Our first stop after a suspiciously easy border crossing from Vietnam, was Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. We arrived in the evening, and the following day went to learn about Cambodia’s history.
This wasn’t an easy introduction to the country. I’ve ummed and ahhed about writing about the Khmer Rouge, because it isn’t easy to write about and it won’t be easy to read either. However the people of Cambodia want tourists to visit the memorials, and they want the world to know their history, so it only seemed right to get it down in words on my blog.
In the late 1970s, the Cambodian government was lead by the Khmer Rouge, whose rule eventually lead to a huge genocide. They orchestrated a mass famine, and wanted to create a “peasant nation.” They began by getting rid of educated people (I.e people who might have questioned their ideals) the first victims were scholars, teachers, and even people who wore glasses. The country was isolated, money was banned, religion was banned, and a huge percentage of the population were sent to work in slave labour camps.
Our first stop of the day was the Killing Fields Genocide Memorial. We were given handheld audio guides, which enables you to take a tour silently and at your own pace. The Killing Fields is essentially a mass grave, one of many all over the country. As you walk around, you step over pieces of human bone and clothing that rise through the soil every time it rains.
Cambodian people were brought here by the truck load, lined up at the edge of a huge grave and bludgeoned to death. (The Khmer Rouge didn’t want to waste their precious bullets.) The workers would spread chemicals on the bodies to help eliminate the smell and also kill off anyone unlucky enough to survive the blow. I can’t write more. Yet there’s more. There are all the human skulls stacked floor to ceiling, more than you could possibly count, with holes in the top, or completely crushed. There was a killing tree. That makes my blood run cold to even think about it, I’ve got goosebumps all over my legs.
They hung huge speakers in the trees and played deafeningly loud patriotic songs all day, over the whirring of the generators. The audio guide played a sample of the sound, so you can imagine what people heard drowning out the death cries.
Next, we visited the S-21 prison. We didn’t pay extra for the audio guide this time round. I couldn’t face the descriptions of the torture methods. The prison used to be a school. Here, people were held and tortured for up to six months before being sent to their deaths in the fields. The floors still have bloodstains on them and there’s bloody handprints on the walls. It’s a very somber place, and I barely even heard birdsong whilst we were there.
For some reason the Khmer Rouge photographed each victim before they locked them up. In the museum, all the photos are displayed and make for very haunting viewing. I tried to look at every face as an individual, I felt like I owed them that much…but in the end…. There were too many.
Cambodia has broken my heart. This atrocity happened just over ten years before I was born. I almost can’t believe it’s real, yet walking around Cambodia, I’ve hardly seen anybody over the age of fifty, so it must be real, right? One quarter of the population was wiped out. The regime forced marriages that lead to many children (the people my age) being born of unhappy circumstances.
What I’ve taken from that day in Phnom Penh is an incredible sense of gratitude for what I have, and a growing urgency in my mind that I should never take it for granted.
We left Phnom Penh feeling a little bit like different people to the ones who arrived there.
Next stop: Kampot.
We had a nice time in Kampot. We were only there for one night. It’s a small town built on the banks of the river. We had a nice meal by the riverside watching the sunset.
After Kampot we went to Kep, which is by the sea. I always feel excited to be by the sea when we travel. I’ve always loved the ocean, but I think my love has been enhanced recently because the climate is so damn hot, a sea breeze does me the world of good.
I loved Kep! We were taken by tuk tuk miles from the town to our accommodation, which was a little bungalow in the jungle, run by a lovely French couple. We chilled out for two days, frequenting the local sailing club which had stunning views of the sunset over the sea. (And two for one cocktails) we wandered round, and just had a lovely relaxing time.
Then we hopped on the bus to Sihanoukville, our stepping stone to Koh Rong Island. After a night here we were off to island paradise.
We had a wonderful time. It was stunning! So here’s a little ode I wrote to Koh Rong Island (I had absolutely nothing better to do, we didn’t have wifi because the island hadn’t paid their bill and so got cut off by the supplier.)
Here’s to the peacock-coloured ocean drenched in turquoise, green and gold.
Here’s to waiting for it to be pitch black so you can swim amongst the glowing plankton that is so magical and sparkly that it almost feels like you’re swimming through space.
Here’s to sleeping in a bungalow on the beach, cooled only by a fan so you wake up with the sun, drenched in sweat. Here’s to your nighttime curfew being determined by the monstrous moths who come out at night, forcing you to switch off the light and listen to music instead of reading as usual.
Here’s to pure white sand so fine that it squeaks underfoot.
Here’s to 4km of beach with no people and more importantly, no litter on it.
Here’s to skipping meals because there’s no ATM on the island and we want to eek out the little cash we brought in order to stay as long as possible.
Here’s to stray dogs who dig themselves a hole in the sand under your sun lounger so they can sleep in your shade and company, only huffing occasionally when water drips on them because you went swimming.
Here’s to planning birthday surprises, being eaten alive by mosquitos and waking up to Tom doing a magical salsa dance stood on the bed whilst clapping the bastards to death.
Here’s to the sea that’s as warm and clear as a swimming pool, to cans of yucky cheap beer and getting accidentally sunburnt because the anti-malaria tablets make your skin more sensitive.
Here’s to the ache of there being only four weeks left balanced by the excitement of seeing my friends, family and cats again.
….. And here’s to being the happiest I’ve ever been.