Kep and The Caves

We met Cheang at 9.30 and headed off to Kep. After yesterdays bumpy journey we are all relieved to see the road is good and despite the lack of air con (Cheang explains it won’t work in his car due to the frequent trips up to Bokor) its cool enough with the windows all down. We arrive in Kep and find somewhere for breakfast, a gorgeous wooden hut style resort with the most amazing views over the sea to Vietnam. We stuff our faces with pancakes. Ali and Simon have bacon, baguettes and “cheese cow” which I correctly guessed to be Dairy Lee Triangles!

Like Bokor Hill Station, Kep was mostly abandoned in the 1970′s when the Khmer Rouge drove everyone out into the rice field labour camps. Many of the beautiful French colonial villas still lie empty although Cheang tells us they are being quickly bought up by foreigners. Hardly surprising as it is one of the most peaceful and naturally beautiful places I have seen.

After breakfast we head for the beach and quickly become a tourist attraction for a van full of villagers who have come to the seaside for the day. We try the spiky Durian fruit. It is sold all over Asia and well loved by the Asians but generally detested by westerners. It absolutely stinks, a combination of rotten meat ad fish and is banned from nearly all hotels and the MRT train system in Singapore. Although we all give it our best go, we don’t eat much each although Cheang wolfs it down!

Several hours later and we are ready to try the local crab which turns out to be delicious and cheap cooked with local green and black pepper. We all enjoy this even Maisie who tells us determinedly that she doesn’t like crab and has tried it many times before. (Crabsticks maybe!)

In the afternoon we drive the short distance to the local caves, we have to walk through a small village to get there and collect a large group of local children on the way. We have noticed that the kids in Kampot don’t beg for money as much and although “one dollar” is still their favourite saying they guide us to the cave and show us their temple inside so we’re happy to give it .Ali and Cheang climb back through the cave complex on their bellies and we walk down the steps outside.

That many people live in poverty is obvious in Cambodia and like in India, children begging for money are hard to ignore. In Phnom Penh we saw many little kids aged around 4 begging with tiny babies (perhaps 1-2 months old) in their arms. Both Simon and I would like to contribute something more in the future when Ali and Maisie have left home perhaps. But for now even though it might not be the most helpful contribution we just give some small change to the kids sometimes and hope it does go towards food for them.

In the evening Simon spends an hour doing some science with the kids. They have been learning about light and reflection. I have been looking through their science curriculum and it seems we are on track at the moment with their science at least. Which is good.

We have some dinner, Simon and I try the pork volcano, his choice and its very good the fella cooks it at the table which the kids enjoy watching. We then hunt for an internet cafe. Internet access is fairly poor here but we want to update our website and check a few emails. That done Maisie and I head back to The Bokor Hotel. We are leaving Cambodia tomorrow for Vietnam. I feel very sad about this. In the end we have only spent 10 days here and hardly scratched the surface.

I read before we came that no one visits Cambodia and leaves without a measure of admiration for the spirit of the Khmer people. This is definitely true for us. In every way Cambodia is absolutely stunning. From the fantastic Angkor Temples to the evilness of the Khmer Rouge we have been completely captivated by the history, the people and the beauty of the land. With India it has been without a doubt my favourite place we have visited so far and I’ve loved it here. We agreed today that Cambodia hasn’t seen the last of us that’s for sure!

Kampot

Today we are travelling to the provincial town of Kampot close to the Vietnamese border. We have some breakfast and after our showers quickly pack up our gear, it doesn’t take too long. Simon usually packs most of it and is now an expert. We have arranged with one of the taxi drivers to pay 35 dollars for the drive to Kampot. Although there are buses the service is stopped today because of the election but as we didn’t really want to spend any longer in Phnom Penh we decided to cough up and get moving.

We leave at 11am. The driver is careful, that’s good and the road is largely ok. It is mostly surfaced although very bumpy at times and I quite enjoy the journey. I’m sure that the rural Cambodian countryside probably looks very different in the wet season when the rice fields are ready for harvest. As it is almost the height of summer everywhere looks brown, dusty and dry and in need of a good rainfall. Some areas are still flooded and there the bright green of the water plants stands out. It is very beautiful, really so different to what I imagined.

I wouldn’t describe the appearance as desolate but at times it’s almost deserted with maybe a single motorbike driver with a thick scarf covering his face from the sun and the dust. We stop off at a small village to buy a drink; next to the Fanta box are 3 skinned cow halves hanging up. Maisie is disgusted especially when Ali helpfully points out the hooves are still intact and blood is dripping onto the floor.

