Time to hop in our taxi transfer from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. You can go various ways and prices, from flying, taxi or the Giant ibis which looks surprisingly good for $10.
We are taking one of the staff with us too, so she can visit her family for the day or should we say a few hours, as the journey is 6hrs there and another 6hrs back but about the only time she can visit due to work. Generally the staff all work away from home and only get back to see family once a year.
On route along the only main road, you see so many sites. A man on a motorbike with two live pigs tied on, various people going the wrong way up the road, lorries over flowing with people and last but not least kids of about 6 to 8 years old riding motorbikes along the main carriage ways. It’s an interesting ride and we choose to stop for lunch at Skuon, aka Spider town. We have a good look around but can’t bring ourselves to buy spiders or any of the other insect snacks and instead buy pineapple and sweet potato crisps. Little do we know that someone in the car has……. So once on route we get to try Tarantulas, Steve manages a leg and Deb eats legs and a bit of body but can’t manage any more!
We say goodbye to the guys and settle into our hotel. Phnom Penh is hot, sticky and rather smelly.. Our reason for coming is to visit S21 and the Killing Fields and learn what went on 1st hand during the Khmer Rouge Rule.
You soon notice how poor Cambodia is, if you stop and take a look around. 70% of the population are under 36 and hardly any wear glasses as they can’t afford them. Deb noticed this early on as drivers seem to drive slow and over careful, thankfully our 6hr taxi driver did wear glasses.
Something that very much surprised us in Phnom Penh was the amount of older white men and young Cambodian women, far far higher than we have seen anywhere in our travels, along with a huge red light area. Get your accommodation wrong here and you will know about it! We spend a few nights feeling like odd ones out in restaurants, the only couple amongst a load of old fat single guys with big ears!
Everyone else has these romantic dreams of sitting by the Mekong or going on a cruise along it.. In Phnom Penh you can pay the $18 each and do just that through the rubbish and dirty water whilst sucking in fumes from the boat engine. The people are busy fishing, foraging and using the water to make a living.
Advice is to do the museum 1st, we hire a tuk tuk for the afternoon and go off to the museum called S21, previously a school, where the Khmer Rouge over took and used as a secret prison and torture centre. The story of the Khmer Rouge is truly horrific. Make sure you buy the audio tour as it will enhance your visit.
The museum has real photos of real people who never made it through the camp and some photographs of the horrid torture they went through. During the rule of the Khmer Rouge, over 3 million died, this equates to 1 in 4 people and anyone with an education were the 1st to die. Of the 20,000 people that are recorded as going through S21 only 7 survived.
As we walked out to the exit there were two of the survivors selling their stories in a paperback and art work. This was such a hard thing to see, really puts a lump in your throat.
Next up was the killing fields, an execution centre and mass grave site was found. After seeing S21 then going to here to see the final destination of the poor people and hearing further awful stories that we won’t go into.
Time in Phnom Penh was short as we only stayed 3 days, luckily for us we had a nice small hotel to disappear back to 5 mins walk from the noise and mucky river but also close enough to everything. We struggled to find it on arrival as it was up an alley but once inside it really was a little oasis of calm and had only been open 3 months.
You have to watch yourself in Phnom Penh, there are so many little barefoot dirty kids running around smiling with big eyes asking everyone for 1 dollar. Don’t give in to it, here is a thought to leave you with, everytime you part with a dollar it’s another day that the kids parents don’t wash or cloth these children. The average hospitality worker who brings you your meal and beer earns on average $3 a day, a modern new build one bedroom apartment in the very best part of town costs $6300 to buy. If you have money to give away, make sure you give it to the right places.
Cambodia has a long journey ahead and so much help is needed there, the aftermath of war and genocide really has taken a toll on the country. If you are in the area, put it on the list to really understand what we mean.
As we walk back to our hotel to pack up, Steve spots a UK plated van and we start to wonder how it managed to get here? Lo and behold the owners arrive and we start chatting. Turns out these guys retired early, sold their home and bought the van to drive around the world but were currently unable to get into Thailand as the rules had changed again meaning the van was not allowed to cross the border.
Also time for Steve to say bye bye to the Cambodian Crocodiles and move on to our next stop, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Debs and Steve