Monday, 2 February 2015

Phnom Penh, stopping to think....

(You may not enjoy reading this)

Capital cities, don't you just luv em? No, us neither. Dirty, noisy and whilst being full of energy, are also a bit too much. 
The trip down the river to get here was a world away from the previous experience. We sat outside most of the way, dangling our feet over the bow, just watching the world go by. 

The pick up service to get to the boat was classic Asian stuff. We'd paid for 2 people plus 2 bikes. When the driver arrived at the guest house he asked to see our ticket "2 people 2 bikes?" He asked "yes" we replied "oh but you have 2 bikes, this is a problem". He said he'd be back so we  just sat back down and waited, we'd only got up at 5am especially for his arrival. Eventually we made it, scrambled onto the boat and relaxed.
Phnom penh is a biggish, crazy Asian city with all the standard fitments -  Broken pavements, loads of traffic and general mayhem.  It doesn't have much charm and its certainly a lot busier than the other Cambodian cities we've been to but nowhere near the size of Bangkok or KL. 
We managed to navigate our way through the traffic to the guest house, checked in and went straight out on the razz. We started here

The next day we visited the S21 genocide prison museum. It was quite a moving place. The interrogation rooms were first. It was quite a bizarre feeling in that the rooms were actually in some ways really nice. Lovely old tiles on the floor, the walls painted in a soft yellow with a beautiful faded patina. In the centre of each room was an old iron bed, the sort of thing you might pay a few hundred quid for in a French junk shop, fit some 2000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets and some nice muslin curtains....??? BUT NO. The bed still had the  rusted chains and shackles on it and the room was decorated with B&W photos of the dead, tortured prisoner on the actual bed, just as they'd found them when the whole place was finally raided and shut down. It sent shivers down my spine standing there, looking down at the bed in exactly the same spot as the prison guard would have stood, inflicting huge pain and suffering in order to make innocent people confess to a 'crime' they likely never committed. 
We moved on through the whole place which was actually previously a school. We got to the last room and were standing there just staring at 1 of 2 large cabinets that were full of human skulls and other bones. The silence was broken.  "So is this all there is?" Asked the young American tourist of his paid for guide. "I mean I thought there was way more". "No sir, for this you must go to the Killing Field site, there are thousands of remains there". "Well lets get going then, oh hang on, let me just get a photo. How long to get there? I mean my flight goes at 5 so we need to get a move on".  
I'm sure you can imagine how I and especially the young Cambodian guide must have felt. These atrocities happened in 1977-79,way too short a time ago to cast aside as 'just something to look at'. It really hit home with me. At that time, whilst these people were being tortured and murdered, I was moaning to my parents about having to do my homework and the fact that my skateboard wheels weren't good enough.

Here are some silly photos to lighten the mood.

A melted Rolls Royce that shrank in the hot wash?

Poolside chillaxing

Motor bike spares, you need motorbike spares?

Bizarrely the same market sold veggies and lots of them

You thought rush hour in London was bad?

To continue what we felt was a necessary thing to do in Cambodia (it can't all be about cheap beer & sunshine) the next morning we decided to take a jolly jaunt out to the Killing Fields (one of several hundred around the country but this is the biggest and most accessible). What a lovely ride it was!

The place is now kind of sandwiched between industrial units and dusty paddy fields, a most incongruous spot for the graves of over 10,000 souls. 
Again, it was a powerful and emotional experience. The excellent audio tour helped block out the few tactless tourists who just wandered about the place as if it were a naff park. There were f@cking human bones sticking out of the ground FFS!
On the whole most people behaved themselves but I found the group of Philipino ladies taking selfies in front of the monument containing thousands of skulls and human bones pretty damn tasteless. I know people from different countries have different cultures and therefore behave differently but come on, this is pretty 'in you face' stuff. Have some respect! This was the only photo I took.

Why would you want any more? To put on Facebook to impress your friends?! 
Back in town, over a cheap beer we thought the experiences through. The ability of humans to bounce back is quite amazing. Cambodia is buzzing. If you're reading this and around 35 years old then count yourself lucky. In the mid to late 70's out here, at that place, they held the babies by their feet and smashed their heads against a tree "to really kill the grass you must start with the roots" was their motto....

Sorry, no more silly photos to show


  1. I just deleted a lot that I wrote about learning from past mistakes but then realised that sadly, the world hasn't. Hope you manage to enjoy the rest of your trip and that this memory will fade a little with time. Love you xx

  2. And now I expect you to cycle to Pol pots grave. Its up north somewhere.....