Phnom Penh, Cambodia
A late start at 11:30, we were transported to the bus station where we took a coach 7 hours to Phnom Penh. The boys from Western Australia were having a few beers and getting a bit rowdy. I was hoping to get some travel diary done, but I listened to music, slept and watched a movie on my ipad instead. We arrived at 7pm, and got a shuttle to our hotel. 10 mins to get settled and we headed to dinner up the road at a cafe. Our CEO warned us to keep hold of our bags because it was common to have snatching and pick pockets as this is the capital and tourists were commonly targeted. After dinner, we had a brief walking tour to show us the river side and some of the decorations for the king’s birthday. The next morning, we got going at 8am to go to Tuol Sleng, code named S-21, a former high school, transformed into a prison and torture facility during the Khmer Rouge regime, headed by Pol Pot. Grey concrete buildings, three storeys tall, the balconies covered with razor wire, surround a quadrangle grassed yard. Inside, orange and white 70s checked tile on the floors, stained with large dark marks…. I shudder to think what it might be. Any intellectuals, anyone with glasses, smooth hands (indicating wealth) and all their families were captured, held, chained to beds, with a bullet case for a toilet. They were tortured by ripping off their fingernails, flogged with barbed wire, salt and chilli rubbed into the wounds, chained upside down to a frame in quadrangle until they passed out, and then dipped head first into filthy water which would revive them enough to continue their interrogation. Once they had revealed their colleagues and families, they were taken to mass graves in the killing fields. The museum contained rows and rows of photos of frightened looking boys and girls. 3 million people were killed over the 3 years of regime. I can’t even fathom how that was possible. It was so disturbing to hear about the horrible things done to these prisoners. Even more disturbing was the image of kids running and laughing in the yard of the high school replaced by screams and moans of people being tortured and starved to death. I bought a book recommended by our CEO called First They Killed My Father. Then we visited Cheong Ek, one of the largest killing fields in the area. We walked through the seemingly lush area, where they had played loud music to drown out the sounds of the victims from the factories not far away. The ground is spotted with ditches, where bones have been recovered from mass graves. The largest contained 450 bodies. And still, they are finding new graves as the monsoon rain washes away dirt to reveal teeth and scraps of clothing. There was a tree that was reported used by soldiers to kill children. They would hang them by the feet and smash their head against the trunk. Horrifying. After that, we went to the “Russian market”, which was a local market selling everything. We had lunch there, called (ack, I can’t remember… I’ll find out). Then we had some time to wander the market. I bought a Mont Blanc pen, and some souvenirs. Then we had free time back at the hotel. I went together some money our, and found a place for men’s hair cuts that advertised a similar cut to the one I wanted. It was $2! The hair dresser understood what it wanted, so I was pretty happy with the result For dinner, we went to a restaurant that served organic food prepared by students who had previously been living on the streets. They also specialised in insects, particularly tarantulas. I split one between a couple of girls. It wasn’t too bad – chewy append crunchy. It took a bit to get the exoskeleton down though. Then they brought out the live ones… I could see they were defanged, but it was still creepy seeing them start to run. I had one on me for a photo, and it sprayed gray liquid all over my forearm. Eww. For dinner I had a lovely tofu salad with sweet potato spring rolls and a jungle ant and beef curry. The lemongrass in the curry was a bit much, but the salad was very nice. Then we went for a couple of drinks down the road. The place was a bit seedy, with a lot of prostitutes hanging around, so we decided to call it a night early.