Sunday, 11 May 2014

Killing Fields and S21 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

don't really have the words to describe the experience that is the killing fields, but it is definitely something that everyone should make the time to visit if they are in Phnom Penh, or Cambodia in general. 

It takes about 30-40mins to get to the killing fields from Phnom Penh, and you should only pay $15 for a tuktuk (two-way fare) or about $5 for a moto. 

There is an audio guided tour of the killing fields, which is super well done and very powerful. 

It gives a good explanation of what happened in this place, and also gives some personal stories of those who were affected by the Khmer Rouge. 

The tour takes about 2 hours, so give yourself sufficient time to wander around the lake and hear the extra stories and music created by survivors. 

I went to S21 the same day, which was a high school that the Khmer Rouge turned into a torture and interrogation centre. 

I found this to be the most difficult place to go through: there are headshots displayed of all of the prisoners, including many women and children. 

Some of their faces are so defiant and strong, while others look terrified and others still seem to have already accepted their ultimate end. 

Walking through the larger classrooms turned into torture chambers, and others with narrow wooden and concrete cells erected, was overwhelming. You could feel the energy from all of the atrocities that the Khmer Rouge committed here. 

The Khmer Rouge were a communist group that defeated the Nol Lon government. Once they successfully took Phnom Penh, the capital city and final stronghold, they forced all of the citizens out of all cities in Cambodia - then renamed 'Kampuchea' - and into the countryside to start their agrarian society free from currency and the West's influence. 

They essentially starved the entire population and killed everyone they saw as a threat: intellectuals, teachers, doctors, nurses, even monks. About a third of the country perished during their rule from 1975 to 1979, when the Vietnamese conquered Pol Pot, the notorious leader of the Khmer Rouge. 

It was definitely a heavy day, but I think it is important to pay respects to those who suffered in this beautiful country while the rest of the world was shut off from it and did not come to the Khmer peoples' aid. 

I hope that one day human kind will learn from our mistakes and that peace will be profound. 

In the meantime, may those who were affected by the Cambodian genocide rest in peace. 

Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Take Two

Most routes in Cambodia take you back through the capital city of Phnom Penh. 

My stay in Phnom Penh was cut a bit short the first time I was here due to an impromptu road trip to some temples off the beaten track en route to Siem Reap, so I was glad to come back for another visit. 

I stayed with a friend of mine who has been living in Phnom Penh for the past three years, so I felt like I was a bit detached from the usual backpacker scene for the first time in a while. It was pretty refreshing, actually. And having a clean shower, AC (that actually worked), laundry facilities AND my own personal tour guide of the city - priceless ;)

We did a lot of hanging out, watched some movies and tv shows - I know, we're some pretty wild party animals. 

We went out for dinner one night with a group of fellow expats (short term for expatriates aka someone living abroad) at this amazingly delicious Khmer seafood restaurant. 

It looked like a legit hole in the wall, in the area that most people probs wouldn't adventure to, but it was an experience fo sho - we got plate after plate of crab, shrimp (with the head intact, obvi), squid and fresh oysters. The locals would just throw their shells on the ground, so we obvi followed suit ;) 

So good!

We went to a rooftop reggae bar, which was pretty much only expats as well. A great view of the city with good music and good company. I can't complain! 

I met three French guys who were in the middle of a bike tour around the world. So crazy! Amazing stories, but I don't think I would like to push bike in this heat. They said they would hit the road at around 5am to beat some of the heat. Crazy cray. 

I made the trip to the killing fields and S21 (see next post). It was an emotional day, but I think it's a must-see if you're in Phnom Penh. 

As with last time, I went to a pick-up game of ultimate frisbee again.  The community here is so awesome, I don't think I've ever had so much fun running around in 40C heat before. 

We all went out to the Strike microbrewery afterwards, which turned out to be a real treat. It used to be a big Khmer dance club, but now it has a huge stage and has live performances. 

There must have been about 30 performers: one person would sing a song and then switch off to the next. 

There was even a dance troupe from Thailand, who were amazing. A surprisingly action-packed night for a Sunday evening!

Although, who am I kidding: every night is a Saturday night when you're travelling ;)

It was with mixed feelings that I said goodbye to Cambodia - I am excited for my next destination, but I had a great time in Cambodia. Definitely a fave!

Note: if ever you need to get a visa for another country, go to Lucky Lucky Moto! They got me my Vietnam visa in less than a day, at a really reasonable price. I highly recommend them!