Guns, Girls & Genocide

Trip Start May 14, 2010
Trip End Jun 19, 2010

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Where I stayed
Bluetongue Cafe & Hotel

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

She says:

We arrived in Phnom Penh 3 days ago by bus from Siem Reap.   It was a 6 hour bus journey through Cambodian countryside that showed a contrasting side of Cambodia to the tourist-friendly Siem Reap.  Upon arrival in Phnom Penh it was evident that it too was very different.  My first impression was that it was a city of extremes, the rich elite and the extremely poor.  This divide could be witnessed all around us, we watched Escalades and Audis drive past us down the street and later that day saw amputees drag themselves around on their stomachs on make-shift skateboards begging for money.  It is also evident that the city and many of it's inhabitants depend heavily on the tourist trade gained from a curiousity into the horrific crimes of the past.  We were no exception as we too were very much interested in seeing the places that we had heard and read so many things about. 

On our first full day we decided to visit a few of the markets that we had read about in our guide book.  The markets were everything that we had come to expect, we saw plenty of fresh food, meat, seafood and even a few grilled grasshoppers.  We also visited the Russian Market on the expectation that a lot of the exported clothes made in Cambodian factories for big-name brands were sold at a fraction of the cost.  To be honest it was a bit of a let-down, the clothes seemed to be the same as what we have seen everywhere else and although it was easy for Tom to find T-shirts and shorts that fit, I am an elephant in comparison to the local girls and could not find much in my size.  At the end of the day we managed to get a few pairs of jeans and a couple of T-shirts. 

After we had wandered around the markets we decided to visit Tuol Sleng Prison Museum otherwise known as S-21.  Originally the building was a secondary school but during the years of the Khmer Rouge it had been used as a prison for torturing and detaining men, women and children before sending them to the killing fields for execution.  When PP was liberated from the Khmer Rouge only 7 prisoners were found alive at S-21, along with 14 fresh corpses (who are now buried in the courtyard) out of a total of around 20,000 prisoners.  The conditions that these people were kept in were horrific and the torture that they were put through was unbelieveably disturbing.  What's more disturbing is that the people responsible for the torture and executions were really only children themselves and although that doesn't excuse what they did, I think it gives some insight into how something like this could happen.  The museum was...well it's hard to explain... it was horribly depressing and disturbing but I was glad that it had been preserved in the state that it had been found in so that it's impact on visitors was as depressing and disturbing as it should be.  The museum consisted of wall after wall of photographs of victims that had once been prisoners.  There were also photographs in the cells of the bloody corpses that had been found upon liberation.  Shackles, chains, ammunition boxes that served as toilets, metal bed frames and roughly constructed solitary cells remain for tourists to view.  The experience of visiting the museum was emotionally draining and the images that I saw there will not be forgotten.

The following day Tom bartered with a Tuk Tuk driver to take us to a shooting range and then the killing fields (in that order - the other way just didn't seem right).  It was a long drive in heavy traffic to the shooting range and by the time we got there I felt like I had smoked 3 packets of cigarettes.  The shooting range was on a Cambodian Army base and one of the soldiers (I think?) showed us the range of weapons to choose from....  Ok, I have no idea what they were but they were big and scary looking.  In the end Tom chose an AK-47 and the Russian equivalent of an M-60.  I politely refused.  We were taken into some bricked up shooting range and given ear protection.  The guns were so loud that I jumped every time Tom shot them.  Tom seemed to be having a good time, I don't quite get the attraction but I've never touched a gun so that's probably why.  When we left the shooting range Tom said that the AK-47 was made for small people and that's probably why it was the weapon of choice for child soldiers of the Khmer Rouge.  We then made our way to the killing fields.  On the way our tuk tuk got a flat tyre so we stopped on the roadside for some repairs.  While repairs were going on Tom and I played with a Cambodian baby, her big sister and their mum.  They didn't speak English and we didn't speak Cambodian but it didn't seem to matter.  When we arrived at the killing fields we were once again greeted by children and amputees begging for money.  I find it so heartbreaking so it's probably a good thing that Tom is holding the money or else I would have given it all away already.  At the killing fields we visited a small museum and watched a short movie on all that had happened there.  Around 9,000 bodies have been exhumed from mass graves but many mass graves remain.  A Stupa has been built in the centre of the killing fields and holds the bones of those bodies that have been exhumed.  The bones are held in 17 tiers within the Stupa and are categorised into the type of bone and age of victim.  The clothes that were found in mass graves are also held within the Stupa.  Upon walking around the mass graves we saw more  clothing material and bone fragments that were often washed up during periods of heavy rain.  There was something eerily peaceful about the place that it was hard to imagine the disgusting acts that had ocurred there not too long ago.  The worst for me was seeing a tree where babies heads were "smashed" before being thrown into mass graves.  I can't imagine how anyone could do that.  What makes it worse is that only one officer from the Khmer Rouge has admitted knowing about all of this and has expressed his remorse and regret for what happened.  Everyone else denies all knowledge.  Once again this was a fairly depressing and confronting day that I will remember for a long time.

Right now I am sitting on a fast boat from PP to Chau Doc in Vietnam and I'm fairly glad to be leaving.  My experience of the history of PP was extremely interesting and I'm glad that I went but the feeling of the place itself is not particularly safe and extremely seedy.  The amount of disgusting old Western men of all nationalities with very young Cambodian girls makes me sick.  I was even "lucky" enough to witness an old American guy describe in great detail at the top of his voice (what other volume do US tourists speak at?) what sort of girl he wanted to have his way with and Tom was away from me for less than half an hour before he was offered pretty ladies and "boom-boom" by a tuk tuk driver. Enough said.  On a good note, the food that we ate while in PP was awesome, we visited a couple of restaurants that are training restaurants set up by an NGO for street-kids and the food and service was excellent.  We also visited a French restaurant that was expensive (by Cambodian standards) but was really good and a welcome break from Asian food.  Anyway, that's about all from me at this point, I hope that you're all well and that winter back home is not too cold (12 days to go and I'm starting to worry).

Lots of Love,

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angelasusan on

Hard to comment on all this - such a sad and tormented history and ongoing sad and tormented consequences... We read an article recently about the completely flashy, acquisitive, bling-obsessed young Cambodians who are mega-wealthy, mega-corrupt and totally self-absorbed. Most are the children of the Cambodian ruling class and military so have benefited materially from their parents' involvement in the social and financial destruction of their own country, educated (mainly) in Paris and they appeared to have no sense of shame about their actions or the consequences for ordinary Cambodians. What a sad and confronting city.

hannah.goanna on

Well Mum beat me to it... I was about to write a comment which would have said much the same, so instead of paraphrasing I suppose I'll just say... ditto

penmarshall on

What is there to say? I'll never forget not being able to sit through the film,"The Killing Fields" as I was literally howling. I don't know if you know that Mark went to Cambodia to help conserve those photos and the films in the hope that, one day, some of the perpetrators could be brought to justice. The awful thing was that the evidence was disappearing faster than lawyers could put together a case. It may not have had the desired effect but I guess, at least, there are photos to show the world what happened and the scale of the horror. Truly mind blowingly horrendous.

tomngaynor on

No I wasn't aware of that. Never seen the Killing Fields, but read the book while traveling through Cambodia, was very tragic. Was a very confronting country, and noone we spoke to seemed to have much hope for the future, which is depressing in itself.

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