I apologise that my blog is about a week late, but I really want to keep it per city/country, rather than a rambling update. That way it will hopefully be helpful to other fellow travellers in the future, as I found so many blogs helpful in preparing for our trip.
Our second visit in Phnom Penh really was just pure madness. Only fitting, as we did stay at the Mad Monkey. After surviving another crazy bus ride in which we swerved and lurched and honked our way through the traffic, we arrived back in Phnom Penh and as despite the rain, decided to walk to our hostel. I’d had enough of tuk tuk drivers trying to rip us off and I knew it would inevitably happen at the bus station, so off we ventured. However in Phnom Penh and lots of Asian cities in general, street signs are not their best strength. So upon stopping ad reluctantly asking a tuk tuk driver if our street was still yet to come, he offered us a free ride! And that began our two days of Mr Golden Stone, that and hearing “El, Jen!” hollered at us as he drove past at 2am the next morning.
Yes 2am. In actuality it was 5am when we got home. 2 am was when we left bar number 1, Top Banana, when they turned the lights off. I mean all the lights. But never fear, off to Love Bar we went, with a business card and a map. So easy to find! Or not so easy for our three motos. They drove around and around and mine kept separating from the other two. The initial thrill of being on a motorbike in the calm evening streets of Phnom Penh disappated and I found myself worried that I would be mugged as I was separated from everyone else. Finally after asking a few people, he found the bar. Good for him – but where were Liam and El?? I told him I wasn’t paying till they arrived, and made friends with the guard who translated for me. Finally they turned up, Liam paid his driver who took off…leaving the other two to share $1 ($2 for 3 drivers). They wanted $1 each. The guard said that we didn’t have to pay and probably shouldn’t, so we didn’t, and inside we went, to enjoy chilli cocktails and smoke machines.
On a more sombre note, we awoke the next morning to drive out to the killing fields. As depressing as it sounds, the S-21 genocide museum and the killing fields were the reason I wanted to visit Phnom Penh. What we didn’t realise until we arrived was that Phnom Penh is so much more, and you could spend a long time there. We met amazing people, at our hostels, bars and restaurants, locals and tourists alike. It really is a special place, despite their tourist attractions being so depressing. In contrast to S-21, where there are lots of things to read, the killing fields have an audiotape for you to listen to, with numbers around so you know what to listen to. It was incredibly interesting and horrifying what happened there. It is basically a huge area of grass, water, and a big memorial shrine. But the things that happened there…I still cannot comprehend how people did that. And did that to their own people.
I was already shocked after S-21, the fact that children were brought there, and so many people were tortured in horrendous ways. But to learn that if one family member was killed, the remainder were, that was too much. The belief was that to mow the grass, you had to kill the seeds. Get rid of everything. So there was a killing tree where babies were thrown against and beaten to death. The Khmer Rouge were heartless and some are yet to face trial and pay for what they did.The sad thing though is that all the perpetrators at the lower level, the soldiers and guards, were around 15 years old! They were victims themselves, and they only did it because they were afraid of being killed. It is hard to know how to view that and what to make of it.
I managed to hold back tears the entire time, apart from when music was involved. Part of the audiobook was a composed symphony piece, which was hauntingly beautiful. I found it so well composed and it really captured what I felt the killing fields would have been liked. The second time I let tears fall was when we were inside the memorial pagoda, where all the skulls are kept, and a group of monks came inside and started chanting. We were inside, and they were chanting in harmony, singing almost, holding their hands against the glass where the skulls were, with it reverbirating inside the tall pagoda. Wow. It was not the most positive day, but it was very educating and sombre and made you really think about life more. Mr Stone then opened up to us and talked about who he had lost to the Khmer Rouge, and how it has set back Cambodia by over 20 years. They basically did restart and year 0, whether they like it or not, and so many people have nothing. Money is made through corruption, like most places in South East Asia, but it is sad to see there is no middle class, and people work so hard yet go nowhere.
I took barely any photos in Phnom Penh, but I had to take photos of the Pagoda because it does represent hope and being able to turn something so horrible and depressing into something beautiful for people to come to and remember.