Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Week 12.1 - Phnom Penh part 1

We waited nervously in the hotel lobby for the mini bus to come and collect us, and take us to the Giant Ibis depot. They said to be ready one hour before your buses departure. True to Asian form, the mini bus turned up 20 minutes before our bus was due to depart. Anyway, we arrived in time, the bus was clean, spacious, had free wifi and you were provided with a complimentary pastry and bottle of water. I actually thought that this could be a good journey.

Queue disaster, my biggest fear, some twat was sick on the bus!! Into his pastry bag and all over himself, there was a rush of sick bags, and a quick stop at the services a short while later. Dirty bastard! 

The ‘highway’ out of Siem Reap, was a dusty single track road, this made for loads of honking and dangerous overtaking. It wasn’t until we were about an hour away from Phnom Penh that this road turned into a dual carriageway. Once in Phnom Penh, this road then turned into moped mania…it’s a lot busier here than it was in Siem Reap. But still for a capital city, it is relatively small and there is a distinct lack of skyscrapers.

Upon arrival at the bus depot we were greeted by hordes of tuk tuk drivers, as our guesthouse provided a free pick up service we politely turned down their offers and sat and waited for our driver. Once again the talk turned to football with the remaining drivers. They explained that Cambodia does have a football team, a team that can rival others in South East Asia, but would struggle in Europe. They shared with us their hopes of a stronger football team, and said that we’ll see them at the World Cup one day, even if its in 20 - 30 years.

10 minutes later our tuk tuk driver, Vin, arrived, and we were on our way to our new home, Good morning Guesthouse. Owned by 6 tuk tuk drivers, the men told us that they set up this business last year as they did not want to be farmers in their home towns, however they do still visit their families and help with the rice fields in the wet season. Vin told us how he and his wife work in the city, whilst their 3 year old daughter lives with their family 70km away. They only get to see her every 2 - 3 months if money and work allows, but get frequent phone calls asking Papa for gifts. A heartbreaking story, but Vin still manages to see the good side in his situation, and knows that his daughter is being well cared for.

The long bus journeys always tire us out, and we signed up for another busy day and tuk tuk journey in the morning. So after tea and a few beers we decided to chill in the room. Bad move! To save money (£2.22 to be exact, Kyle’s tightening the purse strings), we booked a fan room. Well someone, Kyle, can’t quite cope with the heat and lack of air con, so it’s going to be a long 3 nights for me!

So it turned out that Kyle managed to sleep quite well, it was me that struggled! I’m not sure if it was the heat, or the 100 springs sticking into my body…this mattress could rival those in China. So Kyle woke, I was already awake, to one of the hottest days yet in Cambodia, not even the cool air of Vin’s tuk tuk speeding along could cool us down. On our second day in Phnom Penh we had decided to visit the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, more commonly known as the killing fields. Upon arrival, at the site you are greeted by polite security personal, and given your own headset for the audio tour. Now, I’d read plenty of reviews of the killing fields but I wasn’t quite prepared for what I heard on that headset. 

For those of you that don’t know, the Cambodian genocide of 1975-1979, was one of the last centuries worst genocides. Led by Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge killed an estimated 1.7 million people in the most barbaric ways. Some were tortured for days, with starvation and beatings, others were beaten on the head and had their throats slit. Many of these people were doctors, lawyers, people that could speak dual languages and their families. Pol Pot would ensure all generations of a family were killed for fear of repercussions in the future.

Whilst walking around the killing fields, you are given a history of the site, including what certain buildings, trees and weapons were used for. Along the way you can view mass graves, mainly empty, but during the wet season clothes and bones come to the surface. These are collected once every 2 months, so you have to take care when walking around. The audio tour also shares with you stories told by some of the survivors, these are difficult to hear. It is truly heartbreaking to learn what happened to the people of Cambodia, all at the hands of a savage man.

The tour ends at the Memorial Stupa, where remains of victims are preserved. This includes a 14 unit high storage of skulls and bones, each detailed with the age, sex and method of killing. Every year on the 20th of May a ceremony is held around the Stupa to bring peace to the spirits of the deceased.

Our next stop was the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also known as S21. This was the secret centre of a network of nearly 200 prisons, here people were tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge. S21 was once a high school, but Pol Pots and his soldiers took over to make this a site of totally barbaric actions. The windows and vents were boarded up, some rooms were fitted with single beds and shackles, others were divided into smaller cells where prisoners would be cramped together. Today, some of the rooms hold pictures of the victims of S21, taken on the arrival to the site. Pictures of men, women and children, alongside images of people being tortured. It’s a lot to stomach, and hard to believe that this actually happened. 

I witnessed total bravery in a man at S21. Bou Meng, one of only 7 survivors of S21, lost his wife on site, and only survived due to his artistic talents and paintings of Pol Pot. Bou Meng returns to S21 each day to meet visitors, answer questions, pose for photos, sell his book and share his story. 

This experience has been one of the most emotional of the journey so far, and something which I will never forget. Although I still feel confused as to how someone could do this to other human beings?! The rest of the day was spent reflecting on the day, and watching the evenings storm progress. This day has made me realise how lucky I am.

The next morning was a lazy one, with a late breakfast, nutella on toast, oh Cambodia you spoil me. Followed with a walk around the city, warned by the hostel staff to keep our belongings close, and wear our backpacks on the front. It’s clearer to see the struggle in Phnom Penh, there are many homeless on the street, litter and garbage bags everywhere and many people working from the side walks. Kyle decided to ditch the fancy hair salons, and opted to get his hair cut by a young man on the road side in his man made barber shop, a chair, 2 mirrors, an umbrella and a table. To be fair, he did a really good job, plus threw in a clean shave and a massage all for $4. I’m starting to worry about Kyle and all this pampering though. 

As we have two more trips to Phnom Penh scheduled we decided not to do everything on this trip. We’re hoping for better weather on our third visit to spend an evening at the Grand Palace and riverside. Please keep your fingers crossed.

Tomorrow we will take the early morning bus to Sihanoukville, again we need better weather to make the most of the many beaches. My main concern at the moment though, is if sick note gets on the bus again…bork!

Love Carrie xxx

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