After several hours of being jolted around we arrive. We haven’t booked any accommodation and ask the driver to take us to The Bokor Hotel. It is described as the best hotel in town and as there are no other tourists around at all we think we will be able to get a decent discount. In the end we pay 12 dollars per room. As they have 2 double beds in each and all mod cons we’re pleased with this. They are very smart and definitely the best place we have stayed since we left Surat Thani in Thailand.

We walk up to the river and sit and watch the sunset, its lovely sat on the riverside in the heat watching the sun go down. We have a drink, make our way back to our hotel and Simon goes out to get pizza for tea. Very expensive at 12 dollars but worth every dollar. We are going to visit the deserted Bokor Hill Station tomorrow and have read the journey is a very bumpy ride. Described as “rump reducing ” by one traveller, we’re all excited at the thought of visiting the hotel straight out the film “The Shining” even if the prospect of developing a bum bruise isn’t quite so enticing.

National Museum and Silver Pagoda

We spent last night watching telly in our room. Simon went to the shop and bought some chocolate and the stupid romantic comedy that we watched with Jennifer Anniston made for some well needed light relief after the days activities.

Today we have planned to visit The National Museum and Silver Pagoda. We have been trying to make up our minds whether to leave Cambodia within the next few days and spend longer in Vietnam or stay here. We even briefly discussed not going to Australia and staying in South East Asia but in the end decided moving on has so far, always proved to be the best option.

We have some breakfast, I can’t face fruit today and have a pineapple and honey pancake, as the calories pile on I console myself with the excuse that it is Saturday after all. We walk out to the main road and up towards The Royal Palace and The Silver Pagoda. The Royal Palace turns out to be closed until 2pm, so we make our way in a musical tuk tuk to The National Museum.

The museum houses many beautiful sculptures and includes pieces from the pre- Angkorian period as well as many of the Hindu Gods. There are also some wonderful Buddha images and we were particularly interested in the photographs that showed the restoration of one large statue. The galleries exhibits also include lots of iron work and we show Maisie the elephant bells. A bit like a bell that goes round a cats neck but we don’t think Saffy would be able to move with that weighing her down!

After a drink over looking the Tonle Sap River we walk to The Royal Palace. The palace is very ornate and similar to The Grand Palace in Bangkok and Simon takes some good photos. Me and the kids are too heat exhausted to do much though which is a shame as I would have liked a good look around. We sit on the steps in the shade bickering over who is the hottest. When I looked back at the pictures later it just looks like a lovely sunny day and there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of the absolutely draining heat.

From there we wander round to The Silver Pagoda, it was inspired by Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok and also houses a beautiful little green Buddha image said to be made of Baccarat crystal. It seems to glow in the afternoon sun and is semi translucent. The pagoda’s floor is made of 5000 silver tiles although most are covered up by huge rugs.
In front of the small Buddha is a life size gold one decorated with over 2000 diamonds, the largest of which weighs over 25 carats.

We spend an hour watching an excellent film about the history of the temples of Angkor and then head off back. The kids are a bit hot for schoolwork and take some persuading but in the end write 2 really great pieces of work about Cambodia. They include as many facts as they can about The Angkor Period and The Khmer Rouge. I’m surprised and pleased that they have retained so much information and proud that they can write about difficult subjects so well.
In the evening we walk up the road to a bar called The Cambodian Cafe. On the way we pass a small market, there are lots of families milling around and it actually reminds me of home when the firework competition is held on The Hoe in Plymouth. One thing that you don’t see there though are the piles of deep fried insects. There are some massive spiders, tiny birds with beaks intact and duck eggs complete with duckling foetus ready to eat straight out of the shell. Horrible!

We have pizza and a few beers for dinner instead and eventually make our way back to The Okay Guesthouse. I lie on the beds listening to Joss Stone; we bought 3 new CD’s today and also got the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and The Kaiser Chiefs. Only a quid each- excellent. Tomorrow we are leaving for the border town of Kamput and The National Park area of Kep. We want to see a bit more of rural Cambodia and think this will be a good opportunity to be a bit more adventurous.

Tuol Sleng (S-21) and The Killing Fields

Following years of civil war and bombing by the United States, that was largely kept secret from the rest of the world, in April 1975 the Khmer Rouge overthrew the Lon Nol government. As their tanks rolled into Phnom Penh they were greeted with celebrations from the Cambodian people hopeful that they would at last see some peace in Cambodia.

