Khmer Rouge - a chilling intro to Cambodia
Trip Start Sep 15, 2012
138Trip End May 01, 2013
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In our private tuk-tuk we wound through the streets of Phnom Penh and headed 17km south of town, the back roads providing some back-breaking pot holes and Mr Bora's impatience paying dividends to our timing. We arrived early enough to avoid huge crowds to begin with and so we paid our entrance fee and read the guidance to visitors which included taking shoes off outside the memorial building and silence inside....the memorial was the last stop on our audio walk so we headed off to point one to begin our education on the Khmer Rouge and how they brought prisoners to the site.
As you can imagine, it was pretty harrowing stuff. Torture, imprisonment and murder of people considered enemies to the regime - this could be anyone irrespective of guilt or innocence - men, women and children were targeted in the most brutal way and with the most degrading and horrific of endings
We had purposely asked Mr Bora to dedicate the first part of the day to the remembrance of those killed, preferring to end the day on a lighter note and so the next stop was the S21 prison in Phnom Penh city. We had to tell him in no uncertain terms that we didn't want to follow his suggested itinerary of going directly from the Killing Fields to a gun club to brandish an AK47 for a photo opportunity finding the concept extremely sick and perverted after what we had just seen. He pointed to a glossy photo of some tourists posing with guns and ammunition and smiling foolishly at the camera and the look on our faces told him not to press the subject further....we also had no interest in visiting a local market to look at curios! Who does that shit..?! Wow - talk about miss the point!
Having visited the 'final destination' for many, walking around the place where their painful journey began was equally as harrowing. Without going into morbid detail, it was clear that Cambodia suffered so much at the hands of the Khmer Rouge and it moved us to tears in parts. There were only seven survivors when S21 was finally liberated after years of atrocity and intolerable cruelty
When we left we were craving something to raise the spirits and so we headed to Wat Phnom, a large Buddhist temple in the centre of the city. Unfortunately, this had the opposite effect. When we reached the top of the stairs to the central sanctuary we were greeted with the sight of a street kid with a cage filled with little birds. Vikki immediately went to him trying to convey how cruel it was to have these little birds crammed into the cage, he just smirked. So she asked how much it would cost to release them all right there and now. He finally agreed on $10, with the help from an older woman sat on a wall behind. We paid up and released the birds, revealing several that had been crushed under the weight of the others laid in the bottom of the cage - it was so sad and we knew that our actions were futile. We just hoped that a couple of them had made a proper break for freedom and maybe had managed to get away from being gathered up again.
Feeling like shit, we descended the stairs to the Temple of Doom and back on the tuk-tuk we had a quick look at the Grand Palace and then headed home not really wanting to do any more sight-seeing! We decided to hit the bar on the 4th floor of our hotel - we climbed the stairs and slid back the glass door to find no bustling rooftop bar, but a derelict balcony littered with bits of furniture...one of those days! As it turned out, nothing in our hotel was 'as advertised'!
We hopped in a waiting tuk-tuk back on the street which, by some impossible force, managed to get lost on the way to the Grand Palace (one of the main important sites in Phnom Penh!). We were desperate to find a bar to counteract the sombre tone of the day and we ended up at the Riverside Bar where we noticed lots of old white men with young Cambodian ladies..
We decided to celebrate Christmas Eve Eve (and day 100 of our trip) by drinking Cambodian whisky (Khmer Mekong) and shooting some pool with Landen, a Canadian jeweller with a local wife, whilst watching dodgy karaoke with a live band accompaniment (Ken Lee, if dibby dibby doubt oooo...).
We poured Vikki into a tuk-tuk just after midnight and headed back to the Royal Inn Boutique Hotel, which was nothing of the sort, to sleep deeply in our non-plush room...