Phnom Penh, Tuol Sleng and the killing fields.
To understand Cambodia and it’s people more we knew we had to go to Tuol Sleng prison and the killing fields. It’s one of the darkest periods in world history let alone Cambodian, with nations turning a blind eye to the fact that an estimated 3 million people were killed during the Khmer Rouge leadership. That warped communist ruling of Pol Pots lasted for four years. That’s a lot of death in a short period of time.
The prison is one of many that existed across Cambodia, in an society fearful of everyone and everything thousands of people were accused of being double agents, U.S. spies and rebels. Even members of his own regime were sent to the prison. It was formerly a school, but the regime abolished education and religion.
At the prison men, women and even children were tortured till they got a confession, slung into tiny cells and eventually sent to the killing fields.
It was horrific, but I’m not going to go into details, because I read a few blogs etc about the prison and the killing fields and I think it almost de-sensitized me to it. I knew what to expect so it maybe wasn’t as shocking. It still had me welling up, especially when I read the few survivors stories, including one man who almost had a happy ending only for it to be taken from his grasp.
After spending a couple of hours there our tuk tuk driver Simon appeared and took us to the killing fields, about 40 minutes away. I’d read that the journey was pretty bad on dodgy roads but it was alright, maybe the excitement of being back in a tuk tuk meant I didn’t notice.
We got to the killing fields and switched the audio tape you’re given on. You walk around and Cambodian survivor of the genocide narrates the awful things that happened here, where they found almost 9000 bodies in shallow graves when the Vietnamese ousted the regime.
It’s such a still place, no one spoke as they walked round over regular ground past unassuming trees, then you start each story and it becomes worse and worse. From the chemicals they used in the mass graves to hide the smell and make sure the people were definitely dead, to the communist liberation music they played at night to muffle the sounds of the dying.
As you walk along you see rags and some bones coming out of the ground, giving you a stark reminder of what lies beneath. I was literally crying the whole way round, especially at the stories of what people endured through the regime.
Certain moments you genuinely cannot fathom how man can be so callous and evil. It ends with the skulls of the victims being held in giant glass case, housed within a monument to ensure that no one in Cambodia ever forgets what happened and why.
I think one of the worst parts of the tour were Swedish visitors who got totally duped into thinking nothing was going on, and if anything communism was working here. They even tried to dispel refugee accounts as lies. Out of four delegates only one admits that what went on was despicable.
The other part was how the west ignored what was happening, at the war museum and here they talk about how what really happened might prevent the rest of the world ignoring atrocities but unfortunately we see even today they uncaring mentality of humans.
After this we needed cheering up, so we headed back with Simon and I investigated a nearby tattoo place for hygiene and cleanliness, passing the inspection and having great reviews online I went for it. Opting for a Cambodian Dragon with a folk tale detailed around it.
One and a half hours of excruciating pain later and I had a new tattoo! It was well done and I love how it has come out, the other tattoos I had were nothing compared to this. I think because it was on the ribs and sensitive skin it hurt a lot more.
Feeling sore but happy with the outcome I went to meet the others and we went in search of Cambodian Bbq.
We actually found a place pretty quickly! It was on the river and for $15 we got a selection of greens, rice noodles, and meat including beef, pork, chicken, fish, squid, prawns and frog!
The guy set it all up on a gas stove on the table, filled the outside of the dish with stock and greens, then started rubbing a lump of pork fat over the centre. I couldn’t wait! The waiter added various meats and some butter and we watched the juices spilling into the broth.
We started filling our bowls up with the broth as the meat sizzled and spat in the middle. Once the meat was done we had a gorgeous sauce to dip it in.
After tucking into most of the meats and noodle broth the grande finale was here, frog legs! I’ve had them before in Paris but wasn’t that fussed, they’re just like a less flavoursome and smaller chicken wing.
The others had never tried it and tentatively poked and prodded it before nibbling away, it was a success! No one loved it but it tasted fine.
We were still craving something more but the dessert menu wasn’t great so we went back to rainbow bar for more drinks, on the way there was a huge bang, Leia looked like she thought the apocalypse was coming but as we rounded a corner we saw it was fireworks in celebration of independence day. They were really good and went on for ages. It was lovely being by the river watching these colours explode and cascade through the sky.
Once we were some we were warmly welcomed back at the bar as Liam spent the night being a dj at the computer while Leia and I ate mounds of spicy peanuts and drank a few too many beers.
It was fun but the few bars we’ve been to in Cambodia have all been a little creepy, too many money laden western men wanting an easy time with pretty young Cambodians.
After getting slightly lost and seeing a local being sick and looking very much worse for wear we made it back to the hotel and passed out.