After the gorgeous beaches and idyllic views of Koh Rong it was a shock to the system when we arrived at Cambodia’s capital. Roads and pavements crammed full of cars, people and of course motorbikes. We managed to haggle down the price of a tuk tuk which took us all the way to our hostel. With only one full day here we tried to make the most of the time we had.
That evening with an American guy we met at our hostel we walked to the river front. This is where ‘happy’ pizzas are notorious and we came here as said American guy wanted to try it. After being disappointed with his pizza, he wanted to find the real thing so off he goes in a tuk tuk with a stranger to buy some. Erm I guess we’ll wait here then? After a fairly nervous 15 minutes where me and Jodi start to imagine all sorts of situations he reappears. It had seemed to be a success for him so we headed back to the hostel trying to process the way our night had turned (and avoid police).
Early the next day we set off for a day of history. We visited The Killing Fields which is a museum dedicated to those who perished during the Khmer Rouge regime. It was very shocking, powerful and humbling. Every time I learn a new piece of information about a country I am surprised at how little history I covered at school and since. I guess this is a reason travel is important as you learn so much more about the world, past and present which you wouldn’t normally in your sheltered life at home. Museums are important and it’s important to visit them. As knowledge and history is nothing if it’s not shared and remembered. It is crazy to think that all of this pain and suffering happened within two generations. How could all this have been allowed to happen? Prisoners were killed using blunt tools such as hammers before being buried in a mass grave as bullets were too valuable to “waste”. Bones and teeth are still resurfacing today following heavy rains in the area of the Killing Fields.
We also visited a prison which held and tortured prisoners before being taken to what’s now known as the Killing Fields. Seeing the shackles, beds and instruments used helped to drive home how horrendous this situation was. But it was not as powerful as seeing hundreds of photos of the prisoners taken as they entered prison lining the old prison cells. They included soldiers, farmers, women, children. So many lives taken. Of the thousands which passed through the prisons gates only a handful survived the ordeal. There were displays telling the stories of those outside of the prison, of the forced labour in farm work and evacuation of urban areas. All in all it was a heart wrenching and eye-opening experience. The Cambodian people we met were a testiment to their country, they were friendly and welcoming wanting us to enjoy our time in their beautiful country. The ugly past was so close but the people are only looking forward to their future.