Leaving Tom in bed (git) I caught the boat down the Mekong early this morning to get to Phnom Phen. All good the boat was quite speedy and the journey took 5 hours – more expensive than the bus but more interesting and less bumpy! Most of the westerners sat on the upper deck taking in the view and it was nice to get some breeze in my face – until it started raining! It did’nt last long though and I soon dried off – even got a bit sun burnt as the breeze gave the impression it wasnt that hot, doh! We passed loads of floating villages – lots of fishermen too.
Arrived in Phnom Phen at 1pm ish, to be greeted by the usually ‘mad for it’ touts! “Mister mister you wan guesthouse, you looking mine, very cheap, very clean…….”. I’d already picked one out of my guidebook so just found the tout for that guesthouse and got a free ride – on his scooter complete with my big backpack! After that my new friend offered to show me the sights of Phnom Phen – I only really wanted to see the Golden Palace but he insisted on taking me to the ‘killing fields’ of Choeung Ek, 15km out of town (mainly cos it meant he could charge more), so I could learn about Cambodian history.
I’d read about the killing fields on the boat and was’nt going to go, but I’m pleased I did although the experience was a sombre one. Basically its the place that Khymer Rouge leader Pol Pot sent people of a non ideal background (lawers, politicians, educated people, etc) to be killed – kind of like Hitler did to the Jews. Except they were blind folded and hand cuffed and basically beaten to death with whatever weapon was to hand. Over 1 million people were killed at Choeung Ek between 1975 and 1979 – recent history really. On display at the site were the over 8000 skulls, bones, and clothes of some of the mass graves that have been excavated, complete with bullet holes and large cuts – lovely. Quite moving though – except for the kids who were begging – they got quite annoying as I was trying to understand the history but was getting pestered all the time!
All the way to Choeung Ek my driver had been asking me if I wanted to shoot a gun, or rocket launcher, or throw a hand grenade. It was no surprise when we detoured to his mates shooting range close to the killing fields – kinda a bit sad after what I’d just seen! Anyway I was presented with a ‘menu’ from which I could pick such things as an AK47 (which he was holding at the time), M16, UZI 9mm, pump action shotgun, and various pistols + an M60 grenade launcher. AK47 is $1 a bullet, $200 for shooting a rocket launcher! I graciously declined (being British don’t want to offend the locals) – I was’nt in the mood – and I was the only tourist there in a bunch of 10 or so gun wielding Cambodians! Mum carm down – it was’nt too dodgy! Maybe in Vietnam….
On the way back I visited the Royal Palace, which is a tranquil place compared to the buzzing dusty streets off the city. Interesting, but more temples and gold things – feel like I’ve seen loads of them!
Pretty knackered tonight, two early starts on the trot and another tommorrow as I’m off to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Siagon) in Vietnam at 6;30am – can’t wait for the alarm to go off!
Cambodia has been really good and I’ve enjoyed all of it, its been good today to see the difference between touristy Siem Reap and Phnom Phen (although theres a lot of Westerners around). I’m glad I’ve come now, they are building a new international airport at Siem Reap and I think once that opens its going to become tourist hell there – Maccy D’s and Starbucks a plenty no doubt!
Nice to have a bit of time to myself too, I’m sure Tom’s thinking the same thing though – I’ve been sleep talking/walking loads since we got to Cambodia! Hopefully meet him in Thailand next week….