How to summarize Cambodia? Same Same But Different.
A few days ago I left Vietnam and headed east on a bus to Cambodia. The bus ride was roughly 6.5 hours long, and 2 hours of that time was spent dealing with the paperwork to leave Vietnam and get into Cambodia. For $25 I got another visa in my passport, and a fancy 6-sided stamp too! I arrived into Phnom Penh late at night and decided to walk to the hotel I was staying at. This may or may not have been a good idea, but I made it (eventually) and only walked down a few streets that made me think I was going to get killed.
Since then, I’ve been running and biking around from place to place and already left Phnom Penh. Currently I’m in a beach town on the south of the country where most rooms only have a fan, and there really isn’t much to do but sit on the beach and read or drink. It’s also incredibly hot – 90s every day. Though, this is a reprieve from the 105 degrees it hit one day in Phnom Penh.
And so, I’m sitting in the shade with a bottle of water, trying to at least keep this current. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to write up everything I’ve seen and done in the last four days, so the blurbs below are quick summaries and thoughts of what happened. (Click the links for official descriptions.)
Day 1: S-21, Killing Fields, Royal Palace, Tuk-Tuk Tuk-Tuk Tuk-Tuk Tuk-Tuk
S-21 / Killing Fields – As a prisoner, you started in S-21 (or some other camp like it) and ended up dead in a field. Historically, these prisons were used with the Pol-Pot regime to systematically remove ANYBODY who wasn’t worthy of being in the new communist labor party being built. Anyone who even looked smart or was educated …ended up in a death camp. You were tortured until you confessed to your crimes (all made up for you of course), died, and/or implicated other people who were “working with the CIA” with you.
There were a few people around the grounds of S-21 that I heard say things like “I really need to get out of here” or “I need to get some fresh air.” Although I never found myself needing to step outside for air – there were two events during these two sites that did catch me off guard. The first was hearing and reading about how children were treated at the killing fields (and by children I mean babies)… and the second was walking into the area with the wooden stalls and realizing that I was standing in a place where unfathomable things had happened. Not all of the cells were wooden stalls, others were makeshift brick prisons.
Royal Palace – We went and I was wearing a wife-beater shirt because I was having my laundry done. You can’t get in wearing such clothes. So ended my trip to the Royal Palace. From what I’ve heard, there is a hall of wealth with many absurd things …but you can’t take pictures inside.
Day-2: 55 Mile bike ride from Phnom Penh to Udong.
My ass is still sore from this. I rented a mountain bike that was in decent shape, a rock hard seat, and 4th and 5th gears that didn’t work. Those are gears you want when riding on the side of the road and regularly maneuvering around cars, buses, food carts, and motorcycles. It was a long day, but the temple in Udong was pretty cool. (I took some liberties with the sky in the second picture.)
Lastly, a few things:
There are about 50 of new pictures added to the photos section. I suppose some of them are a bit hard to look at…skulls and such.
Cambodia is poor. Very poor.
I’ll try to add descriptions and write more about Cambodia as I have time. As far as I can tell there aren’t any places with air conditioning and wifi along the strip.
3 thoughts on “Four Days Later – A Brief Summary of Cambodia”
Good account. I must admit, my first trip to S-21 and I broke down into tears, along with an American guy and a Brit, both (like me) in their 50s. The awful feeling of how we in the west neglected, actively, the atrocities taking place in Cambodia back then.
If you’re heading to Siem Reap you are welcome to visit a school established by a local guy – Savong – his father actually collected the bones together from the Siem Reap killing fields, but the focus is very much on the future and how to help local disadvantaged students in the countryside. But such contacts can help you connect with the inside story. Best wishes on your travels. I love cycling – but the April heat of Cambodia at its hottest, would deep-fry me on the saddle.
I’ll check out the school. Interesting actually – I met someone who took a job at an orphanage and that same sounds oddly familiar. And yeah, the heat was something that made the trip that much worse…plus the gears that didn’t work. Cycling in the much cooler summer of Wisconsin is definitely the way to go.
A Wisconsin winter…a Cambodian summer. You know, if you average it out, your year will be perfectly comfortable. Journey safely.