After arriving in Phnom Penh on the 17th May we checked into our hostel, Luvly Jubbly, where the room was grey and dark with a stone bathroom, it was very cool. We headed out for our first Cambodian meal at a nearby street food cafe, a spicy rice dish full of a variety of meats, I’m not too sure what meat it actually was.. After the initial confusion of using both the Amercian dollar and Cambodia Riel we managed to pay for our food and headed out to the market. The route to the main markets entailed the smelliest, run down street iv ever seen, where our legs and feet were covered in mud, rotten food and I’m pretty sure urine and faeces was scattered around too. The market itself was lovely, humid and sweaty we browsed the trinkets, vest tops, souvenirs and thousands of fake watches.
Phnom Penh seemed a lively city, but it did not capture my heart the way that others such as Bangkok and Hanoi did, maybe just tired of big city’s I was keen to leave quite promptly, and focused on enjoying a night out making use of the cities bars. We headed first to Mad Monkeys, a hostel not too far from us, for beer pong and cocktail happy hour…a backpackers heaven. Here I bumped into Marcus again from Vietnam, before everyone was ushered onto the next place, Top Banana. It was a rooftop bar, full of cheap drinks, laughing gas and comfy chairs to enjoy the drinks in. Again, everyone was then ushered onto the next place, we however got separated from the crowd and ended up in a seedy locals nightclub, full of working girls gyrating together on the stage. Needless to say we didn’t stay long, and decided to sample the local cuisine from ‘Katy Perry Pizza’, where Roxanne and I devoured pizza sitting on the side of the street, before heading onto our next club. We haggled our way in, getting the original entry fee of $8 down to $3, and revelled in the strobe lights, classic R&B and dancing with a mixture of backpackers and locals, who were lapping up our dance moves and teaching us their own style of dancing.
After getting home at 5am the next days activities were very sobering, with our $12 tuk-tuk hired for the day we made the surprisingly long and bumpy journey to the Killing Fields. Armed with our information headsets we all wandered off on our own, learnt about the Khmer Rouge and the devastation they caused the Cambodian people not that long ago. The mass graves were awful to see, as the headset explained how many people were tortured and thrown mercilessly into them to die. I stood and felt broken seeing the tree which young babies were killed against, and left one of my bracelets there as a mark of respect, like so many others have done before me. You can walk around the lake, and see items found in the many graves on display, as the headset tells real life stories of people affected by the Khmer movement. The walk finishes at a building full of skulls, each one with different defects which provide knowledge into how they were killed. There were hundreds, stacked up further than I could see, made up of people of all ages, it was awful to see.
Feeling disgusted, upset and heartbroken we headed onto our next stop, the S21 prison, which was a former school turned into a torture prison chamber. The rooms were empty save metal beds with handcuffs attached, the tiled floor was stained around the bed and the plain walls shows signs of being scratched at in attempts to escape. We walked into each and every room in silence, trying to process everything that had happened in those very rooms in which we were stood. For me, I found the photographs to be very emotional, there was a long corridor style room full of boards showcasing black and white head shots of each victim before they were killed. The Khmer Rouge recorded everything they did, in a similar fashion to the Nazis, and these photographs are proof of that. The emotion seen in the pictures was so obvious, some people showed fear, others looked angry and the rest just had desperation and sadness in their eyes. There were hundreds of photographs, people of all ages, images of children’s large eyes looking up into the camera, maybe not fully aware of their fate. I had no words after leaving the prison, it had been a tough day.
Once back at the hostel Roxanne and I decided a stiff drink was needed, we enjoyed a lovely meal of lemongrass chicken and went for a walk around the town to clear our heads. This has been the only destination in my travels where I have not felt safe, the streets were dark and I had heard many stories of people being robbed, beaten and taken away. We had a short walk and promptly headed back to the hostel for a much needed evening of skyping loved ones at home.
It was here in Phnom Penh where I made contact again with a good friend from home whom I had not seen or spoken to in 6 months after a disagreement. The weeks activities of war museums, killing fields and the prison made me see sense, that I shouldn’t continue to let this friendship slide away from me. I was emotional as I composed my message to her, and was grateful to receive a happy reply. I vowed to myself to not let stubbornness and distance destroy my relationships, she had been my best friend for many years, and I intend to keep it that way for as long as I can.
After an emotional few days in the city, it was time to say goodbye to Andrew for a short while, he headed down to Kampot as Roxanne and I headed north to Kratchie, where we would stay with a local family and see a different side to Cambodia, away from the city chaos.