Phnom Penh, Cambodia (10.14.11 – 10.17.11)

The journey to Phnom Penh took, as all things in Asia seem to, longer than promised. And umm, I had a bit of an incident. So, as I mentioned in my previous post, I had arranged my travel through a travel agent while I was on Phnom Penh, and all of my travel was to be taken care of, from where I was staying on Phu Quoc, all the way into Phnom Penh. The agency took us to the border, instructed us on what to do here, and then it all started to get a bit strange. I was the first one to finish at the border, so, officially in Cambodia, I proceeded back to the bus that had driven us in. A man on a motorcycle kept approaching me, telling me he would take me the rest of the way. Wary of this man, and motorcycles in general at this point, I told him I was fine. I found the driver, who confirmed that I was heading to Phnom Penh, and then told me to go on this man’s motorcycle. My face probably looked a little like this: o.O . I did as instructed because they said he would take me to the appropriate bus stop. We drove for a while, and stopped in front of a restaurant. They pointed to a van (not a bus), and told me to put my bag on. I did, and then before I had the chance to object, the van DROVE OFF. I started complaining, and the man on the motorcycle said that the van would be back in 15 minutes, it was just picking up other passengers first. So, here’s the thing: I do not care what that van is doing without me, I don’t want it going anywhere without me, and I wouldn’t have put my bag on if you’d told me I wasn’t going to get on right now. The driver tells me to sit tight and disappears. I proceed to sit in front of this restaurant for well over an hour, freaking out, telling myself that I’m stuck in a tiny border town in Cambodia without any cash, and no ATM around. I was wholly convinced that I’d been robbed and abandoned, and I felt like it was my fault. About an hour and a half after I’d been left, the van DID come back for me, with my bag untouched. The experience was harrowing, but the outcome was fine. We drove to Phnom Penh, and didn’t arrive until about 6PM. I walked two miles to my hostel, and then did nothing all night.

On Saturday I set off on foot to go exploring, had some lunch and got harassed by some very amusing young children who wanted very dearly to sell me some bracelets, books and scarves. I walked past the National Museum to the Royal Palace, only to discover that they were closed for their rather extended lunch hours. I took a tuk-tuk to the Russian market and browsed for a while, then took the tuk-tuk back to the Royal Palace, which was incredibly beautiful. I took an immediate liking to the Cambodian architecture. After seeing the palace, I got chatting to a tuk-tuk driver, and ended up going to a boxing match 15km outside of the city. It was fascinating really, and while I never would have said that that was my sort of thing, I found myself getting really into it. There were a few fights that were just Cambodian vs. Cambodian, but later there was an English fighter and a Spanish fighter. Once it was over, I browsed the night market and headed to my hostel.

On Sunday, I visited the Killing Fields, which are one of many killing fields all over Cambodia. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge, lead by a man named Pol Pot, who took a great liking to Communism, three million Cambodians were brutally murdered by their fellow citizens. The population during this time was eight million, so over a third of the country were extinguished in the period of a few years. What I found personally unsettling was the fact that the Killing Fields were a rather serene place. There’s a memorial building filled with skulls, and a tree against which babies were beaten to death. Other than the signs that inform of its horrible past, the site is beautiful, and visually reveals little of its history. I left feeling very sad, then headed to S-21, which was a prison where the Khmer Rouge detained and tortured their prisoners. Unlike the Killing Fields, there was a horrible feeling in the air here. It was as though I could feel the despair and sorrow that had once been experienced in this place, and I couldn’t stay for long. I didn’t do anything else that day after my visit to the S-21 prison, but I was glad I had visited these places, because I feel that it’s important to see what humans are capable of doing to one another. Places like these make me think about life, and how precious it is, and how much we should cherish what and who we have. Babies, love each other, and tell the people you care for how much you mean to them. It’s important.

On Monday I left and headed up to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat, where I was sure that a good time would be in store.

Inside the Royal Palace

The memorial building at the Killing Fields

😦

Skulls in the memorial building; it was filled with thousands of skulls of the victims uncovered at this site.

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