Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Last days in Cambodia....

Our last night in Battambang was spent at a nice place called Gecko Café This is a café that gives jobs to needy locals and teaches them skills like cooking, serving and generally how to behave and get a job. It also happens to do really good food. I had a fresh fish dish with a lime and mint iced drink and it was all bloody lovely.

An early night followed and in the morning we left on the bus heading for Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia and our last stop here before we go to Vietnam. The bus was a little bit of a nightmare though. It was comfortable enough and only took 5 hours, but for those 5 hours the locals were enjoying possibly the worst 'Karaoke' videos that I have ever seen. Nobody was singing along, thank god, but the bus TV was showing the tacky videos whilst the music blared out – sometimes gentle love songs and other times loud horrible shite music!! It drove us mad and we were very happy to arrive in Pnomh Penh. A short walk from the bus station and we were in our new accommodation – a one bedroom apartment with a massive front room and a balcony overlooking a busy street, just a few metres from the river-front, where all the night-life and where the locals come to play in the evening. We went out for a wander around and had a really nice dinner before we both had a pedicure!! Your feet get really minging walking around Asia in flip flops so it was worth the $2 we paid to get them seen to – and it was really nice!! We then went home and I had a really early night as I was up again at 2am to watch the United V Spurs match, which we won 3-0.

After a good lie in we were up again and headed out to see some of the sights here. It wasn’t the most enjoyable of days due to what we went to see, but it was something we had to do while we were here. Our first stop was the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum, where during the 3 years of Khmer Rouge control in the mid 1970's, 17000 people were imprisoned, tortured and made to sign false confessions, which ended in them being murdered either at the prison or in theinfamous 'Killing fields'. The prison was actually a High school and Primary school before being taken over by the regime and has been left in et same condition it was found in when discovered in 1979/1980. It is a harrowing place to visit – even more so when I realised when it all happened and remembered my summers as a kid and what was going on here at the same time.

We took a tuk tuk to our next stop, which was the actual killing fields themselves, 15km south of Pnomh Penh at a place called Choeung Ek. It was here that the prisoners from Tuol Sleng were driven when there was no more use for them – they were them murdered and buried in mass graves. Many of the mass graves are still visible above ground, some of them have not been excavated as of yet. We were told that bones sometimes surface after heavy rain because of bodies still buried in the area.
Karaoke on the bus

Nice feet

Genocide cells

A lot of the victims were simply beaten to death to save bullets, including young children and babies who were beaten to death against a tree called 'The Magic Tree', which still stands here today. The mass graves are marked with the numbers of dead found and in the middle of the field is a Stupa that had been built to commemorate the dead. In side the Stupa are all the skulls of the victims, on display for all to see. The Stupa is 3 stories high and the skulls are laid on 17 levels of shelves inside it. There is a lot of death here.

On a brighter note, we have really enjoyed Cambodia. It has really surprised me. I expected a dull, dirty and downtrodden country where people would be after our 'western money' and where I would feel unsafe and be ready to leave when I arrived. But I have found a great country, where everyone smiles. The people are the friendliest I have ever met and love the fact that as tourists we are here to learn about the country and spend some time here. Ther only downside for me was the bus ride yesterday with the really annoying Karaoke!! The kids are great and they ALL wave as they see a bus/boat or tuk tuk go by with white people inside. It is rather strange that they have their own currency 'The Riel', but choose to do most transactions using US Dollars, with the riel being used just for spare change. Even stranger are the clothes. The women here are quite happy to wander around all day wearing pyjamas – really colourful pyjamas with stripes, patterns or cartoon characters on them. Even silk pyjamas are everywhere. We think this is because pj's are cheap, cool and easy to clean, plus if you are just sitting at home all day watching the kids, what’s the point in getting dressed I suppose!!

Silk pj's

More PJ's

And more Pj's

We have been in Cambodia just one week and I would be happy to stay for 2-3 more quite easily. Its a different world to what we have been used to in Australia, NZ or even Thailand. I hope the country manages to stick to its roots and stay just as it is. I don’t know if I will ever get the chance, but just like Laos, I would definitely come back again some day.

Our last morning in Cambodia and we went to visit the Royal Palace. It was a boiling hot morning and so we spent a lot of the time looking around the inside of the silver pagoda (not actually silver, but it has silver tiles on the floor, which incidentally are mostly covered up with carpet, so if you were expecting to see an actual silver pagoda – you are fairly disappointed!) where we weren’t allowed to take pictures, so obviously we tried to take some sly ones without getting caught – isn’t that what everyone does? We also noticed a bit of dodgy electrical cables hanging out of a wall and some of the handrails just came off in my hand!

Sly picture from the royal palace

Overall though the palace was really nice and a good place to spend our last morning. It closes at 11am though for lunch so we went back to the hotel and packed, had lunch and then grabbed a tuk tuk to the airport, where we fly to Vietnam!!!


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