Final stop in Cambodia

Trip Start Nov 30, 2009
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Trip End Jun 01, 2011


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Friday, April 23, 2010

Our final stop in Cambodia before heading for the Vietnam border.  After almost 4 1/2 months of traveling and managing to avoid getting scammed we finally fell for a tuk tuk drivers trick. Damn it!  Arriving at the bus station in Phnom Penh there was the usual bun fight of drivers and hotel touts making a bee line for anyone wearing a backpack.  We'd already shortlisted a hotel to stay in from a guide we'd picked up in Siem Reap - and according to their listing they offered a free pick up service so we brushed off the drivers and tried to head to a phone to call them.  One very persistent driver insisted on "helping us across the road" to the public phone.  With no such things as coins in Cambodia phone boxes are non existent, instead anyone can set themselves as a little telephone booth - all you need is a mobile phone and a little table and sign!  So there we were with our backpacks, a very over friendly tuk tuk driver and a lady with a mobile.  I tried to dial myself but she insisted on helping and dialed for me (all part of the service apparently)  Once she was through she passed me the phone,I checked they had a room and arranged for them to meet us in ten minutes time.  True to their word ten minutes later a man came and found us and loaded us into his tuk tuk and drove us to his guest house.  After a 6 hour bus journey and a wait in the heat of Phnom Penh bus station we were just glad to be off the streets and put our bags down.  It was only once we left the hotel later and tried to navigate our way round the city that we realised that we'd been taken to completely the opposite end of town to where we thought we would be staying and that the hotel was not the one we'd picked from our book.  Our helpful lady with the mobile obviously had some sort of deal going with the tuk tuk driver and hotel and got some sort of kick back for sending people there.  Thankfully it all turned out to be for the best as the location we ended up in was far more convenient for the sights and restaurants and saved us a lot of walking.  I guess we were bound to get scammed at some some point in the trip.

It's very hard to spend time in Cambodia without being confronted by the devastating effects war has had on the country and its people.  The streets are full of disabled beggars, landmine victims with missing limbs on almost every street, most of whom are selling books about the war to tourists to make a living.  Which is kind of ironic.  Especially hard to say no to the children, especially those that display bags of confidence, personality and speak fantastic English, and often French, as well. You have to hope that with their language skills and an education they will have the chance to make something more of their life than just selling on the street.  Lets hope so, especially as we couldn't even buy their books as we currently have 7 weighing down our backpacks. 

To help make sense of what happened in Cambodia in the 70's during the reign of the Khmer Rouge we visited the S21 prison.  Its where thousands of innocent Cambodians were taken to be interrogated, tortured and ultimately then taken off to one of the Killing fields outside the city to be murdered.  Perhaps not the setting for the most uplifting day out we've ever had. Very spooky place, which had been left almost as it was found after the fall of the Khmer Rough.  It was originally a high school, but was turned into a prison - rooms divided up into interrogation rooms, isolation cells, with some grisly photos of victims on the walls and still some of the original torture equipment left on the metal beds just to help hammer home the message.  All pretty creepy.  The Khmer Rouge kept meticulous records of the "work" carried out there.  They took photos of each victim, kept records of their "confessions" and treatment at the prison,,  There are endless walls of black and photos of prisoners, their eyes staring at you in a way that really looks like they were resigned to the fate that awaited them.  Endless pictures of men women and children who were murdered for no reason as you move through the rooms.

We'd negotiated for our own driver for the day, who agreed to take us to both the prison and the killing fields memorial for the same price we would have had to pay to go with a big tour bus.  Worked out really well as we could spend as long as wanted each place without the and usual group shepherding and unexpected stops at souvenir shops that you don't want to see.  The Killing fields memorial is about 14 km out of the city.  There is a huge modern memorial there, filled with the bones and skulls of the victims who were found there in mass graves.  Pretty grim.  You also get to walk around the various pits and see a short film about what went on a the site.  All very sad and depressing, and strange to see something in real life that you have a vague and distant memory of seeing on the news when you were young.  With most of day filled with visiting the prison and then the killing fields our driver had just one more suggestion of something to round off the day.  Not sure if it was just us but the suggestion that we could go somewhere to shoot an AK47 gun didn't quite seem appropriate after dealing with all that mass death and destruction!  Politely declined with a "Its a bit hot maybe we need a rest"!

Since leaving Laos we've acquired our very own pair of stalkers in the form of Poppy and Jayne - or maybe its us who is stalking them!  Despite the size of Phnom Penh we managed to bump into them all over the City, as well as seeing them when we were at the beach.  Nice to see some familiar faces at last, I'm sure we'll continue to keep crossing paths when we get to Vietnam as they are heading in the same direction.  If you're reading this girls hopefully we'll see you somewhere in Northern Vietnam for some drinks before we fly back to Bangkok on the 17th May.

We spent our final 2 days in the city visiting the Palace and museum - with the temperature hitting the high 30's still and crazy humidity we've become a bit lazy with the sight seeing - limiting ourselves to one thing a day and then finding somewhere with a fan or air con to sit and have some cold drinks. (normally beer as this is still cheaper than water in most cafes and restaurants).  The Palace and Silver Pagoda were in the same enclosure and proved to be interesting - but highlight was definitely the sprinklers!  Perfect way to cool down.  Also some very artistic hedge clipping, including a huge dog including teeth!  See the photo attached!
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