Tuesday 6th October
Well, Phnom Penh is a complete surprise to us. Not really sure what we expected, but the city itself is a beautiful place, lots of open spaces, incredible temples everywhere you look, superb restaurants and nice people! It’s also strange just dealing in US dollars. They have their own currency, but really don’t like it!
As always we’ve done lots of sight seeing, and much of it here is centred on the recent Khmer Rouge atrocities. Between 1975-1979, under the “rule” of Pol Pot, the genocide saw the death of 25% of the entire population, two million people. In just 3hrs the KR completely emptied the city of Phnom Penh and put everyone to work in the countryside. Their policy was to kill anyone who was seen to be educated, and then the rest of the family. Educated people were deemed to be a danger to the KR regime. Deaths were brutal, generally involving the beating of people to death with crude weapons, following days/weeks of torture.
Yesterday we took a Tik tuk to one of the Killing Fields sites. This was a fascinating 30 minute journey taking us through areas of abject poverty, the likes of which we hadn’t really seen since El Alto in Bolivia. Following this, we had an hour touring around the area on quad bikes which was great fun. And then it was into the Genocidal Museum. We walked around while listening to an audio tour on headphones, and it was harrowing to say the least. 20,000 were killed at this site alone. It brought back memories of my visit to Auschwitz, but I actually found this to be even more sickening. A very moving tour, and one that should be made by anyone who can get here. Pol Pot died in 1998 without ever having been brought to justice, and I still don’t know why that was. I’m trying to find out. However, his henchman are still being brought to trial even now.
In the evening we went to the Foreign Correspondents Club, an infamous bar/restaurant in a beautiful colonial building over looking the river. Very nice!
Today we started with a visit to Tuol Sleng S-21 prison not far from our hotel. This was one of many interrogation centres used by the KR. Prisoners would be tortured until they confessed to crimes of being agents for the CIA or KGB. Of course, none of them actually were, but they all admitted their “crimes” after days of horrific torture. They were then taken to the Killing Fields for execution. Of the 17,000 taken to that one prison, only SEVEN people survived! And we were lucky enough to meet one of them, an 85 year old man who now works at the prison (it’s a museum now) raising money for the poverty stricken in Cambodia. A very humbling experience. If there’s one thing that I’ll come away from Cambodia with, it’s that we should appreciate every little thing we have, and that our problems are small indeed.
After that, we’ve had a few hours walking around the city. My haggling skills have become excellent, and I’ve got some good bargains! I’ve even bartered down the price of cigarettes! Nothing has a price here, merely a value to the prospective buyer!
We’re having a dip in the pool now, and going to visit the Zeppelin Bar later, a homage to rock music which houses the biggest collection of rock vinyl in Cambodia! I’m very easily pleased!
Tomorrow we move on to the beach resort of Sihanoukville. A bizarre story – a couple of months ago, Ali, Charlotte’s sister, was on a train from London to Salisbury when she got chatting to a couple of women. They shared a bottle of wine together. It turned out these ladies own a hotel in Cambodia, and they were just visiting England. Anyway, we’re staying in their hotel, The Secret Garden at Otres Beach, for four nights! It’s a small world!
I’ve finally finished reading the Ken Follett “Century” trilogy, and would massively recommend it. I’ve now got a much better knowledge of the last hundred years’ history, particularly the struggle between capitalism and communism, and the fight for racial equality in America in the ’60s. Brilliant stuff. Now reading “First They Killed My Father” about the Khmer Rouge years. Brutal.