This wasn’t to be the case and within days almost the entire population of the city had been evacuated out into the rural countryside and set to work in labour camps. The year was proclaimed Year Zero and nothing before then was deemed to have been of any importance. The streets of Phnom Penh were closed off, shops, schools and markets were all banned and thousands of educated people were executed within the first few weeks of the Khmer Rouge taking power.

Children were hailed as the uncorrupted as they had not been tainted by what went before Year Zero and many children and young teenagers became Khmer Rouge fighters. They were taught that Angkar (The party name) was all they needed and were encouraged to participate in murders.

It’s now 6am and I have been awake since around 5 listening to the noise outside as Phnom Penh slowly wakes up. I have read a lot over the past few days and the stories have touched my heart. It’s hard to imagine how terrible it must have been for families to have been torn apart and turned against one another. At 8am I wake Simon and the kids and after breakfast we get in a tuk tuk and head off to Tuol Sleng (S-21).

Prior to the Khmer Rouge years Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was a highschool. It is in the centre of Phnom Penh and was discovered by 2 Vietnamese journalists when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979 and liberated it from The Khmer Rouge.

As we arrive I am struck by the ordinariness of the place but did expect this. The school buildings are bathed in the bright sun but the walls are still made of corrugated metal and topped with barbed wire. We pay 2 dollars entrance fee each and set off around the 3 storey buildings. The bottom floor of the buildings held more high ranking or political prisoners. There are iron beds in some of the cells with leg shackles and photographs of the cells as they were found by the 2 Vietnamese journalists. The upper floor cells were mass holding cells.

In the second building are hundreds of black and white portrait photographs of the prisoners taken before they were executed. It is estimated that 17,000 prisoners were held at S-21 and none were freed or escaped .Everyone except 12 were exterminated, either here or nearby at The Killing Fields. It is, as expected a profoundly depressing place and although I know its complete fantasy I imagine I can smell blood as I stand on my own in on of the cells looking at the pictures of torture and horror that took place here.

The kids are very subdued by it all and Ali says it has upset him a lot. We don’t spend as long there as we expected. Once we have looked around we are all eager to leave and get back into our tuk tuk. We head off for Choeung Ek. This is the site of The Killing Fields and we want to see the memorial tower that was erected in memory of the 1000′s of people murdered there.

It is 16 km out of town and we can’t help but think about the people who made that journey from S-21 rammed in tightly together in a truck. They were executed almost immediately that they arrived, often beaten to death to save precious bullets. We arrive at Choeung Ek and sit and have a drink first. Then we make our way to the memorial tower. It is made of glass and houses 8000 skulls that were exhumed from the mass graves. We light some incense and have a few moments reflection.

We walk slowly across The Killing Fields, there are 126 mass graves and the sides are still littered with bones and scraps of clothing. I’m overwhelmed by it and stand staring around. Such a small area and so much of the ground scooped away. There are two large trees. One “the magic tree” held a loud speaker that drowned out the moans of people as they died. The others trunk was used by the executioners. They beat children to death against it.

We knew today would be hard but seeing evidence of such inhumanity is sickening. I wonder why they did it and what would I do, kill or be killed. Many of the Khmer Rouge leaders were school teachers. How did normal children get turned into monstrous, unfeeling, hateful machines? Lastly what has become of them now? Most only my age or a few years older and never brought to justice.

Am I glad we went? – Not really. Would I go there again? – Definitely not. Would I advise other people to go? – Yes I think so.

Phnom Penh

We were all awake by 8am and slowly repacked our gear. We have arranged a taxi to Phnom Penh and it will cost us 60 dollars. We did consider going on the bus but as it would have cost 40 dollars and take quite a lot longer we opted for the easier option. The road is ok, a very good road that has been surfaced and only has a few potholes. This makes a huge difference to the comfort of the journey and the 4 hours it takes seems to fly by. It gives us a really good opportunity to look at the Cambodian countryside.

As we had heard such mixed reports about Cambodia I was perhaps expecting it to be obviously poverty stricken and dirty but nothing could be further from the truth. It is a beautiful place. The wide, flat , straight roads are lined with trees and palms and hidden behind are small wooden houses on stilts. I think this is because the land is prone to flooding in the wet season. The land is very flat and we pass rice fields. In front of the houses are huge hay mounds and I see people wading through the waters of the massive Mekong River.

