From Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and beyond!

Good morning! Well it’s lunch time here, on Monday 8th February 🙂

I’m currently sat in my hostel’s kitchen, in Phnom Penh, munching on a pot noodle snack (these are so normal around here!). Sat next to two other people also typing away on a MacBook Air; I had previously thought I was a bit stuck up for travelling with such an expensive gadget, but it seems I’m really not the only one! It’s just the modern world of travelling. I haven’t been up to much for the past few days, but I’ve also been up to a lot.

Saturday I checked out of my hostel in Siem Reap and got a bus to Phnom Penh, with Corinne (the English girl I met in my hostel and went around the temples with). It cost $13, and were provided with a free snack on board and a bottle of water. We were also entertained by the terrible Cambodian karaoke playing on the TV at the front, and the SyFy movie Lavalantulas – disappointingly we missed the ending, so don’t know if the whole of LA succumbed to the lava breathing giant spiders.

The bus had gear box issues during the journey, which was annoying, as the driver had to stop to fix it briefly Then we were stopped at a police check-point, so we ended up wasting an hour or so.

Half way through the journey we stopped for a toilet break. There was a market stall selling insects.

I had to try one! Something a bit more crazy than a small bug. So…. I ate a scorpion! It was flavoured in a nice syrup with chopped chillies and spring onions, but it was crunchy. I was forever chewing, getting bits of scorpion shell stuck in my teeth. I ate half of the body, which had some meat in it, but it was nasty and I didn’t have any water to wash it down.

Once we checked in to our hostel in Phnom Penh, we went for a wander. The hostel is close to lots of Chinese restaurants, so I had some Won Ton Soup. We were served free ice tea with the meal too. Yum.

I’m not really a fan of Phnom Penh; it’s like every other capital city. I like to see quaint towns with some sense of identity and individualism. Phnom Penh does not have this! I instantly regretted booking three nights here, two would’ve been necessary, although it was nice to have a lie in this morning! Nevertheless, we managed to see some pretty sights in the dark, like this lit-up sign.

The main reason for being in Phnom Penh was to visit Choeung Ek Genocidal Center/The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

Our Tuk Tuk driver first took us to the Genocidal Center. It was tough, and forgive me but I didn’t feel that it was very appropriate to take photos all the time so I only have a few.

This building houses skulls. Yes, real skulls on display for the visitors to see. They were separated into age groups and gender, where identifiable.

Below is a photo of a mass grave. This is just one of many at this particular killing field. There are ditches all around, from where they found thousands of skeletons. Thousands! One in four Cambodians were killed in areas such as this; it’s very upsetting, especially when you realise that there aren’t any old people in Cambodia – or very few at least!

On our bus to Phnom Penh, we were sat near a woman who looked like she was in her 70s, or older. Knowing what I know now, about how most of a generation was wiped out, I would’ve loved to have known her story. How did she escape or survive the Khmer Rouge? I’m so fascinated by this period of recent history, that when I get back home I’ll definitely be buying a book on the subject.

To a more cheerful subject temporarily, Happy Chinese New Year! On our way to the prison, our driver stopped by a food stand where we bought a steamed pork bun.

The prison was shocking. Once a school, which looked like a beautiful ground, was turned into a secret torture prison in the heart of Phnom Penh. Turning a place of such innocence into something so sinister and disgusting, well it was heart breaking. Those who were educated (so doctors, lawyers, professors) were imprisoned and executed, as were those who wore glasses and had soft hands. The Khmer Rouge were highly educated themselves, many of them studying in Paris, yet they still introduced and enforced such brutality.

What particularly upset me, was the story of three guys my own age from England, Canada and New Zealand. Some time in the late 1970s, they were sailing in those waters, got caught up in a storm and were forced to dock in to a Cambodian harbour. They essentially signed their death sentence there and then. A paranoid regime, the Khmer Rouge thought everyone was either a Vietnamese, Russian or American spy so they murdered one of the sailors and took the other two prisoners. One of the chaps, Kerry Hamill, was forced to confess to being a spy despite just being a normal lad on holiday with his friends. His testimony was saved in the records, and was read out during a war crimes trial. At first I chuckled, as Kerry kept his sense of humour despite dark, dark times, stating his commander was Colonel Sanders of the KFC, then I started crying a little. It brings a tear to my eye just recounting it all! Kerry managed to get a coded message to his mother in this too. Just so devastating.

After leaving the prison, we wandered around the local markets – same old crap really. Nothing too special, but I treated myself to a dragon fruit shake afterwards. At $1 it’s such a bargain! Here’s me drinking it in my lovely new dress.

I spent the evening eating and drinking with a few of my fellow travellers, trying to spend as little as possible.

Now back to today! I have booked my bus ticket to Ho Chi Minh in southern Vietnam. I get picked up at 7:30 am tomorrow (crikey!) and the bus should take about 7 hours. I have booked two nights there in a party hostel (again, crikey!). I have a rough idea of what I want to do next, well either I buy an open bus ticket for about $60, which takes me from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi, allowing me to stop off at the towns along the way for a few days. It’s also a night bus, so if necessary I can try to sleep on there. Emphasis on the word “try”. It’ll be an interesting way to see Vietnam. Or I’ll fly from HCMC straight to Hanoi in northern Vietnam. I want to talk to other travellers at my hostel to find out what they did first before I book anything.

And a random photo I wanted to show you, bananas! I always have a bunch on me if possible, each bunch priced at $1! Cheap and healthy snack.


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