20 January 2013
We were overwhelmed by the busiest breakfast situation we had faced all trip as a large busload of Vietnamese were visiting for the weekend. Some also travel by overnight bus from Saigon all the way to Siem Reap stay one night to see Angkor Wat and take the overnight bus back. The Cambodians have cleverly built Casinos just over the border to lure in rich Vietnamese and Chinese.
Kom is noticeably more relaxed now that he is back where he can speak the language (Thai and Lao are fairly similar but Vietnamese is very different and difficult to learn because of all the tones). He has arranged a cyclo tour for Eke, Brian and I and we meet them at 8.00 before it gets too hot (although it is already 24C). Cyclo drivers are some of the poorest in Cambodia and Intrepid supports an organization to help them. So we are very pleased to help them too.
We set off around the city first seeing the Independence monument and then on to the Royal Palace. We aren’t able to go into the palace as there is huge renovation work going on to get everything ready for the funeral next month but we can go to see the Silver Pagoda and the palace grounds. One of our cyclo drivers speaks some English and escorts us around which is just as well as we would have had difficulty finding our cyclo drivers again.
Along the way to our next stop Wat Phnom they point out various monuments, statues and buildings of interest. Wat Phnom is really busy with locals making food offerings, lighting incense and releasing birds with a wish. It was great to see the monument in use. We think we surprised them with the amount of time we spent there though because one of the cyclos had gone off to do something else. But we amused ourselves and them by getting photos of Brian riding the cyclo with the driver in front.
We went home via the Central Markets for a brief stop but none of us wanted to spend much time there. We walked around the giant domed central area full of jewellery stands offering gold silver and gems of dubious quality according to Kom. Outside under awnings were the usual array of wares but with the addition of spiders and other creepy crawlies for sale. We bought postcards from a man with one leg who had a sign “I don’t beg. I want to work”.
Traffic had built up considerably by then and it took quite a while to weave our way back to the Cardamom Hotel. We lunch at a local cafe that serves us complimentary iced tea via hot tea in a pot poured over gigantic ice cubes in a glass and provides cutlery sterilised in boiling water. Kom also comes there and is surprised to see us.
After lunch we join a local guide who takes us through the Genocide Museum and out to the Killing Fields. It is a very sobering experience as he experienced what went on first hand and gives a fantastic overview of the history and what was going on at the time for this horrific event to have happened. He gives us matter of fact descriptions of what happened in way that makes it possible to listen and see the horrifying evidence of the atrocities. I manage to hold it together until we got to meet and talk to one of the 7 survivors of the S-21 prison. He is a wonderful gentle man determined to tell his story to help people to know what happened and to raise money for other survivors in the support network he has set up.
Over 3 million of the 7 million people in Cambodia at the time died directly or indirectly as a result of a barbarous regime that killed its own initial supporters rather than have them undermine their power. They conscripted children 11 to 15 years old to conduct barbarous acts, brainwashing them and frightening them to carry things out and killing anyone who tried to avoid it. There were several hundred prisons and over 20,000 killing fields filled with mass graves. We visit the memorial stupor and see the tower of skulls and bones. There is a grave of headless bodies which have only khaki cloth so they believe these are their own soldiers where head were required as evidence that the act had been carried out.
We recognise that everyone in Cambodia now must have direct or family experience of these atrocities. The guide explains that although parents told their children what happened most didn’t believe them and just thought they were ‘when I was growing up’ stories. It is only since the tribunal was formed that the story was told in history books and the country started to believe it.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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