. Turns out we got lucky.... when we said the name of the guest house we wanted he actually knew where it was.... for the entire rest of the time we were in this city not one tuk tuk or motorcycle driver had a clue as to where our guest house might be. (We learned to carry the address with us after several such incidences which left us wandering around the area trying to find it ourselves). We made a deal with our tuk tuk driver to pick us up the next morning to take us out to the Killing Field and then onto the Tuel Sleng museum (Security Prison 21).
There aren't really any words that would describe what it was like to visit these two spots. It was one of those experiences that will stay with us forever. The Killing fields especially is horror in disguise. You arrive and it is a lovely grassy park area just outside the city with big shady trees and a beautiful memorial stupa. When you start to look closer you see the mass graves that are now grown over with grass after having been exhumed, many pieces of clothing still coming out of the ground. And then you venture closer to the stupa.... which contains 8000 human skulls....all victims of the Khmer Rouges reign of terror. Terrifying is a good word for it, incomprehensible is another one. Thoroughly chilling. It's hotter than hot out and there are literally shivers going down your spine. Genocide is one of those things that I just can't seem to register as a possible reality, it sickens me to see the evidence that it is. While at least 200,000 people are known to have been executed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970's.... the estimates of how many people died during the Khmer Rouge reign because of starvation, disease or murder, are as high as 2.2 million out of a total population of 7 million. It's worth doing a little reading to understand what went on in Cambodia.... and was not even resolved until the late 90's
From the Killing Fields it was on to the Tuel Sleng Museum. This is an old school that Pol Pot's (Khmer Rouge) security forces took over as a prison location for unimaginably torture, suffering and death. The rooms and prison cells have been left chillingly bare, often with just an old metal bed and the metal shackles that were used to tie the victim down. Old battery containers litter the rooms from electric shock torture. The minute cells themselves are also still left as they were. Probably the most moving part is the hundreds of photos of the prisoners that are shown in a large hall, you can't walk through this hall without feeling like you are surrounded by ghosts...staring accusingly back at you from the past. At the height of this prisons activity over 100 prisoners were killed per day.
With Pol Pot's communist regime the ultimate goal was an agrarian society... so all city dwellers were targets for death, torture or "re-education" as were any educated people, anyone who spoke a second language, doctors, professors, anyone who wore glasses... the list could go on for miles but you get the idea. During the regime they banned all institutions including schools, banks, stores, hospitals, religion and family.
Our other experiences in the city were less depressing, but more frustrating. While some parts of the city seem to be developing... for the most part everything moves dead slow. We found ourselves in numerous frustrating circumstances that just didn't make sense..... but I guess that's what you get when you kill an entire generation of smart skilled people. We were waiting a few days for our Vietnam visa's to come through so we had time to kill (bad choice of words perhaps?) So we visited several of the markets.... the first being P'sar o Russei.... HUGE..... and busy and crazy and like walmart times a bajillion..... and quite pungent as well. Three floors of madness.....organized madness of course selling every thing from silk flowers to pots and pans, underwear, anything you would ever want to eat, wear, cook with or fix something with. Why don't we have places like this at home?? We also checked out the so called Russian Market.... no Russians but lots of great souvenirs to be had. I may have bought some rather heavy antiques that I have just had to mail home from Saigon.... but you know what they say... if you see it and you love it you should buy it because you may never see it again!
Back to frustrating though.... a story I forgot.... we had to get passport photos taken for our Vietnam Visa. About half way into our hunt to find a photo shop..
. the heavens open and the rain pours down like it really means it. We wait a few minutes for it to turn from crazy torrential to a more subdued cats and dogs.... and then attempt to run the rest of the way... Luc being forced to remove his flip flops since they are too slippery when wet! We finally find a shop that does indeed do passport photos. Great! OK... so how much? $3 each... we take now, you pick up tomorrow. Well.... do you have the polaroid kind? We really need them right away. Yes, polaroid we have..... we take now you pick up tomorrow. But if you can take the polaroid ones...and they are instant... can't we just take them with us? What you need for? What Visa? Vietnam. Vietnam? Yes... you need these passport photos, you pick up tomorrow. Yes... we need the one you are pointing at... that is a polaroid. OK, $3 each, we take now....you take in 5 minutes. REJOICE.... after 15 minutes of this strange back and forth that just didn't make sense we have finally convinced them to take a polaroid passport photo of each of us... and then let us have it. Looking like the drowned rats that we were we head up the rickety stairs to the second floor photo studio...wait a few minutes... they guy adjusts the lighting, adjusts my (soaking wet) shirt... wow... this a big deal... and then CLICk, done. The stress involved with getting these little teeny tiny photos deserves some kind of trophy.
I spent my birthday in this lovely city as well
! Walked around down town in front of the Royal Palace.... managed to find a Mexican Restaurant after looking for it for at least 45 minutes and asking 5 different people.... and the food was really good.... and a much needed break from noodles and rice. A perfect birthday dinner. And that was yesterday... this morning we were up nice and early... 6 AM for our bus to Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam. This bus ride should have been peaceful... but with a driver that seriously honked the loudest horn ever the entire time (I think the longest he went without honking was 30 seconds) it was the longest 5 hour bus ride ever!! The border crossing was great through... our bus company shuttled us through the process with award winning efficiency (a far cry away from the Cambodian border experience). Once we got off the bus a quiet man approached us with a business card for his guest house... normally we don't go for this but it was close by and the $10 a night including tv, aircon, free internet was pretty tempting so we decided to check it out. And we love it! The Y Nhi guest house is great! They are so friendly and have the cutest little pregnant dog named Happy... the price is right and the air con works perfectly. Our first order of business was to have some delicious Pho (Vietnamese noodle soup) at the close by Pho 24..... and it was delicious as I remembered it to be. It is so strange being in a strange city... that I have actually been in before.... it is fun to recognize things for once! Anyways, after a long hot day... I am going to go find out what Luc has found on the TV to watch if he isn't asleep already.... and enjoy some AC. More adventures to come from Vietnam.
We caught a morning bus out of Siem Reap to Phnom Penh... went for a classy bus with AC.... as usual the AC barely worked and I still don't understand why they choose to use pleather to cover the seats.... my ass has never sweat so much. I may not have an ass when I get back. I'm not kidding. Anyways... the bus ride was long.... and for some reason the bus driver dragged it out much further than was needed. He stopped three times for meal breaks.... this should have been a 4-5 hour journey tops.... one stop would have been more than fine. Lucky for me most bus stops have plenty of resident dogs and puppies to entertain me. When we finally pulled into Phnom Penh we were hot, sweaty and ready to head to a guest house. As soon as we stepped off the bus, before we had even gotten our bags, we were fair game. A large group of tuk tuk and moto drivers all trying at once to convince us to choose them to take us to our guest house of choice. How do you choose? There is no fair way of doing it, we end up going with someone who catches our eye and helps carry our bags to the tuk tuk