That's Cambodia son.

Trip Start Oct 27, 2004
Trip End Aug 17, 2005

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Sunday, March 27, 2005

We entered Phnom Pehn with heavy hearts and not without a little trepidation after our good friends, Bob and Hazy, found the place to be so soul-sapping. We were still determined to see the city though and were more than willing to step into 'the heart of darkness' and see what she had to offer.

My impressions of the city were formed immediately and have not changed. In this city and in fact in this whole country, life goes on. That is all there is. Children skip through mass graves, not looking or caring for the hair, bone or cloth reaching up through the dirt, simply to ask for money from a tourist. There are call-girls, drug dealers, arms dealers, beggars and just about any other type of person you can imagine in this city. None ask for sympathy for the genocide or for a memorial to be built or indeed for those who committed these crimes to be trailed. They want food, they want money and above all they want to forget.

The whole attitude of these people, despite the necessary moral privations that come with such widespread poverty, is so much healthier than that of the West. Every year in Europe we pay homage to those who gave their lives in the great wars. Yet, does this make anyone better? Does it raise anyone from the dead? Does it stop it happening again? No. It just makes the Germans feel bad and helps perpetuate racism at European football matches. Of course the survivors should be cared for but it seems that remembrance brings bitterness. The Europeans and Israelis are still chasing murderers who must be over 80 years old. The Cambodians are refusing to trial those who committed equal crimes only 30 years ago. Yet, we consider ourselves (Israelis excluded, of course) to be a Christian society that is based on the ideal of forgiveness.

Surely there is a lot to be learnt from this country, one of the most war-torn and misused countries on earth. First the French, then the Americans (Who bombed so much of the East of this country that there isn't much left except unexploded ordnance), then the British (who trained and equipped the Khmer Rouge) and finally their own people. Yet, where is the hatred here? I didn't find Phnom Pehn to be the 'Heart of Darkness', that place must truly be found in the hearts of those who carry out atrocities and who wage war, whoever they may be. For me, Phnom Pehn is an inspiration and a true example of how people can learn to live with their past. I can only hope that they too will one day have the chance to work, honestly, through their poverty and gain some dignity in the light of their future.


Our visits to the prison of S21 then to the Killing Fields of Chueng Ek left me shocked and speechless. That may sound like a cliche but I can only try to explain how being in those places left me at a loss to be able to understand the human race. I have always felt myself to be someone who can understand my friends, family and even strangers quite well. I always believed myself to be an open-minded person, capable of understanding peoples' actions. Despite this, I am completely bewildered as to what could have possessed certain people in history to have omitted the atrocities which have happened in this country and what upsets me further is the sense of helplessness that I feel. The Khmer people are some of the friendliest we have encountered on our travels so far, despite all that has happened in their all too recent history. I have not a single inclination as to how they are able to begin to deal with it - but that is testament to the strength of these people. It worries me that I cannot see any end to acts such as this which have taken place throughout the eras of the human race, whether it has been in the name of religion, civilisation or "democracy". I try to be as much of an optimist in my life as is possible but when faced with the mugshots of thousands of the S21 prisoners; men, women and children, whose skulls I then saw upon the thousand in the fields of Chueng Ek I find it very hard to see how we, as a human race, have learnt anything from our history.



The border:

The border trip was the usual kind. A long and uncomfortable ride, only to have mony extorted at both sides of the river.

The boat journey was entirely worth it however. We were packed like veal into tiny compartments on a boat that had a draught of about 1 inch and freeboard of about 6. We were told it was a speedboat and, when I saw the 2 litre 16v toyota celica engine sat on board I was inclined to believe.

It is quite a surreal experience heading up such a beautiful and serene river as the mekong in a boat that sounds like the approaching of the four horsemen and goes as fast as the enterprise. The scenery was stunning, if not a little blurred.

We exited the boat deaf and crippled and hobbled our way to Laos as the boatman, having already been paid to take us to the border, was now asking for another 3 dollars each to actually take us all the way there. When we called him up on it he simply played ignorant and told us that he couldn't take us any further because of the police, he then had a quiet word with the moto drivers at the dock and told us they would take us for a dollar a person. We decided to walk and watched with gritted teeth as the little bugger zipped past us on the river on his way to Laos.

After another minor fleecing on the Lao side of the border we were more than ready to hit the Island of Don Det. Nothing could beat that feeling of watching sunset over the Mekong and knocking back a cold 'Beer Lao'. Undoubtedly the nicest beer in South Asia and, at 80US cents for a 660ml bottle, a budget friendly way to forget the day!
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