New Years in Phnom Penh

5 Jan

We left Siem Reap in the afternoon to head for the capital which meant a 6 hour bus ride on a public bus. The bus was generally uncomfortable and I struggled to get much sleep but we had a good chat and listened to some music. We also stopped in a town for a bathroom break which generally was a bit ugly and made us feel uneasy. When we got back on the bus our group leader told us it was the birthplace of Pol Pot which made us dislike the town further and needless to say we were happy to leave. We arrived in Phnom Penh (or PP) at 7pm on New Years Eve and after checking in we headed out for dinner and tried to find something to do for the countdown.

While not the biggest New Years Eve I have had, we walked up to near the Victory Monument where all the locals were and there were bands and a big countdown and a huge fireworks display. We were pretty much the only westerners there. It was a good night and we slowly walked back to the riverfront yelling Happy New Year at people before a few of us girls checked out a club for a drink and headed home at a respectable 2am.IMG_5486

Next morning we got to sleep in before going on a walk around town with our leader. We went to the Victory Monument and past the Grand Palace and also did a bit of shopping at the Central Market. We were running out of time for lunch but ended up at this back alley local place where they completely messed up our order but lunch was good!

We went to our hotel where we got on the bus which would take us to Tuol Sleng (S-21) and Choeung Ek- The Killing Fields. There is nothing that can compare you for these places. The genocide statistics are absolutely horrific with 3 million out of a population of 8 million killed over the course of 4 years for reasons that are really difficult to understand. The places you see make you feel sick, angry and incredibly sad and I think most of us cried at one stage or another.

S-21 was a prison used during the regime and out of 20 000+ people imprisoned there only 7 survived. You go into the rooms which are exactly as they are when the Vietnamese liberated it. In one of the rooms you can even still see dried blood on the ceiling from where the prisoner was killed with an iron bar. The things the Khmer Rouge did here were sickening and our guide was incredibly knowledgeable having survived the regime himself and telling us stories about being in a labour camp at only 6 years old and losing his parents and many of his siblings. One thing which really stood out at S-21 was where we got to meet one of the 7 survivors. It was really moving and he talked to us (through a translator) and showed us the scars of where he was tortured. IMG_5506 He’s 80 now but comes back to the prison every day to share his experience with visitors so we can understand what it was truly like. Meeting him was a real honour.

We then followed a path which would have been quite similar to those imprisoned at S-21 to the Killing Fields. I remember learning about the Cambodian genocide in high school but still didn’t know what to expect. We went through the entrance and the first thing you see is a huge stupa (Buddhist temple) filled with the bones of the remains. What is even more shocking though is walking around the area you are constantly treading on and seeing bone fragments and clothing scraps of the victims. This is because every time it rains the remains come to the surface and the site has not been completely excavated. They haven’t finished the excavation as after already exhuming at least 7000 bodies they feel that that is enough. Records indicate that there are probably over 20 000 bodies at the site and there were hundreds of these places in Cambodia. After hearing all the stories of torture, rape and murder we sat under a tree to reflect. There are a lot of questions you ask yourself most of which can’t really be answered. The whole place has a really strange uneasy feel about it which isn’t pleasant so I was quite happy to get on the bus and leave but I’m glad I went.

That night to lighten the mood a bit, the guide from the Killing Fields told us about a Cambodian kickboxing fight on that night which a few of us went to check out. It was incredibly cool. We saw 3 fights of the 6 fight card and the boxers were amazing athletes. It was very similar to Muay Thai with knees and elbows and also take downs allowed. The crowd was electric and we were the only foreigners there and were promptly offered ring side seats (which we refused but took up the offer of seats a few rows back from the front). IMG_5498 In the first fight we thought the guy was dead because he got hit so hard for the KO. The second fight was 2 girls and they went hard really laying in some strong clean hits and had the crowd on their feet yelling. The last fight the guy I was going for lost on points despite his opponent having blood pouring down his face for the last two rounds. Yes it’s brutal and some people don’t like it but it truly is an art. There is a strong spiritual aspect with boxers performing a dance before they fight and a lot of respect between fighters and a traditional band was playing the whole time through the fights. Following this we went out to dinner before finally having an early night as we had an early start the next day to go to Sihanoukville.

Courts xx

n.b there is a huge lack of photos from Phnom Penh sorry. I couldn’t bring myself to take photos of the Killing Fields and the S-21 one is one of 2 that I took as a memory. Then I forgot to take my camera to the boxing. Sorry


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