13.10.11 - Pnomh Penh - Getting there and the Capital City of Cambodia
Last night I took the overnight bus from Siem Reap to Pnomh Penh. This time around, the time the bus took to get there was bang on, unlike what they told me when I was in Laos where an 8 hour journey actually ended up taking 12.
So 5 hours later and i'd reached my new destination already. Fantastic. So they were right about how long it had taken to get there.... what I wasn't prepared for was to literately be the ONLY westerner on board. Everyone else, and I mean everyone else were Cambodian. Waiting at the bus station for the bus to arrive through the flood stricken centre I was bricking it. It was late, 11.30pm - pitch black, the streets were flooded, and surrounding me were a shed load of locals looking at me with the whole 'you're not from around these parts' sort of look. My heart was racing. I figured i'd at least come across one other traveller on this route, but oh no I couldn't have been more wrong!
As the bus arrived and feeling massively out of my comfort zone wondering whether it was the right thing to do to even get on the bleeding bus in the first place, the man who was checking the tickets ushered me onboard WITH my backpack STILL on my back. I pointed to the bit of the bus where you'd normally have the space for the luggage and he shook his head as if to say 'no love, you've gotta take it up there with you'. Jesus. Please please please don't be a full bus. Thankfully there was a lovely little Cambodian lady who asked 'Are you English?' When i responded yes she said 'My English little, put bag on back seat' - bless her, at least she had more of an idea of what the hell I was supposed to do with my backpack than me.
As I ascended the stairs onto the Bus i got stuck - and yes I was first up so all the local people were behind me watching as I struggled with the backpack still upon my back fitting through the walkway. A little push from the lady who spoke little English later and I was on board. Best take the backpack OFF your back now Raz! There she goes and does it again - why didn't I take it off in the first place- i'm such a numpty at times!!! Probably a small bit of entainment to all the people behind me though - ha ha, look at the westerner trying to get on a bus with her backpack still on her back - I've always said I like nothing more than to entertain!!!! LOL
So after this first ordeal I put my backpack down which was now safely positioned on the backseats of the bus and found my seat. Excellent - a window seat for me to rest my head on and no-one next to me. Except I spoke to soon. After setting off we stopped at a number of other stops along the way and on board got a youngish Cambodian lad whose ticket was the aisle seat next to me. No more than 10 minutes into our journey and this lad was fast asleep. except he wasn't just asleep - his head was resting on my shoulder! WTF!!!! At first i was a bit grossed out... please don't touch me I was thinking.... but I didn't want to move. i felt so bad in moving him. It's midnight and this poor lad has probably just finished a long hard days graft at work and there I am knocking his head off my shoulder. What should I do??? I think of the total 5 hour journey, this lad had his head on my shoulder for about 4 hours of it for every time I subtley moved to wake him so as he then moved, low and behold his head was back there again. Needless to say in the end i gave up moving and just let the geezer sleep. unfortunately for me however, that meant i had no sleep at all (althogh to be honest my heart was still racing so much for being 'the odd one out' that i was afraid by falling asleep i'd be mugged or something so sleeping probably wasn't even an option for me in the first place, anyway).
I have to say of all the buses I've taken so far on this journey, this was by far the worst. I hated it and I couldn't wait to get off! So much for the VIP bus ticket I thought i'd purchased!
Arriving at Pnomh Penh bus station I knew there'd be a heap of tuk tuk drivers and moto's awaiting the arrivals on my bus. Trouble was because the journey did actually take 5 hours as they said it would, it was just gone 4.30am in the morning which meant it was still dark as the sun hadn't risen yet. We had another 2 hours to go before that would happen, even more scared and realising i'd have to wait around at the bus station not knowing where the hell I was for two hours until sunlight I grabbed my backpack from the back seats, got off the bus ignoring all the yells from the local drivers and went and sat down in the waiting area to get myself together and work out what I was going to do.
As if someone was looking down on me in realisation of how bloody scared I was at this moment in time I suddenly noticed that another bus was about to pull into the gravley, badly lit excuse for a bus station and upon it were locals yes, but thank god... travellers too!! The sense of relief I felt was immense. There were about 7 in total, and actually three of which I recognised from the previous day at one of the far away temples i visited. I homed in on them immediately, introduced myself and asked where they were headed. Like me they didn't have digs arranged and like me were surprised that the bus had arrived in the amount of hours it said it would. i forget thier names now because when I introduced myself my adrenaline was probably running so high from the scare previously that I didn't catch thier names and retain them. Like everyone i've met however, they were lovely. 2 dutch who were a couple and one Canadian who was a lone traveller. We worked out from the loney planet where we wanted to head to and without further a do negoitated a price with the tuk tuk driver and into the centre of town we headed. Thank god this day sorted itself out, I thought i'd be in deep trouble for a moment then but instead I was safe, with others and heading in the direction of a bed for I was so bleeding tired. Phew!
