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Phnom Penh (26th/27th May)

June 14th, 2010 by Jo Turner-Attwell

Before we left for Phnom Penh the insane heat drove me to the pool as we didn’t have to leave until the luxuriously late time of 10 o’clock and I enjoyed a lovely swim before doing my usual 5 checks of the hotel room to see if I had forgotten anything!! The travel itself was long and bumpy. The road was hellish and i swear we bounced along the road rather than drove.
Along the way there were fried crickets and tarantulas. This was all well and good because no one forced me to eat them (well not at this point anyway) what worried me was if there were loads fried to eat, there must be live ones around somewhere. Everytime I went to the toilet I edged into it nervously first checking to see if it was inhabited by big spiders. Thankfully I am still yet to see one live.
When we arrived in Phnom Penh it was the middle of rush hour and it took us aaaages to get to the hotel. It did give us a chance to get a look at the city though. It was mad. For one thing girls were wearing what we have as pajamas, like full on just wearing pajamas in the street and for a second thing there was a tradition of fitting as many people onto a motorbike as physically possible. Including small children and elderly people. I think the strangest I saw were three tiny children riding alone on one and like 5 people on one at once. Essentially it was just the way they travelled. Even monks could be seen riding on the back of them. I should probably mention the monks. They are everywhere, wear orange robes and the reason women have to dress appropriately is so as not to arouse inappropriate emotions in them, which I guess is logical.
Anyway whilst we were checking in Sylvia had a scare, apparently there was a tarantula in the hotel toilet! This panicked both of us greatly and I decided not to go and check this out properly.
The evening was good though, we went to somewhere called the Friends Restaurant I think which was run by street children and their teachers to try and give the street children of Phnom Penh a chance to develop skills they could use to make a living. The food was really good.
Our full day in Phnom Penh was a bit heavy though and if you don’t want to hear about torture and death I wouldn’t read on. We started at the S21 prison, which was where the Khmer Rouge would torture people to get a confession from them. These people either confessed and were killed for confessing or tortured to death in an attempt to make them confess. The prison itself was previously a school for children and some of the previous school apparatus was manipulated to be used for torture. It was all really really shocking.
I think the most moving bit for me though was meeting a survivor from the prison, one of the seven named Chom May. He showed us his cell and where he had scratched his name into the wall and allowed us to take pictures of him, his only request was that we show it to others and spread what had happened there to prevent anything similar from happening again. Just thinking about it gives me a lump in my throat.
The killing fields were similarly shocking and I would tell you more about it but I don’t think my words would do it justice. You really should go see it for yourself.
I guess the worst part is that even when we knew what had happened in these places the leader of the Khmer Rouge was recognised by the UK as the leader of the country until 1991 because it was convenient for them to join forces at the time. Says a lot about politics.
Our tour guide himself had been forced to do hard labour day after day and food was rationed. He had lost most of his family in the period. He now supports his three children and 4 nieces and nephews to go school and pays to support an english school out of normal school hours underneath his house, which currently 18 students regularly attend.
The afternoon was lighter. We looked at the palace and took photos like true tourists and then went to the Russian market where I haggled and got myself a t-shirt and purse.
At 4 o’ clock it was cyclo tour time and we sawthe independence monument, monkeys outside a temple and then to the central market. Here I realised I had the haggling bug and got a little too into it and found myself buying a watch for 11 dollars 50, which ironically has turned out to be the most useful thing I’ve bought.
The evening though was probably the highlight of Phnom Penh for me. We went for a meal at our tour guides house and met the children in the english school he had set up. One girl tried teaching me some Cambodian, which did not go well. Then we ate the most amazing meal with the schools teacher, which included, as anyone who has me on facebook will know, fried tarantula. Took me a good half hour to build up to eating a leg and even then someone had to pull it off for me. Ewww. But Andrew also on our tour ate the whole thing, fangs and all.
Anway that was Phnom Penh the next day we were off to Kratie!

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