Phnom Penh

We arrived in Phnom Penh after dark. The bus ride was alright, nothing much interesting to tell besides the blond youths without shirts sitting next to us. The bus dropped us very close to street number 80, where I knew some hotels stood. We started roaming the area, only to realize most hotels were rented by the hour and it was not what you would call classy. To be blunt, it was hooker’s town and not even the locals wanted us there.. A few hotels refused to quote prices to us outright and the stares we were getting were not overly friendly. Eventually a guy beckoned us and offered to take us to ‘backpackers district’ for 1 USD. He was super friendly and maybe a little bit drunk, but we accepted his offer regardless. He took us to a hostel on top of a pub, where we got a decent room for 8USD with windows that opened into the pub. The music cut after midnight so it was not a big deal at all and it meant the room was a bit cheaper so we were happy with that. That night we got all our paperwork ready to get up and visit the Chinese embassy…

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With that in mind, we got up bright and early, printed the necessary documents and caught a tuk tuk to take us to the embassy as soon as it opened, as there was a high chance of needing to return because we had missed something. The clerk that took our paperwork was all business and no heart. He inspected the paperwork, nodded a few times, and then a problem arose. We had plane tickets from Hanoi (North Viet Nam) to Kunming (China), so he asked how we were getting from Phnom Penh (South Cambodia) to Hanoi. I told him we would sort that as we go and take several buses, so he asked to see the tickets. I tried to explain we did not have them yet, but he would not hear it. Bottom line was, I had to show evidence of tickets. We left the embassy, got a tuk tuk back to the hotel and procured tickets to Hanoi as requested. Luckily the second time around he accepted the stack of papers and asked us to return in 4 days to collect our passports…

We walked all the way back to our hotel through some parks and explored a bit of the capital. On the way we found a few parks and some awesome monuments. Eventually we came across the presidential palace, but it was closed to the public. The waterfront was not very pretty, as the Mekong is quite polluted at this stage, so we did not walk along it for very long..

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The next day we decided to explore a temple on a hill. It was a very cool place, and a band was playing traditional instruments inside it. They had a bunch of birds caged up, as people pay to release them and achieve ‘good luck’ by doing so. It is a pretty cruel practice as they get captured again and again just so people can feel better about themselves…

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The park around is interesting as well, and a huge clock decorates one of the sides.

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Next stop was the local market. It is rather clean and organized for SE Asia standards, while maintaining the colours and noises of all others. It was a cool place to spend a while, and I managed to find some underwear and Tim, sun glasses.

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We spent the rest of the day inside a cinema. An English guy set up this room with a few chairs, some blankets and a projector, and you pay the entrance and he broadcasts 4 movies a day. The afternoon started with ‘Killing fields’ a Cambodian/American production that tells the story of some journalists that had to escape the country (and a local man that was trapped) during the Khmer Rouge dictatorship. The movie is quite graphic and a must see to understand the cruelty and ideals of this regime. The second was ‘Martian’, a wonderfull movie that features Matt Damon getting trapped in Mars and surviving until he is rescued. The third movie was ‘Fight club’ that we had both seen more than 3 times, so we instead walked back to replenish our water supply and have dinner. We returned to see Norton fly around trying to find Tyler, finally realizing the truth and the wonderful scene of the credit card buildings coming down… Epic every time. The last movie on the schedule was “Joy”, a movie with Jennifer Lawrence as a housewife in the 80s that came up with a few inventions and the challenges she went through until she made it in the business word. Quite a good movie as well, though with a few holes. All in all, a pretty awesome day escaping the heat and watching some cool movies…

On Monday we rented bicycles and set out to spend the day reviewing Cambodian recent history – the Khmer Rouge. The first stop was the genocide museum, an old school transformed to a prison where thousands of men, women and children spent the last days/months/years of their lives, sleeping in tiny cells and enduring torture until the confessed.. To whatever the torturers wanted them to confess to. Click on the ‘rules’ below to get an idea of the conditions…

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We started the tour with a documentary on 3 people that survived (of thousands, only 11 did in total) and continued by visiting the facilities. Barb wire surrounds the premises and some of the old classroom blocks. The wooden and brick cells still stand, and it is grim to realize the fate of the prisoners, that eventually ended up at the killing fields regardless. Their crimes were mostly to be educated, to be city dwellers with few farming skills, to be old, different. Mostly the same prisoners had no idea why they were there, as they had served the regime as asked for fear of ending in a place like such…

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There is much more to be said and explained, but as it is a grim subject I shall leave it to you to investigate further if that is your desire.

We left the museum and started pedalling towards the killing fields, on the outskirts of town. I soon realized I had a punctured front tyre, and after getting it pumped a few times by lovely crews we found a place where I could replace the inner tube. While the work was being done we had lunch at a local cafe. The map took us via a dirt road that cut right through a garbage dump, which was disgusting and fun at the same time. After quite a bit of exercise we made it to our destination.

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As we entered, we paid for the ticket and were handed an audio tour device and some headphones. A Cambodian man then tells you the sad realities and the dark truths of this place. How people were killed with whatever implements were handy, as bullets were too expensive to waste. How kids heads were smashed against tree trunks and tossed into pits. How prisoners heads were severed and their bodies buried without them. Along with numerous other GRIM stories and testimonies of people that survived this era, while you see the dug up mass graves all around… The last stop is a huge pagoda where they have classified and transferred most of the skulls that have surfaced.

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On the way back we decided to follow the main road to go back faster. Little did we know we would strike rush hour traffic and join the madness. It was half exhilarating and half terrifying, but I am glad to report we still live. Motorbikes drive on every direction and have little regard for rules, so you have to keep alert at all times, as anything can happen. It was entertaining but I would not recommend it unless you have a deep understanding of Asian traffic…

The next day we picked up our passports to find the newest visa added, and then returned to book a ticket out of Cambodia and into Viet Nam


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