Last stop in Cambodia

Trip Start Dec 30, 2010
Trip End May 05, 2011

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Where I stayed
Simon's, Lakeside

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Friday, February 18, 2011

I'd spent 5 days in Siem Reap then 5 days in Kampot before I came to Phnom Penh, which is pretty much the longest I'd spent in one place since leaving home.  As much as I like Kampot however, I was ready to move on.  I did have an strangely strong urge to get off the bus at Kep when we passed through, but contented myself with taking a few photos through the window instead.

My roommate for the whole time in Kampot, Roland, was also heading to Phnom Penh which is great as it's so much cheaper to travel together.  It was a fairly long journey and we arrived in the evening to find limited accommodation.  Still, it worked out fine and the guesthouse we're in now is nice enough.  It's in the traditional backpacker area by the lake.  Unfortunately the lake is being filled in so it's now a smallish swamp-cum-building site.  The manager of my guesthouse in Kampot had had a popular bar here until September when he was forced to close.  They're demolishing the whole area, but gradually so that it has the aura of somewhere once legendary but now dying a slow drawn out death.  I met someone who checked into a guesthouse yesterday but they said he could only stay a couple of days as it's being pulled down on Monday.

Anyway we decided that the following day we should go to the genocide museum and the killing fields, which seem to be the main attractions in the capital city.  The museum is a former school which had been used as a prison under the Khmer rouge.  Thousands of prisoners were tortured here before being sent to the Killing Fields to be, well, killed.  Most of the rooms have been kept as is, with some divided into small cells of wood or brick.  The larger rooms contain iron beds and torture instruments, with photographs of the torture taking place hanging on the walls.  Some rooms contained lots of mugshots - the Khmer rouge took great pains to document their barbary much as the Nazis did.  The pictures of children, and of women holding their babies, were most chilling although some of the expressions on the men's faces were incredible.  Other rooms showed oil paintings of the methods of torture used [brought back memories of my Algeria essay], and yet more had art exhibitions and witness testimonies. 

It was pretty awful, but on the whole well presented and tasteful.  We had a drink before driving on to Choeung Ek killing field.  If you've been to Auschwitz or any other concentration camp you'll have a good idea what it was like.  There's basically nothing there now, it's literally a field with several signs dotted around marking the spot of gruesome sites such as a tree which was used to bash babies' heads against.  Some of the mass grave sites are covered with a thatched roof, such as one which had been found with only headless corpses, and one with 450 bodies.  The main sight at Choeung Ek is the memorial stupa, a tall glass-walled structure containing the remains of the excavated corpses.  On the lower level is a pile of clothes, above it nine levels of skulls, followed by other bones.  The creepiest thing was the way it was all classified by age, sex, type of bone etc.  About 9000 bodies had been found at this one site.

The whole thing was very depressing and sickening, and we'd been planning on watching the film 'The Killing Fields' which was showing at a guesthouse across the street that evening.  Although I did have the afternoon to recover a bit I took the opportunity when it arose to give the film a miss.  Patrick (from Kampot) was in town and going for a drink with some couchsurfing people, so I decided to join them.  On the way I bumped into a Belgian man, Dirk, who I'd briefly met earlier at the guesthouse.  I was running early anyway so was planning on checking out the market, so we walked together.  The market was shutting up but we did find a nearby shopping mall and climbed (got the lift!) to the top to see the view, which was pretty nice.  We decided that what looked like a boat flying above the horizon must have been the river.  The riverfront at night was really cool: there were several groups of people dancing to various types of music.  The first was mostly older ladies dancing a slow apsara-cum-pop dance, then there was a group of mostly boys dancing I guess hip-hop, then there was trance and others.  The groups were clearly not at all exclusive in terms of ability, age and gender - everyone was joining in and having fun.  After a while we wandered to the bar we were meant to be meeting at.

When Patrick arrived he introduced us to some of his couchsurfing friends.  I had a really nice cocktail which I'm going to have to try and recreate at home: vodka, mint, pineapple juice, lychees and basil leaves.  It was a fun night, the couchsurfers were mostly expats (US and British) working for NGOs and the like.  A couple of them could speak Khmer which was fun to listen to. 

