An exciting beginning to our SE Asia journey in the capital of Cambodia, but one filled with heart ache and high emotions.
Our hostel was located a short walk away from the riverside with friendly staff and lots of happy and chatty travellers, a world away from the hostels in India- SE Asia is full of intrepid young explorers who are always keen for a chat usually over a 50 cent beer!
We visited the two main sites in the city, National Museum (which was rubbish) and the Royal Palace (which was excellent). While we were waiting for the palace doors to open we had some lunch and met an elderly Australian couple. They were so lovely and during the conversation they invited us to visit an orphanage they have been working closely with for the past ten years. We were delighted at this opportunity and decided to make the effort to go when we reached Kampot, our next destination.
The following day we took the plunge and hired a tuk tuk driver to take us to S21 and the Killing Fields. Both spots were highly informative, well displayed and provoked a deep anger and sadness. The atrocities performed under the Khmer Rouge regime is beyond belief. James and I knew little of Cambodia's history and it shocked and astounded us at this recent history went on so soon after the WWII genocide, how can we let this happen over and over again?
At S21 I met with one of the eight survivors and bought his book he had written about his life before the Khmer Rouge and his ordeal at S21. He seemed like a nice man with a kind face and he was clearly blessed to still be alive. To have lost most of his family and friends at the hands of his own countrymen is something you never get over but have to learn to live with. The visit to the Killing Fields drained us; each piece of horrific information gradually sucked our belief of human kindness from our souls.
We left the Killing Fields and feeling low just wanted to go back to the hostel. Our tuk tuk driver managed to put a smile on our face as he offered to take us to the shooting range-we laughed and said it didn't feel very appropriate today. However, the next day we went to shoot some AK47's imagining Pol Pot and his leaders were standing at the other end! James went first and fired one shot before I had put my ear defenders on-it was so loud and immediately sent my adrenaline into overdrive. James did an excellent job of shooting the target so I didn't have to worry too much about the paper man, but I couldn't relax-there was a coconut that needed to be destroyed. I shakily stepped up to the gun and had a few shots where I attempted to aim. Apparently I hit the coconut a few times and the target, hmm maybe once, I didn't really know what was going on as my body was so pumped with adrenaline! The Cambodian guy asked if I wanted to try it 'automatic' I did and it was awesome-powpowpowpowpowpow. It was over so quickly and the quickest $40 we have even spent but it is a once in a lifetime thing and now I know I can probably become a drug lord if the teaching career doesn't hold up! We went to the hostel via the Russian Market, which is not Russian in the slightest but sells all sorts of Cambodian trinkets, clothes and food. We got some fruit and a magnet and as we walked past the coconuts they began shaking in their shells-they knew what I was capable of.
We didn't have high hopes coming to Phnom Penh but we enjoyed a stroll along the riverside, the variety of food the restaurants provided and the people in our hostel were easy to get along with and friendly.