Back to Phnom Penh

Trip Start Aug 08, 2004
Trip End Aug 2005

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Monday, February 7, 2005

Returned once again to Phnom Penh after a pleasant 4 hour bus ride that miraculously only took 4 hours. The horror stories I had heard about the road between the two cities seemed to be completely untrue. Mellisa asked many times before we left Siem Reap about the conditions of the bus. How many seats are in the bus? How many people will actually be put in the bus? Will there be people riding on the roof? You may laugh at this last question, but we saw many buses along the way with very crowded roofs.

We made a pit stop along the way in the town of Skuon, reknowned for its local delicacy: deep fried spiders. Women vendors crowded around the bus carrying circular trays piled high with the fat black spiders. They had hairy legs and bodies. The spiders, not the women selling them. Apparently, you eat them like a crab, by splitting open the abdomen and sucking out the meat. I don't care what anyone says, deep frying something does not make it edible.

During the afternoon we hired a tuk-tuk to take us to the Killing Fields, the site where thousands of Cambodians were slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970's. A morbid place to visit...I felt a little strange adding this to my touristy agenda. For those who don't know, the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of the infamous Pol Pot strove to create a "modern agrarian" society. Essentially a warped form of Communism in which the majority of people living in urban areas were shipped off to the countryside for reform through labor. In a series of bloody purges the regime sought to eliminate all dissident communists and other moderates. These purges spread to the peasantry as well as to the persecuted relocated urbanites. In total, roughly 1.5 million people perished.

We also made a trip to the Tuol Sleng prison, a former high school in the middle of suburban Phnom Penh which was turned into a detention camp and interrogation center for prisoners. The bizarre part of both of these places were how normal they seemed. The Killing Fields, aside from the grassy pits in the ground where the mass graves were exhumed, seemed like a quiet scenic spot in the countryside. As depressing as these places are, they serve as important memorials to the victims and a testament to the importance of preventing such acts of depravity in the future. My two cents.

After that uplifting afternoon, we decided it was high time to bid Cambodia farewell. I feel like I can cross that off my list of places to go within this lifetime. A beautiful country, but the entire population possesses an edge of desperation and distrust, a hardened quality caused by years of being screwed over again and again. A den of thieves...I was tired of turning away angry beggars, of being ripped off, of constantly looking over my shoulder. In this country you can't win: if you stay on the main tourist routes you are a target for every person looking for a buck. If you stray from the main tourist routes you might get blown up by land mines. No thanks. Tomorrow, back to Saigon.
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