Phnom Penh – Cambodia

Phnom Penh

Children’s skulls -The Killing Fields, Phnom, Penh, Cambodia.7th December 2007

Alright dudes,

Lets move on shall we?

We left Saigon, Vietnam on Saturday morning of the 25th to get the long and arduous bus journey to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
Border control was a pain in the backside, as was the corruption that was so visible when we got there but nothing could have really prepared me for coming into this country for the first time. It’s basically 3rd world, the edges of all the brown murky lakes and rivers are strewn with that kind of litter that stinks in a way only masses of unidentifiable junk can. Kids are basically street children and the mighty US dollar rules all.

After arriving in Phnom Penh and initially being ripped off about accommodation and a bus transfer to Siem Reap we ended up staying in this lakeside guesthouse which was grotty but with loads of character. Particularly the bar barge floating out in the lake and the hammocks. We got a few Angkor beers in there before hitting the town, our time was limited there and it was Saturday so we didn’t beat around the bush too much. After watching the fireworks on the Tonle river for the full moon party as part of the boat rowing festival that was on, we ended up in a club called Heart of Darkness which is the main spot there. Once again though, all of the Cambodian girls we got talking to, no matter how innocent looking or sweet they were, turned out to have security guards or pimps with them. A grim reality in a country where the dollar can buy you ANYTHING. There is a Cambodian currency but it’s only given as change.

For me Cambodia is like a big deep wound. It’s healing well alright but it still hurts like hell. Nobody seems to know anything about Cambodia coming here and yet everybody that we’ve talked to seems to leave pretty affected.

Sunday morning we went to The Killing Fields where Pol Pot and his evil clique committed some of the worst atrocities known to man…children even, in modern history. They’ve only dug up a fraction of the many mass graves there where children as young as 5 and 6 were beaten tortured and executed in whatever manner the Khmer Rouge regime saw fit, essentially in an effort to dispose of the educated class and rule the country as one big giant mongoloid race with no morals. It was a completely numbing experience and I don’t expect for it to make anymore comfortable reading than it was seeing it. Coupled with the visit to S21 Tong Sleung prison camp, where innocent civilians were tortured into false confessions by their own people, most of our group were rendered completely speechless for most of the day. It didn’t make for much of an atmosphere to head out into after and we were all glad the first part of that trip was to the gun range for shooting some more ammo as opposed to after. Reality stinks.

Ok rant over. On the Monday morning the owner of the Guesthouse offered to drive the 5 of us up to Siem Reap in time to see Angkor Wat temple city and then back to Phnom Penh the next day in time for our flight back to Bangkok for $100 between us. This offer was an Irish only offer as Peace and Freedom, an Irish charity from Cork, had donated a mini van to the guesthouse for excursions just like this, once all the profit went to a chosen local orphanage. Seemed like a win win situation so we all bailed in at 8am on Monday for another long day of travel. We of course broke down half way, stopped for fried spiders (never again) and sweat quite a lot but our bus was roomy compared to the 30 or so people they cram in every nook and cranny of Cambodian scooters,bikes and vans. Up on the roof and all they go, saw one truck with at least 40 people hanging out of it. Bonkers.

It was worth every minute of the 8 hours on the road. Angkor Wat is one of the 7 modern wonders of the world and you can see why. Hand built in the 12th century, it’s basically a city of temples, capped by the mighty Angkor Wat itself. Took loads of photos and went up in a hot air balloon for an aerial view as time was tight. We only ended up having 2 or 3 hours there before darkness fell and the mosquito’s began their nightly pillage of my gypsy Irish skin. I’m currently in shreds.

When we got back to the Siem Riep accomodation the owner of the Phnom Penh guesthouse Phanna and our driver Mon had another surprise in store for us A proper Cambodian evening. Mon invited the 5 of us to his family home where we sat in a circle with his parents, brother, nieces and nephew for snacks, fresh coconut and beers. They then brought us to a Cambodian restaurant with Cambodian delicacies before ending in a club called Route One for a multitude of liquor and cheesy dancing. They even gave us an alarm call the next morning to get the hell back up to the capital in time for our flight. Think we all slept the whole way up but we arrived back with a few hours to spare and ended up volunteering at the orphanage.

The same orphanage the guesthouse supports with its profits houses 25 children under ten, all with HIV. It was pretty heartbreaking. We each bought 50kg of rice for them which we were told would feed them for a week. Then it was off to deliver it. In my mind we were going to be sitting at the end of hospital beds looking at malnourished sick children crying but instead we were greeted with 25 of the biggest smiles and cheers I’ve seen or heard this trip. They were so happy to have company and for an hour or two. We played football, shuttlecock, basketball and exchanged high fives and hugs before the grim reality of leaving them hit home and another quiet bus journey to our next destination followed.

After all of that emotional baggage, we got the flight back to Thailand fine where I’ve spent the last week but I’ve rambled on enough so I’ll tell you about that another time. Hope this one hasn’t sent you over the edge. It was a strange few days but please, go to Cambodia, you won’t regret it.

Niall

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