I listen to The Rolling Stones on the way and gaze out over the fields. We also pass lots of roadside sellers with little carts and tables piled high with mangoes, pineapples and a type of flat prickly fruit that looks like a cactus. As we get nearer to Phnom Penh the road traffic increases. The driver is fairly careful and I feel reasonably safe as we all have our seatbelts on, however the law of the road here seems to be that everyone uses the entire road and dodges what ever is coming. I worry about this as the decision on who will move is often left until the last moment and it feels like we are in some crazy arcade game at times.

At last we are here and drive along the riverfront looking for our guesthouse. Its really gorgeous here, not what I expected at all and we agree there is an almost continental feel to the area with pavement cafes and French style architecture. The Okay Guesthouse is a large friendly place and our room has 4 single beds in it. With aircon, electric shower and TV we agree 12 dollars is a bargain. We have some food as we’re starving and the chicken and rice soup I choose is really great. Simon and the kids watch some film and I finish my latest book.

Tomorrow we are going to visit the infamous S-21 prison and The Killing Fields. We are all feeling apprehensive about this but have decided that if we didn’t go, in some way we would be ignoring Cambodia’s terrible history. We have agreed that it s important to us that this doesn’t happen. We have spoken to a lot of people about going, some have advised not to take the kids and some say we definitely should. We want Ali and Maisie to form their own opinions but I don’t want to give them nightmares or upset them.

It’s a hard thing to make up your mind about and we have given it a lot of thought and maybe after tomorrows visit I’ll wish we never went. But at the moment hard as may be, for us we definitely feel it’s the right thing to do.

Siem Reap

Today has been so hot. We decided to lie in and eventually got up around 10. Unfortunately due to the heat we don’t have much motivation to do anything and spend most of the day lazing around The Jasmine Guesthouse. There is a free pool table and we have a few games but mainly spend our time reading. Simon does some maths with the kids but sitting in the restaurant even with the fans on is impossible and we end up in our rooms for the afternoon.

I spend some time talking to one of the fella’s from the guesthouse; he is from the town of Battambang and related to the guesthouse owners. He describes how he goes to school in the morning (college) and is studying hospitality in the hope of getting a job in one of the large 5 star hotels presently being built in Siem Reap. He speaks almost perfect English with a slight American accent and I would think he will find it easy to get a job once his training is finished. Siem Reap is very different to what I expected and from the amount of building work going on will be changing dramatically over the next few years.

Simon and Ali hire bikes and decide to go out for a ride. Ali has been nagging to do this since we arrived and I am a little nervous as the roads are fairly busy. Still they return unscathed, apparently having had a good time, albeit a bit knackered! We check the temperature at 8.30pm and as it is still 35 degrees I’m not surprised they’re a bit hot!

We decide to return to Khmer Kitchen for dinner as the food was excellent and cheap!
Tonight meal costs us 14 dollars and we’re pleased that for the last few weeks at least we seem to be staying within our daily budget. We ask the guesthouse owner to organise a taxi for our journey to Phnom Penh tomorrow and despite the fact that I particularly have done jack shit all day get off to sleep by 1030.

Temples and Orphanage

We set the clock today for 7.30 and slowly got going. Simon thought we had arranged to meet the moto driver at 9am. I thought it was 8.30. (I of course was right!)

We set off for the Bayon Temple first. It covers an area of 3km square and the main temple is at the exact centre of the ancient city of Angkor Thom. The temple has a collection of 54 towers with “216 enigmatic coldly smiling huge faces”. It is an amazing sight and we spend ages wandering around, taking photos and sucking up the atmosphere of the place. Inside there are many small Buddha images and nuns give us incense to offer to the Buddha.

The surrounding grounds are covered in huge blocks of stone. Extensive restoration work was being carried out but the Khmer Rouge destroyed all the paperwork, leaving the world’s greatest jigsaw puzzle for the experts.

From Bayon we get back into our moto and head off to Ta Prohm. It is undoubtedly the most atmospheric of the temples in the region and an example of the massive forces of the jungle. Much of the temple has been completely over run by trees and roots and the temple was especially made famous by Lara Croft. I’m so excited about going here; I can remember looking at photos of it when we were planning our route and Cambodia seemed then to be just about the most exciting and exotic foreign place I could imagine.

Walking up to the temple is an adventure, the tree roots are massive and have completely dislodged the enormous stone work of the temple. Eventually we find the “Tomb Raider” tree and it is absolutely awesome as I expected, very beautiful and a really magical experience visiting it. Definitely one of the most amazing things we have seen on our trip and I absolutely loved it.

