Phnom Penh

Trip Start Jun 25, 2011
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Trip End Dec 24, 2011


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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Saturday, September 3, 2011

So no witty titles for this place. You just can't considering what it is you come here to see and learn about and we hope that it will become clear why as this entry goes on. 

On the 3rd we still have a morning in Siep Reap so we take a trip out to a nearby floating village on Cambodia's huge Tonle Sap lake. We have the same guide as for Angkor Wat and he spends the bus journey to the harbour telling 'hot dog' jokes and talking about 'big linga (Kmer for dick)'; he's great. 

The journey is great except for the 2 young boat hands (about 10yrs old) who practise enforced massages in order to try and scrap more money out of the passengers; at one point one of the little boys gently punches Jo for about ten minutes in an attempt either to massage her or to beat the money out of her pockets. She's not sure which. When Claire gets approached by a little boy, eager to 'massage' her, she shakes her head and says no. To no avail. When finally Claire offers a dollar for him to leave her alone and stop punching her in the back, he says, "two dollars." Naughty boys are the same world wide.

After a while of passing small boats filled with a family, the youngest child with a python round his/her neck with their hands out for money if any photos are taken, and young kids in tin pots pushing themselves along with small paddles with the same business in mind, we arrive at a floating shop to look at the giant catfish and crocodile farm they have there, as well as the ivory dildos (probably not meant to be actually used as dildos) and the opportunity to have your picture taken with an extremely docile python. (we decline.) 

We go back to the guest house and then begin our 6hr bus journey to Phnom Penh. After a couple of hours we stop for a break and Markus buys a bag of deep fried crickets (which also come with a hidden surprise of one deep fried beetle, which has extra crunch!) Most of us try one or two (surprisingly good, crunchy and salty forgiving a few legs stuck in your teeth afterwards) but Geordie Becky doesn't. When Lek produces tapioca cake, Becky (bravely?) goes to try some, shoving a whole piece into her mouth. The reaction must of looked like she had eaten a cockroach as she nearly chokes causing quite a scene. Nutter.

On arrival to Phnom Penh, the difference is huge. The capital city is very busy and the poverty even more palpable. After arriving at our hotel we go for dinner at a place that helps fund a support charity for orphans in Phnom Penh. When us smokers step outside we are swamped by small boys selling books and braclets and a woman with a limp baby in her arms begging for money. The kids have a greater exposure to English here, so they are able to give quite a lot of attitude whilst selling. 

"No money, No honey, No baby!", "You wanna play a game?" and "You havent read all of these books, don't lie to me" and a kick to the shin before leaving were a few of these boys tactics. We didn't buy anything. It made us realise that as tourists we have a responsibility whilst being here to do the right thing and give in the right places.

The next day begins with a tour of the killing fields at 7:30 am. 

The first stop is Tuol Sleng, AKA S.21, a prison established during Pol Pot's regime. 4 three floor buildings are open to the public, 2 of which look onto a green courtyard where the graves of the 14 corpses, found when the prison was liberated and were killed in a hurry at the news, are buried. The third building has barbed wire covering the balcony walk ways of each floor, which our guide tells us were connected to an electricity source to stop prisoners from escaping or trying to commit suicide. 

In several rooms there are rows and rows of photographs, like mug shots, that the guards took before killing the person. These are the most disturbing element, the quality of the photos remind us how recent this all took place and also some of the people in the photos are smiling as they do not know their fate and possibly may have thought that they were being freed. Our guide also tells us that only 7 people survived the prison, a couple of which were painters and their painting of some of the cruel ways in which they were tortured can be seen inside. 

Our guide tells us his theorys on the powers behind the Khmer rouge and is very disparaging about the Chinese, whose communist ideals were followed by the Khmer rouge. He brings this theory up to date by telling us that the kings father resides in China, and flashes us a knowing smile. Every time chinese tourists pass us (which is relitively often) he leans in and checks himself, giving us a sort of nod and a wink and says "you'll see." ooooooooooook.

Jo spots a Chinese tourist nealing between 2 glass cases displaying skulls with bullet holes in them and smiling for a photo. oooooooooook.

The second stop on the tour is the killing fields themselves. They are devestating, with fragments of bone, teeth and clothing still caught in the dirt of the field where you walk - every rainy season more of these fragments appear on the surface. We walk along the path and pass mass graves, now just huge pits in the ground, the tree that was apparently used to kill babies by swinging them against its trunk, and the skulls of the victims encased in a beautiful 30 metre tower at the fields centre. We also pass some chickens, a snake and birds singing and the peacefullness of it now seems very deserved and approapriate. 

Before he leaves us our guide tells us that Cambodia is a matriachal society that places high value on the position of women. Subsequently it is the man who has to pay a dowry to the bride's family and live with them after the marriage. This is where the phrase used by the street kids yesterday "no money, no honey, no baby" comes from. 
 
In the afternoon we go to the Russian Market with Livia. It is a myriad of tiny covered alleys selling all manner of things, each with its own section. Master haggler Livia seems to have an unknown power with the locals, and manages to argue the price down by a quarter of the origional asking price, when buying her bracelets. We wander round and round, having to hold our breaths through the food sections, at the smell of Durian (vomit fruit) and fish that has been sitting out on tables all day in the heat. 

After refreshing at the hotel, we all take Tuk Tuks to a friend of Leks, a tour guide in Phnom Penh, for dinner. The Tuk Tuk takes us along the main road, then down dark alleys to the house. Our host and his whole family (including sisters, cousins, nephews etc) live here together. Lek hands hot dogs to the youngest son, who says thankyou and pops to the fridge every now and again to eat them, raw. We take our shoes off and enter the room, sitting on the floor around already layed out place mats and eat the best food we have eaten yet. Fish and Chicken curry, rice, spring rolls and fried vegetables. When we cant eat it all we are told that the rest will go to neighbouring families.
After dinner, our host´s nephew, who speaks great English, gets us to try a Cambodian delicacy, Duck embryo, feather eye and all, still in the egg and mixed with a herb and a peppery paste. We try and it tastes, pretty much as you´d expect it to. Next up is a 45% spirit, with tarantulas soaked inside. It tastes a little like Sake, and afterwards Jo and Markus try eating the legs of the tarantula, which tastes the same.

After dinner, most of us stop on the way home for a drink (where Fabian smashes an ashtray with his ginormous elbow and blames it on Claire.) and we finish the night with a Tuk Tuk race back to the hotel. (Claire´s Tuk Tuk wins because the others cheat.) (Claire is writing this.) (More brackets.)











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