- We caught the bus straight from Don Det to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. We said goodbye to the rest of the group as they were also on Don Det and although they were going ahead to Cambodia also, they were off to Siam Reap instead. My plan was to go to Phnom Penh first (about the centre on the country) and then head south to the coast and maybe visit some islands, before heading up to Siam Reap in the north west as it is close to the border and this would allow me to pass back into Thailand, getting my second visa (albeit only a 15 day overland visa) allowing me to visit the islands.
- We arrived fairly late in Phnom Penh (PP) and ended up at a hostel who's owner, Alex, was completely mental. One thing that I've learnt from this trip is that most people who run backpacker hostels tend to be a bit nuts. This guy was very touchy feely and first greeted us with a "hello dahhhliingg" and kissed us on the forehead.
- In the morning we set off for an emotionally exhausting day as we were off to visit the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Museum. A brief history of Phnom Penh, a city that has been to hell and back within recent years, is that in 1975 the government allied itself with a revolutionary movement named the Khmer Rouge, a movement that implemented one of the most radical and brutal restructurings of a society ever attempted. Within days of ruling, the entire population of Phnom Penh was forced to march into the countryside and work as slaves for 11-15 hours per day. Those classed as intellectuals (wearing glasses or speaking a foreign language) were immediately killed and many many more died under the khmer rouge ruling - either through mass genocide or from poor conditions within working camps, with an estimated 1.7 million deaths in total.
- That morning we started off visiting S21, a highschool that was converted into 'Security Prison 21' (S21). Classrooms were converted into torture chambers where 100s of victims were killed daily. Nothing can prepare you for what you see there, as all rooms are still in tact with chains still on the floor and wire bedframes with torture implements attached still in place. The Khmer Rouge were meticulous at keeping records of prisoners and their information and so many of the displays available at the museum consist of room after room of photographs of every prisoner that was held there. That was the most haunting part for me as you could see the fear in their eyes and it brought to life just how many innocent people were taken killed there. Throughout the whole ruling there were only 7 Cambodians who survived S21 and they kept themselves alive by using skills such as painting or photography to keep on good terms with the guards.
- After this we went to visit the killing fields. We were originally going to do this the following day but I'm glad we got it all done in one go as 2 days would have been truly depressing. The Killing Fields are just as the name suggests, a large area of field where most of the 17,000 detainees held at S21 were executed. One of the worst things about visiting that site is that due to weather erosion, clothes, bones and teeth are still being brought to the surface and this was clear to see at our time of visiting. We were provided with an audio tape to listen to as we made our way around the site which was extremely informative and also contained stories of relatives of people who'd died there.
- After a long day we headed back to the hostel. We were planning on having a chilled night and not doing much as we weren't really in the mood after the days events, however the owner Alex gave everyone a couple of drinks in an attempt to lighten everyones mood. A few people who were staying in our dorm were going out to a bar and Cambodian club and so we ended up headed out with them. The club was bizarre! It was full of old white men dancing with tiny young-looking Cambodian girls. I'd asked somebody a few days back why do the girls go along with this, and apparently a lot of the time they are divorced with kids (even though they look about 18) and once you've been married there it's hard to find another partner. The only option they see themselves as having is to get with sleazy white men who have money in order to look after their children. Sad but that's how they see it :( It makes you wonder if the men know what's going on or if they're just complete idiots for thinking that these girls are actually interested in them. Either way it's pretty funny to watch it happening at the club. There was a group of 6 Cambodian girls who kept buying bottle after bottle of Jack Daniels and when they spotted us - the awkward looking white group, they invited us over and gave us free (strong) drinks. I remember being worried about accepting them in case it was some scam and we'd get presented with a massive bill at the end of the night, but all was fine! I was talking to the main ringleader of their group and turns out she'd married a man from Birmingham and she was waiting on her visa to go live over there!
- At about 3am we completely crashed and so headed back to the hostel only to find it completely locked up! After a couple of bangs the doorman who'd been asleep let us in and we slowly heaved ourselves up 5 flights of stairs to the dorm.