Guns, Girls & Genocide
Trip Start May 14, 2010
9Trip End Jun 19, 2010
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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
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 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
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,