As we arrived in Pnomh Penh I have to admit it didn't really look much different to the Capital of Loas, Vientiane. But I guess still dimly lit and being a Capital city they'd all look the same at this time of the morning. The hostel we'd chosen from the LP guide was called the Royal Guesthouse. We took a look at the double room first for the dutch couple which was amazing - fit with a brand new bathroom which actually had a glass cubicle, too. Fantastic I thought - I bet the others rooms will be just like this. Unfortunately they weren't, i reckon this was thier signature double room which was $8 per night, and they were trying to ask for $8 for the crappy single room they showed me and the other girl too. No way!! We managed to get them down to $6 in the end, even though we'd tried to say $4 but as it was so central to the tourist hightlights in the city centre they weren't budging. Never mind. I was going to be there for one night anyway so it didn't really matter too much to me.
After agreeing on a price with the GH, I headed out to grab my things from tuk tuk driver which the male of the dutch couple was supervising whilst us girls went to check out the rooms. By this time it was around 6am and three people i'd shared the tuk tuk driver with had arranged to meet one another in the foyer of the GH at 12pm to spend the day sightseeing together. It was a shame that I was there for just the one day since it would have been great to spend the day with the others. But unfortunately with time going against me, instead I had a word with the tuk tuk driver who'd brought us into town from the bus station and arranged for him to meet me at 9am! Yep, that gave me 3 hours kip before heading out and doing all the sightseeing I wanted to do. No rest for the wicked when you're on a busy schedule!
First stop on the agenda with my tuk tuk driver were The Killing Fields. The main camp which was the centre of where the majority of the killings took place in Cambodia is around 15km outside of the city centre. This is just one of many locations in Cambodia where many local, normal ordinary Joes were promised good jobs and wealth, carted onto trucks, then driven to their deaths. Through one man's say so, they'd arrive in their truckloads thinking they were off to better their lives - men, woman, children and babies. Entire families. Then once they arrived they were slaughtered, and I mean literately slaughtered. Some were tortured, others had their heads cut off. One of the area's which remains is a massive tree were they found human flesh and hair remains on the bark. In the ditch next to the tree they found the remnants of babies and children where they'd be thrown against the tree by their feet knocking them out, continishly bashing them until they died. All of this for no reason whatsoever.
I wasn't really sure what to expect to be honest, given the subject matter and such a sombre topic but as I approached the gates and paid my $5 to enter, I was handed an audio guide and a map and off I went. You wasn't allowed to speak whilst walking around the camp, naturally out of respect for the remains of the people which still to this day remain buried underground. The camp itself I thought would be bigger given the thousands who perished there, but when I saw the divets in the ground and the area's which still to this day haven't been excavated because they were under water, I realised that the pits were DEEP and when you're digging down to bury the bodies you need not use the land going outwards, hence the expanse of the land was small, yet very 'bumpy' lets say. I learnt a lot about part of Cambodia's history this day and being here. Still now I don't really understand why Cambodians were killing Cambodian's because of one man's say so. Not religious reasons like the Nazi's or any other reason for that matter - just pure extremeism from one man who built up an allegence of followers promising them the world if they wiped out half of the Cambodian race. Scarier in fact is that this went on for 3 years. When the Cambodian's who were doing the killings realised that they were killing thousands of people for no reason whatsoever and tried to break free, they themselves became the prey of this said 'extremism'. What's more this all happened just 36 years ago. I was astounded that this was taking place in the world in 1975! Such a short time ago! So so sad.
Many that were taken to the camps who weren't killed straight away were forced to work in the rice fields. With no breaks, little food and little fluids, many were worked until their deaths. Some - who were strong enough to continue but might have stopped to take a breath would have been taken to the S-21 torture camp. Likewise for those men who were performing the killings and tried to revert to doing the right thing were also taken there. This torture camp was item 2 on my agenda today, headed back to the city centre.
The camp was an old school made up of four blocks of buildings which would have been the classrooms. Buildings A, B, C and D. i actually thought the killing fields would be creepy, but actually i found the surroundings to be peaceful and calming - much different i'm sure to what was taking place there oly 36 years ago. So out of the two is was actually the torture camp which got me the most. For the remains of the contraptions they used were still here, and not least rows and rows of pictures of the men, women, boys and girls who all died here. It was really eery and i found it quite intimidating - needless to say i didn't stick around for long. Not only that due to the subject matter it didn't really seem right taking many photographs either - disrespectful almost. It wasn't nice I have to say but at least I can say that i've been there now.
I figured i'd start my sightseeing in the Capital of Cambodia doing the not so fun things at first so following my visit to the torture camp I asked my tuk tuk driver to take me to the Cambodian central statue which sits on a site in the middle of the main roundabout and represents Peace. It is also designed in the same manner as the tallest tower on Angkor Wat, hence I also wanted to get up close and personal with it. After then find the bank, take the picture of the Cambodian centre statue then head for lunch/dinner. Lovely french cafe. Except I had chicken burger and chips. First Western food of the journey.
Head back to the hostel. book hotel for the beach. Grab some cheap food for the room. update blog, upload photos and get my head down for a 7am pickup to the coast tomorrow. Cannot wait to relax xxx
Feeling incredibly home sick today - tiredness has kicked in and made me feel really needy. Would just love a hug from someone at home :-(