Phnom Penh 05/02/17 – 07/02/17
I arrived late from Sihanoukville. It was Ktv after Ktv and we got dropped off in an empty Phnom Penh dual carriageway with only a few mototaxis around. I got him down to $7 and he gave me for some wise words about being on my phone on the back of a bike! But I needed to find this hostel Lovely Jubbly Villa. I got a dorm and it was fine, 6 bed but it had a bath! I can’t tell you how excited I was! I checked in and went to bed early. $10 – you can get cheaper but this was perfect for my needs! They have food and book almost anything you need for your next journey. Food was a little over priced but I didn’t mind as I didn’t fancy wandering around. There is definitely a party vibe to the place with a pool and pool table. Definitely helped lift my mood after the day I was to have the next day. So, in the morning I had breakfast there by the pool and the excellent staff arranged me a tuk tuk for $18. The driver didn’t speak English but he was very polite and smiley.
First stop was The Killing Fields.
You pick up a headset to the right as you go in. I took my time here, the weather was lovely. The story as you are being lead round the stops is harrowing. I passed a few inconsiderate tourists on my way round but was deeply moved.
I took some time to listen to the extra content in the guide on a bench around the back of the pond. There were two kids begging over the back fence. People were living right next to it. Where so many people were brought to be killed.
My notes are disjointed.
LEST WE FORGET. Hero farmers. ’76-’78. City people aren’t BAD either. CRIMES AGAINST THE STATE. Revolutionary music. “The Organisation”. STARVING. Where are they now? Tell them one thing & do another. RELIGION, COMMERCE, EDUCATION. Bullets too expensive. Slicing throats with sugar cane leaves.
The most gut wrenching part for me is towards the end. A tree tied in colourful string. Representing the kids who died here.
Still to this day when rainy season comes they are collecting the bits of bone, teeth and clothing that have been brought to the surface. The murders were brutal and rudimentary. They killed anyone with soft hands, that wore glasses. Anyone with an education, people in the cities were driven out. The Khmer Rouge were aided by the UN, America under Trump is apparently asking for the money back that was lent to the country during this time and directly after. Genocide, civil war – when The Beatles were still around.
I was really heartened to see so many flying animals around here though. A sign of rebirth, of change and a lightness in the air. I’ve got a theory as to why the flying insects are so bold in Cambodia. There would have been a time where they were pretty much left to their own devices for 3 years there were millions of dead bodies across the country. A fly’s picnic, awful but I think sadly it has some merit.
I love Cambodian people, their tenacity and resilience is second to none. Always with a smile on their face. The tuk tuk driver was waiting for me. I finished the route and headed into temple, which is infamous with its piles of skulls. I felt claustrophobic in there. Too tall, too narrow. A well designed marker, a place to feel the sheer immensity of what happened in this country at the hands of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge.
We sped up the unpaved road. Plenty of on lookers, little side tracks, real poverty with really happy people. They are living in the slums, on a road that is travelled on most for tourists to visit and remember the atrocities that in no doubt affected each and every one of the people around me. Around 1/3 of the population was killed between the Khmer Rouge, subsequent governments and guerrilla groups until around 1980. Just think of that in your country? How many atrocities have these people have seen?
Next stop was S21 – The Killing Fields Museum as it is now known. This is a prison, where people were held, chained and brutally tortured and executed.
From my notes: TOOLS TO DESTROY. Better to kill an innocent by mistake than to spare an enemy. TO DIG UP THE GRASS ONE MUST REMOVE THE ROOTS. To be brought to be killed unaware is one thing. This torture is terrible. It can’t be because people were just following orders. There wasn’t a “just doing my job”. This is deplorable human behaviour.
I found it too much, the audio guide too intense. Walking round I saw a woman sobbing, sitting on the grass in the courtyard. I gave her a tissue and some space. She was a tall, blonde white woman. This isn’t our history, I felt I couldn’t gather the words to comfort her. I felt the same, deeply shook from hearing about over 12,000 people being brought here to die. Most of them completely unaware of why this was happening. No explanations were given. I couldn’t finish walking round with the guide.
A beautiful peacock was strutting around the courtyard and I watched him for a while. I didn’t enter C block. The tiles on the floors of the other rooms were still stained with blood.
A plumeria, the temple tree flower fell from a tree as I left. Only so perfect for such a small time from leaving its branch.
I went back to the hostel with a hugely heavy heart. Had a bath (what a luxury) and went to bed. I was up at 5:30am to head to Ho Chi Minh City. The hostel booked the bus for me. That morning as I waited for the van to pick me up, the same tall, blonde white woman I saw crying walked into the reception. We made eye contact but we did not speak.