Phnom Phen and the Killing Fields

Trip Start Apr 07, 2006
Trip End Oct 2006

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Our bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Phen took 6 hours. Once again we did not have a place pre-arranged. We did do some research on line and Mark had a guide book for Cambodia but there were just too many hotels to choose from. We liked the look of one of the hotels we saw on line and decided to give it a try. So we overloaded a little tuk tuk with our 6 bags and headed off to the Cara Hotel. This hotel was just north of the main part of town and it looked almost too fancy for us. This hotel has only been open for 2 months and includes breakfast and internet for a very reasonable price!!!

So we decided to do the self guided walking tour of Phnom Phen that was laid out in the lonely planet guide book. So we headed out to see some Wat's, Pagoda's, the big Central Market, the art district and other shops/buildings. We learned that we had arrived at the end of the 15 day Pchum Ben festival. The day was hot and the streets were empty. Almost all of the shops were closed and our walking tour was a bust! But we did get to see the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda from the outside.

We got ourselves a snack and then an hour long foot massage. Wow was it ever nice after a day of walking! After we finished our massage (approximately 6 pm), we were very surprised to see the street packed with cars, scooters and tons of people hanging out in the squares. Quite the contrast from earlier that day. People were going to the temples with all their offerings of food, money, small birds and flowers, quite the sight to see.

So our plans were to visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek but we were getting conflicting stories on whether it was open or not. Someone told us it was open today and closed tomorrow, another person told that it was closed today and the next 2 days because of the Pchum Ben festival and our hotel seemed to think that it was closed today because it was the last day of the festival and should be open tomorrow. We just could not seem to get a straight answer from anyone. Since we were here already, we decided to risk it and stay another day.

Well everything was closed so we then asked about the shooting ranges, where we were told it was somewhere by the airport. They don't advertise it in any guidebook, as the government has shut all of the ranges but one. So we headed out to find the shooting range and ended up asking a soldier at a checkpoint for directions. He just smiled and pointed us down the road. We apparently drove by it once, then got the paper out again and were pointed in the direction from which we had just come. The sign was there all right: Special Forces. That was us and it had a picture of a red beret - well I had an orange hat on, I guess it was close enough.

We had barely sat down before a menu was thrust in front of us. Just like the coffee shops in Amsterdam, this was no ordinary menu:
AK-47 = $20
M-16 = $25
M-60 = $80
It listed maybe 20 guns, from machine guns and hand guns, to rocket launchers and grenades. We ordered up a couple of chickens and asked about the rocket launcher. The army guy loaded a rocket launcher and began beckoning me into the range saying, "You shoot now?". We hesitated a bit to consider the price, the guy did not look too happy. We did not want to annoy him; we are after all at a shooting range, so we got's to shoot. We then let loose at the chickens with the rocket launcher. Needless to say aim was not an issue here!

Pretty good story huh?!? Don't worry the whole shooting range thing is all made up. I actually took the bulk of the story from a Bootsnall web page and thought I would modify for your enjoyment! ha ha ha!!!!!!! Got you! Apparently there were shooting ranges that allow you to shoot all these big guns, where the government did close most of them. There is supposed to be an underground one still operating but I don't think they allow people to shoot at cows or chickens. Saying that, I am sure if someone had enough money....... well you get the picture.

Okay back to the real deal! So we inquired at the front desk once again to see if the Choeung Ek Killing Fields and museum would be open. This time without hesitation we were told that it was a holiday and that it was closed today. We were then told that the field is open to everyone but there will not be any tour operators working. As for the museum, it would most likely be closed today but we could visit the Royal Palace. The right hand does not seem to be talking with the left hand. For we went to the markets to check out the knock off products and Mark ended up asking another traveler about Choeung Ek. Apparently it was open as well as the Toul Sleng Genocidal Museum S-21 (torture and detention centre used by the Khmer Rouge regime).

From what we heard Choeung Ek is a city that was used for one of the many different killing fields. There is a big field there where a lot of bones were dug up and all that is left now are some holes and a couple of graves with skulls on them. The S-21 Museum was said to be a lot more informative so we opted to start there.

From 1975 to 1979, more than 17,000 were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng (some estimates suggest a number as high as 20,000). The prisoners were selected from all around the country and usually were former Khmer Rouge members and soldiers accused of treason. We got to see some of the beds that people were shackled to and pictures of how their bodies were found, read stories from some of the families who had been killed, saw the prisoners cells, pictures and a short movie. It is crazy to think that while we were all safe and sound at home in North America, such madness was happening half way around the world. That was enough for us and decided to skip out on visiting the killing fields where people were brought to be killed and thrown into a big pit.

After another long day of walking, we got ourselves some dinner and another wonderful foot massage. I can sure get used to this! Well our time has come to an end in Cambodia and it is finally time for us to head back to Thailand and the BEACH!!!!!!!!!

Camboida has been a very interesting experience from the amazing temples of Angkor Wat to the atrocities that occurred in the mid to late 70's all over Cambodia. The cities are quite clean and the people have been very pleasant and friendly. Walking around town you do have people trying to offer rides and children trying to sell books but they usually accept the first 'No' you give them. Traffic has not been too bad, there are a number of cars but you will mostly find bicycles, tuk tuk's, cyclos, scooters and motorcycles zooming around. If you need to cross the road, you basically just start walking and all the traffic will kind of move around you. There is a bit of honking as cars are being passed but for the most part it is quite and drivers usually stick to their side of the road.

Compared to other parts of south east Asia, Cambodia is not all that cheap. You can buy cheap quality t-shirts for practiaclly $1 US but when it comes to food, Thailand has more varieyt and is cheaper. Camboida is similar to parts of South America and Africa in that they tend to base most of their prices off of the US dollar, which causes everything to have inflated prices.

See you all soon back in Canada!

bryan and vivian
clouds, frowns, sunshine and smiles!
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