Just got back to Bangkok having spent 5 days in Cambodia. When we arrived at 8pm last night it was 33 degrees, so that should give you some impression of how hot it is right now!
I am afraid that this journal entry is likely to be the most sombre to date but it is hard not to be sombre and reflective when you consider what has happened in the country and the magnitude of the atrocities witnessed.
We arrived by bus from bustling Saigon and the minute we crossed the border it was clear you had entered a new and very different country. It appeared to be the poorest of the countries we have visited with poor roads and poorly built housing. What I find most fascinating about this and the other countries we have visited is that next to poor shanty houses you find beautiful, opulent temples which cost a great deal to build. On the one hand, it begs the question: couldn't this money have been better invested in the people? On the other hand you wonder whether these temples offer a sanctuary to these often very religious people and act as a great source of pride to them. I don't know the answer to this but would be fascinated to hear various views on the subject from the Cambodian people.
Our first stop in Cambodia was Phnom Penh and, for all the poverty we saw in the countryside, it was a place which appeared fairly affluent. The French influence was very clear to see with long, wide boulevards and many colonial buildings. It also had many nightspots and a buzzing nightlife. There were a large number of young Cambodians dancing on the streets in the evening and enjoying a glass of Angkor beer.
We checked into our guesthouse and immediately booked on a tour of the city and surrounding area. Our first stop was the Killing Fields where many people were tortured and killed by the Khymer Rouge regime under Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979. Our guide told us that he had between 12 when it was over and had lost both his parents. He had started working there in 1980 excavating bodies and was still there 26 years later working as a guide. He showed us a large monument with many skulls in it. By looking at the skulls you are able to deduce how each died, there are bullet wounds on some, axe wounds on others and those that are smashed were most likely victims of hammer blows. Throughout our tour our guide kept saying 'Pol Pot crazy man', 'why', 'why kill the women and children, the innocent people of your own country?' 26 years on and he was still trying to come to terms with what one man could do to his own people and can you blame him. On one wall was a brief history of the time and it described the guards and members of the Khymer Rouge as 'taking human forms but having demons hearts'. How can you possibly come to terms with the killing of around 2.5m people at a rate of almost 2000 a day. I don't know all about the events at the time but I can't understand how it was possible for these sort of atrocities to go on while the world looked on?
We then headed off to the Genocide Museum in town. The scenes and stories in there were just harrowing and I won't go into too much detail. There were numerous stories of loved ones going missing and people having to come to terms with their almost certain death. One women described the loss of her children, 'hopefully now they can go to paradise'.
In the afternoon we went to more touristy places like the Palace Complex and a Pagoda but as you can imagine we weren't really in the mood.
We then departed Phnom Penh for Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat and a number of other temples which made up the mighty Khymer Empire which ruled South East Asia many centuries ago and was then lost to the jungle for many years.
We got up nice and early, 5(!), to get to Angkor Wat for sunrise and it did not disappoint. The picture attached to this journal entry is the actually view we saw when there. We also visited a number of other temples which were also extremely beautifully including a temple complex overgrown with trees. This particular complex maybe known to a very few of you as the setting to the Tomb Raider film!
You cannot escape the symbol of the Angkor Wat temple, it is found on the flag, there national beer and a great many places besides. It is a great sense of national pride to the people, a symbol of what they can achieve and, in my opinion, a motivation to bring the country back to its former glorious self and leave behind the memory of the atrocities witnessed. It is truly moving to see the people working so hard to eke out a living and it makes you feel so grateful for what you have and the opportunities afforded to you in your life.
Thats all I can think of to say at the moment and once again I apologize for the sombre nature of the journal entry.
My next stop is Malaysia and then off to Borneo so hopefully I'll have some more upbeat news and stories for you all.
Take care of yourselves and for those of you enduring the weather in England, if it is any consolation it is currently unbearably hot here in Bangkok!
Keep in touch,