We stop off on the way back to The Jasmine Guesthouse and have some spring rolls for lunch. We had planned to spend the afternoon quietly but Simon comes down to the room and tells me he has been chatting to an English girl called Lou who is presently working as a volunteer at an orphanage just out of town. He asks if we can go along this afternoon and visit and she agrees that will be fine.

We all shower and the kids sort out their small collection of toys and games. We stop off at the garage on the way and buy a big tub of sweets and set off in the moto. The orphanage is a small opened sided building made of bamboo and rattan. Lou tells us it houses around 45 children and they live, sleep and have their school lessons all in one room. When we arrive they are playing the branch game which basically involves one child from each team trying to grab a branch from the ground without his opponent touching him.

Ali and Maisie join in and are absolutely brilliant, everyone is laughing at their efforts and Ali gains a bit of respect when he beats his opponent first time. The children range from the ages of around one to young teenagers and are fairly well dressed although a bit grubby! We join in playing a circle game and they obviously find it really hilarious as I’m running around with them. It’s good to spend time playing with them and Lou tells us that is her role in the afternoons. In the mornings they have lessons including English. The classroom is sparsely decorated with the letters of the alphabet, a world map, photographs of the children and the names of the colours.

The children give us a bit of a demonstration of their English and then Ali plays them a few songs on his guitar which they seem to like! Maisie gives out the sweets that we have brought and I’m touched by their good manners. Definitely very different to the children that we came across whilst in India! The visit to the orphanage has been a humbling experience for us all. The kids are on the whole boisterous and smiley and absolutely touched our hearts with their wide grins and sense of fun. We left Lou with the small bag of games and toys we had sorted out and before we went Simon and Ali joined in a rowdy game of Frisbee. At first the children didn’t know what to do but they caught on fast and all had a great time.

As we leave one of the older boys grabs my hand and holds it all the way to the moto. He asks me to come back tomorrow and it’s difficult to prise my hand away from his grip. His little determined face reminds me of my own lovely Ali and leaving them behind is so hard. All I wanted to do was scoop them up and take them home.

In the evening Lou joins us and we all go out for dinner, she explains that she is spending a month in Cambodia working as a volunteer. In the mornings she works with street children on a project called Green Gecko. The children’s parents have to agree to send their kids to school in the mornings where they will be taught English amongst other things to increase their chances of employment when they grow up. In return the parents are provided with a small cart from which they can sell street food etc. The condition of this is that the children must not be sent out onto the streets to beg.

Today has been an interesting and thought provoking day. Simon and I have long talked about working as volunteers abroad at some point in the future and it has strengthened our resolve. We have our meal and watch the street kids around us. Lou tells us a bit about some of the kids including her favourite, a child who was beaten by his father recently and told he must make 20 dollars a night begging. It’s hard to hear.

We make our way back to The Jasmine its 11.30 and we’re all quite tired we will have a lie in tomorrow and plan our next few days as we make our way to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

Angkor Wat and Landmines

We set the alarm for 6.30 and after a quick bowl of cornflakes each jump in our moto for the ride to Angkor Wat. It is the largest religious building in the world and was built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II. We have all been looking forward to our visit, although the kids are more excited about the Tomb Raider temples of Ta Prohm.

We get our passes and are pleased to see we don’t have to pay for Maisie, this saves us 40 dollars. We have decided to get a 3 day pass as it so hot and take it easy around the temples. The drive up to Angkor is a beautiful one and the temple itself is surrounded by a moat and huge expanses of somewhat dried up looking grass. As we near the driveway there are lots of small kids selling hats, postcards and drinks and they run after us asking that we buy something.

We make the long walk up the drive in the scorching sun, its only 8.30am and we’re glad we didn’t leave our visit until later in the day. As we enter through the gate the massive temple is in front of us. It has been described as the heart and soul of Cambodia and a source of inspiration and national pride for all Khmers after their years of terror and trauma. It is quite a fantastic sight and amazingly and luckily wasn’t damaged by the American bombing campaign or the Khmer Rouge. (KR)

We climb the steepest steps I have ever climbed! Ali and I cling on like limpets as it’s high as well as steep and I try not to think about how we will get down! As we enter the inner rooms of the temple there are Buddhist sculptures and the walls are intricately carved demonstrating the life of the great Angkorian King Suryavarman II. We take lots of photos and wander around for a couple of hours before we get too hot.

