Charm and Chaos

Trip Start Jan 07, 2010
Trip End Jan 06, 2011

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Thursday, February 11, 2010

After leaving Siem Reap we took the bus to Battombong where we became very good friends with our room. We were both struck down with some sort of illness that sucked the energy from us and left us totally exhausted and our bodies ached. We had to psych ourselves up for half and hour to go and get something to eat down the street. We stayed there for 3 nights waiting to feel better.

We finally pulled ourselves out of bed and back onto the road. After a few hours on the bus we arrived in Cambodia's capital city Phnom Penh. We stayed a few streets back from the river front and were a short stroll from the main restaurants. If you sit down for a meal or a drink on the river side, you are sure to have around 10 people or more approach you to sell you all kinds of things. It becomes a bit too much at times particularly when you smile and say "No thanks" and they respond “Why not?”, and you say “Because I don’t need one”, and they say “Come on, buy one”. At times some street sellers got annoyed at you because you did not want what they were selling as if we have the money to buy things even if we don’t want them. It is a really tough situation because these people are desperate and this is their way of income. But at times you are made to feel like you should buy something from them, and if you don’t then your being selfish. We found that by looking into their eyes, smiling and genuinely saying no thanks, they were not as persistent.   

We visited the National Museum where we were treated with artifacts that had been discovered both in and surrounding the temples. There was an incredible display that was categorised by date and gave impressive snapshots of Cambodia’s history.

We also visited the Tuol Sleng Museum. In 1975 Tuol Svay Prey High School was taken over by Pol Pot’s security forces and transformed into a horrific prison known as S-21. Between 1975 and 1978 around 20,000 people were tortured here and later executed in the killing fields nearby.

This Museum was such a gruesome and spine chilling experience. There were three major buildings; each had three levels that were once filled with classrooms. Some classrooms were single sells and others had been subdivided into cramped, dark and grim cells that were separated with rushed brickwork. Filed photos of the victims were displayed as well as images of post tortured prisoners that were simply disturbing. In each of the larger rooms in the first building, left intact were the beds, ankle shackles and bed pans. When the Vietnamese army liberated Cambodia fourteen prisoners had been tortured to death as the Vietnamese forces closed in on the city. Photos of the tortured bodies as they were found were displayed on the walls in each of the rooms.

When walking around these rooms Kailey and I had no words for each other, both of our heads were running with all the thoughts of the thousands of lives that had been destroyed by the regime not only in this prison but throughout the whole of Cambodia. There were such strong feelings of sorrow and helplessness as you walked through the compound. The air seemed stale and harsh and seemed hard to breath. Out of around 20,000 prisoners that were taken to S-21, only 7 survived. This was because of their artistic abilities such as painting or drawing.

There were a number of torture devices around the prison and the paintings from one of the surviving prisoners depicted terrifying scenes of agony as guards would use numerous methods to inflict pain. After a while it all became overwhelming and we both needed to clear our heads and get some fresh air so we took a Tuk Tuk back to our room. The whole ride home we hardly spoke as we processed what we had just seen.

While roaming the streets of Phnom Penh we met some Ex-pats from the UK and Australia. One of the guys was from West Geelong originally and used to go floundering around Torquay as a boy. Small world. They were a group of about 5 who have been living in Cambodia for the past five years and were sick and tired of the corruption that is evident throughout the country all the way up to the top of ladder.

They have set up an organisation called CHOICE where they take a small group of tourists to some small villages outside the city. The money that we donate directly gets used the purchase the food that is handed out to the families. There is no middle man or administration costs.

After measuring out rice and bagging up salt, fish sauce, noodles and fruit we loaded up the truck and jumped on board. There were about 16 of us siting on bench seats as we bounced through the city nd out on the rough dusty tracks. The American the ex-pats was a trained paramedic and worked with two of the volunteers who happened to be nurses. As we walked down the road handing out food packages, the nurses and paramedic were swamped with a crowd of people who were desperate helped. Because of their isolation and poverty this was there only opportunity to get medical help. It was great to get out and see some small villages. The locals were just beautiful. Because of the Chinese new year, there was a dance party that we were dragged into. After a quick dance in the humid heat we jumped back into the truck and made our way back to the city.

There were some really nice people from Australia, Canada, Sweden and England who were on the truck. We spent a few nights out for dinner and drinks for some good times.

Before we left Phnom Pehn we visited the killing Field where the prisoners from the S-21 were executed. As we walked into the Fields we were confronted by a large memorial building that is constructed by large glass walls where you could see shelf after shelf of human skulls and bones. Inside the memorial on the bottom level was full of the victim's clothes that had been extracted from the mass graves. Above the clothes were around 20 levels of bones and skulls. After leaving the building we made our way thorough the paths of the mass graves. On the path there was a roped off area where the soil had been washed away from the rain and had exposed human bones and teeth. We looked down where we were walking and there were bones just breaking through the surface everywhere you walked. There were also ragged clothes surfacing from the seasonal rain. It was just surreal to think of what has happened on this land that we were standing on. Around 20,000 men, women and children were killed and dumped in the mass graves. One of the most disturbing parts of this experience was reading a plaque below the trunk of a large tree. It said that babies and small children were killed here by being held by the feet and there heads swung into the tree trunk. There was a stain in the trunk where the skulls had constantly hit. It was so horrific to learn about the brutality that had taken place there. It was a shocking experience and disturbing to think about what mankind is capable of. Ironical there was a gun range next door and all the while we were walking around the mass graves, gun shots were going off in the background.

Our time in Phnom Pehn was confronting and graphic but necessary to further understand the history and heart ache that these beautiful people have been exposed to. We hold so much respect for the strength of the Cambodian people.
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mom on

What can I say, this blog was so disturbing, pictures so sad, how can anyone do that to another human being. There are no words for this. You certainly are seeing it all
Love and hugs mom

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