Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Phnom phen part 1: The killing fields and S21

There are two things that the lonely planet first mentions on the back of their guide to Cambodia "First ascend into heaven with the sights of Ankor Wat, then decend into the hell of the Khmer Rouge"

Now I found this immediately distasteful, it was as if one of the two things that should immediately define Cambodia as a country is the brutal acts committed by these cruel despots. Its therefore important for me to say before writing this piece that Cambodia is a beautiful and vibrant country, filled with beautiful sights and incredible people. So while it is important to recognize the massacre committed by the Rouge. It is equally important to understand that the country should not be defined by their acts but by the beauty and spirit of a country that has not been broken by these horrific acts.

Now my first impressions of Phnom Phen was of a busy, vibrant city. Filled with sprawling markets, beautiful pagodas, tasty street food and great places to eat. The street food of Cambodia was one that equaled that of Thailand or Vietnam.

It was thus refreshed that I prepared myself to go and see the Killing Fieldings and the torture site of S21. I arrived at a peaceful field whose serene atmosphere belied the history of the place. I was provided with a audio tour set and started my walk around the site. It was then that the true horrors of the place was unveiled, stories of horrific slaughter of men, woman and children where related. All of these were set to the 'inspirational' anthem of the Khmer Rouge, it helped to cover the screams of desperation and despair and allowed the Rouge to continue their insane pogrom.

However against all this horror were moments of hope and inspiration as stories of heroic sacrifice, acts of remembrance by the Cambodian people and my follow tourists and spiritual acts performed by Buddhist monks emerged.

It was a draining experience and by the end I was not sure I wanted to carry on to S21, the former school that had acted as the Khmer Rouge's torture and interrogation centre. I chose not to hire a guide as I wanted to spare myself the additional emotional gantlet of learning the history of that place.

Instead I wandered past pictures of body after body, face after face and finally forced confession after forced confession.

I was left with one powerful impression, that we should beware anyone that would turn our follow man into just objects to be uprooted and destroyed. After all when we treat others like objects how can we expect to keep hold of our own humanity.

It was an important monument for me to witness but afterwards I was ready to move on, eager to see what was blindingly obvious. That this country had much more for me to behold then just the shadows of death and despair.

Monday, 24 February 2014


I had been recovering nicely from a stomach bug (or so I thought) when I left Koh Rong. Unfortunately for me it turned out the bug wasn't finished with me and it struck just as I arrived the beautiful town of Kampot.

This lovely river side town was unfortunately where I spent much of my time groaning inside my hotel room. An end was in sight for my bug however and on my last few days I managed to rent a bicycle to take around town.

The place was beautiful, filled as it was with picturesque stilted houses, indoor markets filled with metal workers, a lovely stretch of river and beautiful french building that were slowing edging their way into slightly decay.

The ride I took into the back village of thatched houses, red dust roads and friendly locals was definitely the highlight of my time there.