met in Koh Tao whom I had no idea was going to be here. Her name is Djoeke (Netherlands) and we were both not expecting to see each other at all, but glad we did. After hanging out at the bar, we all assembled as a group, including a couple other backpackers and went exploring the nightlife of Phnom Penh before calling it a night. Björn, Kevin and I had plans to visit the Killing Fields in the morning. Djoeke joined us, since she was going there in the morning too.
I’ve never heard of the Killing Fields before coming to Cambodia, and now I feel like it’s something everyone should be aware of. The Killing Fields is where the prisoners from Tuol Seng would be taken to and bludgeoned to death, not shot because bullets were to costly for the Khmer Rouge. This now peaceful field of gardens and streams was formally a death zone filled with thousands of graves of faultless Cambodians. The prisoners were loaded into a truck from then prison, blindfolded, and taken to this field. The Khmers would then play loud music so the prisoners wouldn’t hear the screams of others being beaten to death. Then their body was thrown into a massive pit where, overtime, nothing remained but thousands of bones and worn clothing. What was the most heartbreaking was this tree…
This is a tree where the babies of the prisoners, were bashed to death against the tree and thrown into a pit along with other woman and children who were beaten to death…
Why did innocent children and babies have to be killed? The Khmer rouges felt that they should eliminate any future threat to them. Meaning just incase any of these children grew up wanting revenge against the Khmers for killing their parents, the problem should be “resolved” now. How a human being can have the capability to just stand there and repeatedly bash a baby against a tree is beyond me. I felt bad even just taking a photo of everything here, but thought it would be good for everyone reading back home to see and read about this, as I wasn’t even aware of this at all. What annoyed the crap out of me was when certain tourists would take a picture standing next to the tree, smiling while holding up the “peace” sign or sticking their arms in the air. I was standing thinking You have got to be kidding me right now!
Anyways, after the informative tour through the fields, we came across a memorial site where the skulls of many victims were dug up and placed here as a way for people to pay their respects.
If I had never met up with Björn and Kevin, I probably would never have gone to the Killing Fields because it’s another history museum-type place. It was their idea to come here, and I’m glad I did. However, I can only take enough sadness for one day so afterwards I went back to the hostel to relax a bit. Sorry if this post sounded a little depressing, but I felt like the prison and the fields were important to get into detail.
We decided, enough of the museums and time to go back to the island life by heading down to the southern coast of Cambodia!