We get back to our moto and ask the driver to take us to the Landmine Museum. The founder of the museum was a Khmer Rouge fighter as a child and helped lay thousands of landmines. Both his parents were killed by the KR and he was captured by the invading Vietnamese aged 13 and given the choice of fighting against the KR or death. He chose to fight and subsequently has spent his life since removing mines. (It is estimated there are still between 3 and 6 million mines in Cambodia laid by various fighting forces)

The museum is free and very interesting; a young fella called Pai guides us around. He lost his leg aged 10 and the same landmine killed his brother. There are at least half a
dozen young people with amputated limbs at the museum and it’s a moving experience listening to Pai’s story. Most of the mines are very small and innocuous looking but the sheer numbers of them piled all around make you realise what a horrible weapon they are.

From the Landmine museum we head to the local hospital. We have seen a sign at the Jasmine Guesthouse urging visitors to donate blood which is in very short supply due to such high rates of HIV infection in the population. There is a sign at the hospital entrance saying “Urgent blood donation needed due to epidemic of Haemorrhagic Dengue Fever”- scary. It seems a small thing to do and won’t cost us anything. Although we left a 15 dollar donation at the Landmine Museum it did seem a bit inadequate when you consider the cost of clearing the mines from Cambodia.

I’m really scared of giving blood and when it comes to it they won’t take my blood anyway which is partially a relief and partially a disappointment. They take Simon’s though and he said it hurt much more than when he donates blood at home. That done and he gets a packet of biscuits, a sticker, a coke and a t-shirt for his trouble. We all share the biscuits and leave the t-shirt behind. We have enough to carry!

We get back and the kids write a newspaper article about the problems in Cambodia. They both work hard and produce some really good work. We spend the afternoon quietly and go out for dinner in the evening to The Khmer Kitchen, the food is fantastic. A little bit like Thai food but simpler tasting. We have sticky rice, morning glories (vegetables) a chicken Khmer curry and a sort of potato and beef layered pie.

We watch the telly when we get back. All the stuff we had read and seen in the past few days is in some ways very overwhelming and miserable and like the kids I feel we need some time to absorb it all. A break from our own thoughts whilst watching a documentary about sharks is exactly what we need. Simon points out that we have got more TV channels here than anywhere else we have stayed on our trip. Not bad for a 3 quid room!

Cambodia’s History

We have a lie in today, although I’m sure Cambodia has so much to offer as our time here is very limited we will be spending most of the next 2 weeks divided between Siem Reap and the capital Phnom Penh. As we are still tired from yesterday we are going to buy our passes for Angkor after 5pm today. The passes cost 40 dollars each for 3 days but if you buy them after 5pm you can visit the temples and watch the sunset without using up one of your days.

Simon spends an hour doing some science with the kids which seems to go really well, they are doing the physics bit on light and sound and it is quite a large section that will take some time. I spend a few hours reading and trying to get my head around Cambodia’s complicated history so that I can explain it better to Ali and Maisie.

The guidebook describes it as the good, the bad and the ugly. The good was the Angkorian period, culminating with the building of a massive empire and the huge temples that we have come to see. Next the bad, from the 13th century Cambodia was invaded by its neighbours the Thais amongst others. Then the ugly – civil war, bombing by America and the brutality of the Khmer Rouge during the 1970′s.

Before we arrived here we didn’t know that much about Cambodia’s past but although we have only been here just over a day I think for us Cambodia will be defined by its history.

During the 1960′s Cambodia remained a place of peace whilst war raged in neighbouring Vietnam. However that was about to change, the government allowed the communist North Vietnamese to use Cambodian territory in their fight against South Vietnam and the USA. In turn the US bombed Cambodia relentlessly causing 250,000 deaths.

Between 1975 and 1979 Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge implemented one of the most brutal restructurings of a society ever attempted. Its goal was to transform Cambodia into a peasant dominated co operative and within days of taking Phnom Penh the entire cities population including the elderly and the sick were forced out of the city and into the fields to work. 1975 was declared Year Zero and currency, postal services and religion were banned. Cambodia was cut off from the rest of the world. Disobedience of any kind meant immediate execution and everything important to the Khmer people was stripped away.

After a quiet day spent lazing around we get some food and sit in the restaurant, some people are watching The Killing Fields and despite seeing it yesterday it’s compellingly horrible and we sit staring at the TV again. Hesitantly one of the girls who works here starts to talk about the film and quietly tells me how scared it makes her feel. She describes how her parents witnessed many killings. She asks us to watch a film called The Bloodiest Domino and we take it and watch it on the laptop. It is another thoroughly depressing look at recent Cambodian history and gives us more to think about.