Phnom Penh, Cambodia
11° 33' N 104° 54' E
Nov 29, 2005 09:23
Distance 211km

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Text written in: English

I love Cambodia

I always sit down to write the masterpiece that is the live running commentary in my head but it only comes out as clumsy dribble. Somehow my thoughts are perfectly formed but by the time I get to some sort of recording equipment such as a pen and paper, it's just mush.

Anyway, after thinking I'd escaped the Africans, they were on my bus the whole way from Saigon to where I am now, the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. I met an Australian girl at breakfast in Saigon and told her the story of one following me home and she asked me if he was African and told me she'd been approached in shops and followed around them. Later that day it happened to me too - the only time I have felt unsafe so far, so pretty good going really.

Getting through the border checks and visa process was arduous and the heat was stifling. After the boys in the group had to push-start the bus we were off through the Cambodian countryside and it is more beautiful than I could've imagined. There are lush green rice paddies and banana plantations as far as the eye can see, strewn with towering palms and occasionally, ornate golden pagodas spring out of the trees.

We got to a river and drove on to the ferry where I got off to revive my legs. Outside I was surrounded by wee kids. Coming from Vietnam I got ready for the "you buy you buy!" but that only lasted 2 mins when I met a wee girl who didn't say anything but point at my water bottle and then at her mouth and held out her own empty water bottle, so I gave her some of my water and the rest to a wee boy. She was so stoked she grinned from ear to ear and ran to share it with her other thirsty wee friend. The rest of the time she shyly grinned at me and when the boy pointed out the scar on my arm, she pointed out the scab on hers, as if to say "we have the same!" I took a cool photo of her to post when I can be bothered going through the rigmarole again.

Last night after we arrived I went out to dinner with an American couple I met on the bus. We talked politics, travel and love. They are interesting people.

The Cambodians are very good looking people. Darker and rounder than their fine-featured Vietnamese neighbours, they still have the high cheekbones.

Today I took a motorbike half an hour out of town to the Killing Fields of Choeng Ek. In 1980, 8985 men, women and children who were killed here, often by blunt instruments to avoid wasting bullets, were exhumed from the mass graves. 43 of the 130 graves have been left untouched. You can still see bits of clothing and human bones on the sides of the graves. The thing is it is such a beautiful peaceful place, with hundreds of butterflies floating around the gravesites. There is a massive memorial tower filled with skulls that have been dug from the mass graves there. You can see the dents in some of the skulls where they have been killed by an axe or similar. I wandered around the maze of craters in the ground which thousands of bodies have been recovered from. It was kind of wierd though because the grounds are absolutely beautiful and so peaceful. In fact the first thing that struck me as I arrived in Cambodia was the haunted peace that shrouds the country. It's the only way I can describe it. I was surrounded by kids wanting money for books and pens here. At first I didn't believe them but gave them some money anyway, but I think they actually do want books and pens for school. One asked for a pen so I gave him one.

Then I went to S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was a high school until '74 when the Khmer Rouge turned it into a detention centre, known as S-21 (security Prison 21), the largest in the country. After being interrogated and tortured, 17,000 men, women and children were taken to the Killing Fields at Choeng Ek to be ''exterminated''. When the Vietnamese army liberated the city in early '79, there were only 7 prisoners left.The other remaining 14 had been tortured and killed on word that the Vietnamese were coming. Their graves are in the courtyard. I felt dizzy the whole time I was there, and walking into the rooms where people were tortured and died, the air felt thick, like I was walking through a heavy fog which was invisible. There I saw thousands of photos of people who had been taken to the Killing Fields and executed, as the Khmers photographed every victim before and after they were tortured or died. The photos are haunting, everyone staring death in the face. If I hadn't seen what I did in Vietnam I would been feeling a lot worse round about now, having been here. It's an interesting place and good to see to understand the psyche of the people. I also recommend reading "First they killed my father" by Luong Ung - written about what she saw as a child during the regime.


Photos / videos of "I love Cambodia":

Border Hot wheels at the border Coming into Cambodia Thirsty girl on ferry Memorial stupa, Choeng Ek Killing Fields Memorial stupa, Choeng Ek Killing Fields - skulls inside Memorial stupa, Choeng Ek Killing Fields Some of the 8000 skulls in the memorial stupa, Choeng Ek Killing Fields On the skull on the right you can see the wound from an instrument Choeng Ek Killing Fields Mass graves, the Killing Fields Mass graves, the Killing Fields Mass graves, the Killing Fields Me with wee cheeky boys Outside the killing fields - paradise Cow at the Killing Fields Cheeky kids at Killing Fields. S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum Monks at S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - torture chamber S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - torture chamber S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - rules S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - torture chamber S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - photo before the execution S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - photo before the execution S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - photo before the execution S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - photo before the execution