Genocide followed by an Irish Pub Quiz

Trip Start Sep 28, 2010
Trip End Dec 16, 2010

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Where I stayed
Nomad's Guesthouse

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Monday, November 15, 2010

We took the fast boat from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh rather than the bus as we wanted to see Tonle Sap Lake and the Mekong River. Although it was significantly more expensive, I would recommend it over the bus as it made the journey "all part of the experience".

We were told our pick up was at 6:10am with the boat leaving at 7am. We waited, we called the office (no answer), we called the driver "I'm just around the corner" ( this is a universal taxi/pick up lie!). At 6:45 a lady instructed us to go with her to the travel agent office for pick up, which turned out to be a cafe 200 yards up the road where they were herding all the travellers too. "Do you want coffee? Do you want tea? Do you want baguette?" etc.. They don't miss a trick do they! Eventually we got a bus to the boat, which left promptly at 8am.   

On the boat you pass the floating village in the first 5 minutes of the journey. Then the lake opens up until its like an ocean - nothing but water as far as the eye can see in every direction. No wonder it's such an important source of fish/pride for the Cambodians. It does narrow down to the Mekong River and you occasionally see the odd village as you go past. However, I just spent most of the time sunbathing on the roof of the boat whilst imagining funny shapes and things from the clouds in the sky - I felt like I was 5 years old! Sophie, on the other hand, was engaging her brain by trying to solve the Rubik's cube. Sun cream and a good book are recommended as it was a 7 hour journey.

We got a Tuk Tuk from the jetty to Nomad's guesthouse, which we had pre-booked through hostelbookers and had a very informative 5 minute survival guide to Phnom Penh. Also got some free laundry done at the same time (whoop whoop!).

We arrived about 2pm so had time to explore Sisaworth Quay. The shops are all restaurants, bars and guesthouses and full of hawkers etc. but if you can cross the busy road the actual quayside is full of locals relaxing by the river, often playing keepie up with a bamboo ball or a large shuttlecock with a large plastic tip (not rubber) so it bounces more (it's difficult to explain but its essentially headers and volleys with a large plastic shuttle cock)

We then headed to the Royal Palace (at 6.25 US Dollar, twice as much as quoted in Lonely Planet), which was "nice". The buildings were very ornate, but the emerald Buddha is now in Bangkok's Grand Palace (which in my opinion is bigger and better) and in the Silver pagoda - so called because of the silver tiles on the floor - the silver tiles (not stainless) were almost all covered up by carpets/rugs anyway.   
The second day we headed to the Tuol Sleng Museum (or S21 as it was formerly known). This was a secondary school in Phnom Penh (imagine classic concrete school building with classrooms over three floors, blackboards etc) but was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and used as a torture centre. The Khmer Rouge apparently killed about one million people in a 3-4 year period, which is horrific considering the population was only about 7 million people to start with. It is true that any Cambodian over 20 will tell you that they had family members killed during the regime. I remember our tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap told of him loosing two brothers, a cousin and his uncles family (in a matter-of-factly fashion).

The Khmer Rouge photoed everyone they tortured and then killed, and kept their written and signed "confessions", so there is a lot of evidence that the Genocide took place. Pol Pot is now dead and died under house arrest, the former head of S21 is currently in court and has admitted and apologized for the atrocities (including beheading 166 men and having babies heads smacked against a tree before throwing them into mass graves) but there are still four senior members of the Khmer Rouge awaiting International trial for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, 30 odd years after the events. (Interesting to compare with the Vietnam War).

After the museum, we took a long ride out to "The Killing Fields" where the mass graves were and a memorial Stupa has been created. Essentially a large temple structure holding all the bones of the dead bodies (almost 10,000), sorted by skulls, legs bones, ribs etc. on different levels in glass cases. It's very strange (from a western perspective) but apparently in Buddhism dead bodies are supposed to be stored in a safe place and they have been blessed accordingly. It also acts as a very vivid visual memorial/reminder of what occurred and the number of people who died.

The tuk-tuk journey on the way back went past in a bit of a blur.

We got back and rested for a bit before heading out. Sophie had decided that she wanted to go for a swim in a nice hotel. So we walked round the corner to a nice plush 5 star hotel. We felt a little out of place to start off with, but 2 hours later we were refreshed by the swimming and importantly our first (and only) hot shower in Cambodia!

We then went straight to Sisaworth Quay for some food and a drink. We ended up in an Irish Pub Quiz. In summary, we were useless. If I hadn't, by complete chance and fluke, won the heads or tails game at half time and earned our team "The Buddha Bellies" (like I said in a previous blog, we're not starving out here) two bonus points and free shots, we would have come last.

For future reference:
The reason why some football teams have triangular corner flags is because they've won the FA Cup.
The London Eye has 32 capsules.
USA won the most golds at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
The 5 James Bond films (up to 2001) with a one word name are: Moonraker, Octopussy, Goldeneye, Goldfinger and Thunderball.
It was Mohamed Ali and George Foremen in the "Rumble in the Jungle".
Trigger was the name of Roy Rogers' Horse (no one has yet told me who Roy Rodgers is though).

All the best,

Keiron (and Sophie) x x x
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