The next day I wanted to explore Phnom Penh on foot a little (best way to see a city), and I wanted to check out the markets.  Dirk joined me as he's stuck in PP for a few days before his wife gets here so has to wait for her before he can do any of the interesting museums etc!  It was a heavy walking day but good fun - I didn't buy anything but it's always fun to look round markets.  The Central Market, like the train station, is the most incredible Art Deco building I've ever seen (not yet been to New York I should add).  We also managed to get to the post office and buy some stamps [and send Emily's birthday card!!]  We had lunch at the shopping mall we'd found the previous evening, and had a great view of some roof gardens.  After lunch we looked round Wat Phnom, which was the first Buddhist temple I've properly looked round and the kitchest thing I've ever seen!  We were amused to see people giving offerings of fake money along with fruit, raw bacon and tobacco.  By late afternoon we were walking along the river when people started approaching us asking if we wanted a sunset cruise.  In 'just say no' mode as we'd been in markets all day, it took us a while to figure out that $5 each for an hour long private cruise was pretty good!  They must have made so little profit, there were just no other customers and too many boats.  Every other boat we saw on the river also had just a couple of people on board.  It was definitely worth three pounds anyway!

After a busy day yesterday I wanted to take it slowly today.  I did wake up later than normal but walked straight to the markets where I wandered round and round trying on several blouses before finally going back to the first one I saw.  I was also on a mission to buy a pair of pyjamas.  One thing I love about Cambodia is that people wear cotton pyjamas of the long sleeved shirt and matching bottoms variety even during the day.  This is mainly confined to children and women I must admit, but I just love seeing old ladies sitting on motorbikes or doing their shopping in Hello Kitty pyjamas!  The more colourful and patterned the better as far as they're concerned.  I'm particularly fond of grown women in boys pyjamas, and it was specifically a pattern of cars and lorries that I was searching for.  Unfortunately I'm too picky for my own good and came away empty handed but I remain optimistic for Vietnam, for where I set sail tomorrow!
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Dad on

Hi Holl's, I really enjoyed this blog, not so much the prison and Killing Fields, but everything else. I hope you find the elusive PJ's in Vietnam! I'm off to Heathrow to collect Mom and Lew tomorrow. Please take care, Dad

Sue Parsons on

Hi Hollie,
Sounds depressing to say the least, not surprised you skipped the film; not quite the same as a trip to the Commandry!
You sound like an old hand now at this travelling lark and it seems you have made some good friends to keep in touch with. It's really interesting reading your blog, if the job doesn't work out you could always be a travel writer. lol.
Enjoy the weather at least, as it's raining buckets here today and we're off to watch the rugby in Solihul with Adam and Kirsty so could be a bit soggy underfoot.
Have a good journey.
Love from us all. X

Laura Pickens on

Hi Holly!

Ashley and I have talked about checking on you. I finally found the card tonight with this website. Too, cool!! You look great and I can't wait to read the rest of your posts. I am looking forward to you heading my way. I am making plans and getting things cleaned up! When you have a chance, please remind me the time frame you are thinking. Whatever is fine, but just thinking ahead. We have had lots of snow, so I will be working longer than expected. We really want to treat you to a wonderful Southern visit. Be safe.
Hey, if you are in the capital and want to look up a nice American...look for Craig and/or Chuck Thomas. They are friends of mine on fb and would be very nice to you!! Miss wishes! Look forward to hearing more!

Norman on

Hi Hollie
We found your blogs on Cambodia fascinating.The contrast
between the cloistered calm of the temples to the horrors
of the killing fields is hard to grasp, although there were fun
adventures inbetween. Love Nan & Grandpa

Charlotte Byrne on

Hi Hollie, I've been reading all of your blogs but haven't commented yet! I just want to let you know that I'm thinking about you and I think that it's great that you are experiencing so much. Keep having fun!

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