Sunday 5 April 2015
After completing 340km by road from my last destination of Siem Reap, I checked into the PATIO Hotel and Urban Resort. First impressions is this is a little bit of luxury. It was getting quite late and having a few plans to visit some sights tomorrow, I retired for the night ready to start bright and early for my next adventure….
Monday 6 April 2015
Dark tourism is defined as involving the visit of sites of historical value where death and tragedy have occurred. It was today I put on my Dark Tourist badge and indulged. Camelpak loaded with 2 litres of water, I went about negotiating with the remork (Tuk Tuk) driver outside the hotel to take me to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center or what is more popularly known as the “Killing Fields”. I managed to get him down from $20 to $15 to take me there and wait.
The ride 12km out of town was an experience in itself. In the middle of rush hour, although every hour appears to be rush hour, the smell of fumes, sewage, cars beeping their horns, mopeds beeping, motorbikes beeping and other Tuk Tuk drivers beeping at each other, it was quite frenetic and fun!
Entrance was $6 (£4.14) which included an audio guide. Very well put together it brought home the atrocity of how humans can be so unkind to their fellow beings. This is where prisoners from Tuol Sleng were trucked in to be executed. No-one was spared including children, babies and other Khmer soldiers themselves to set an example of subordination. Mass graves were discovered in this once quiet Chinese cemetery with Cambodians still continuing to unearth the dead to this day. As you walk around, you can see bones rise to the surface with clothing still attached. I make no apologies to blogging this or even going here since being a dark tourist at times, I want to understand and learn about history. Others choose to ignore it, I prefer to see it with my own eyes.
Sparing the real graphic details (you can ask the Cheeky Starfish in person if you want to know more), after a couple of hours at the Killing Fields, I hopped back into my awaiting Tuk Tuk and headed off to the S21 prison or “Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum” which was located back in the city. I said my goodbye to the driver and entered. The fee here was $3 (£2.07). It was here innocent villagers and other Cambodians were arrested and detained here by the Khmer Rouge Army. Tortured daily and forced to live in cramped dirty conditions, many confessed into being CIA or Russian spies just to stop the beatings. I’d had prior knowledge about this place before I came here by reading the book of one of the survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime called Chum Mey. Those who didn’t have manual or artistic skills to be pulled out of the prison to work for their captors, were sent to the Killing Fields to be killed. Yes, this was a sad place and slightly eerie. I even witnessed a girl breakdown in tears by it.
Prison done, it was time to lift the mood as I headed to the Spider Restaurant. Tarantula salad was on the menu but I opted for a Cambodian Curry with steamed rice. I could have got away without the rice as the curry itself contains potatoes and yams which was quite filling.
Suitably content, I wandered back to the hotel which was only a mile away to work off some of my lunch. There was only one thing to do once I got back to the hotel at 3pm and that was dive into the rooftop pool overlooking the Independence Monument. I’m going to stop harping on about the 37C heat now as it’s exhausting, but the dip in the pool was most welcome.
Happy hour began in the hotel bar by the pool at 5pm so I indulged in a few Anchor beers whilst watching the sunset over the city. Once I felt adequately thirst quenched, I decided to get ready for a meal out. As I was getting showered and changed, the heavens opened and thunder and lightning ensued. It was almost monsoon conditions as I made my way back up to the roof bar to sip a Long Island Iced Tea and spectate the storm. It’s a hard life doing all this drinking lark but someone has to! I managed to capture the brightness of the lightning on the patio below:
After the rain had stopped, I wandered out the hotel for a pitcher of beer and Cambodian Ginger and Chicken. Tasty it was indeed. Another belly full, I was back in my room to sleep, ready for tomorrow’s itinerary….
Tuesday 7 April 2015
Up with the larks again as I try and beat the peak of the sunshine heat. First on the sightseeing tour was the Royal Palace. After negotiating “hard” for a $2 Tuk Tuk ride for 1 mile, I arrived at the palace already sweating as the heat was over mid thirties. At $6 (£4.14) to enter, the grounds to the palace are immaculate. I was lucky enough to have a quartet of monks follow in behind me, so I took the opportunity to snap me some pictures with them in it, for that arty angle. The actual main building was off limits as was a number of other pagoda’s so my $6 didn’t seem such a bargain after all.
However, the Silver Pagoda was open. This was laid with silver tiles each weighing 1kg. Shame they felt the need to cover 98% of the floor area with rugs and carpet and the ones that were exposed were stuck down with tape in places!
After an hour, I headed over to the National Museum of Cambodia. At $5 entrance fee, you were strictly forbidden to take any photos! Walking around in the heat inside the museum, it suddenly dawned on me where all the Buddha heads and statues from Angkor and Siem Reap disappeared too. They came here! A quick stop off for lunch to cool down, I headed over to the Daughters which is an organisation which helps girls who have been trafficked for sex at a young age get out of that environment. Sold as children because their parents were poverty stricken must have been heartbreaking. Anyway, I did my bit and purchased an Apple and Cinnamon smoothie and enjoyed so free Wi-Fi.
Having had enough culture for one day, it was time to bear the blazing sun and walk 1km to Wat Phnom which is considered the centre of the city. After using my scout orienteering skills, I paid the $1 foreigners entrance fee to take a couple of artist pictures. Apart from the one pagoda and stupor, there wasn’t much else to see here.
Opting for a Tuk Tuk, I then made my way 1km north to the Kingdom Brewery. Unfortunately, one of the machines had “broken down” and there weren’t any tours going on, but I was taken to the bar upstairs to enjoy a can of 8% strength dark beer. Taking my time to sip this sweet caramel drink, I eventually moved on by Tuk Tuk back toward Wat Phnom to sample a few cocktails on the rooftop of the Le Grand Mekong.
Several Long Island Iced Teas later, I managed another rooftop bar before settling down for dinner of spring rolls and vegetable fried rice….
Wednesday 8 April 2015
Today was the day it was time to leave Cambodia and head south into Vietnam. How to make the journey? I decided before leaving the UK I had to sail down the Mekong and this was a great opportunity to do so. Trip organised through Mekong Eyes, breakfast done, rucksack packed, I checked out of the hotel at 11:15am. My Tuk Tuk driver was already waiting in the hotel lobby to transfer me to the waiting room by Sisowath Pier by the river. I love punctuality so I knew this was going to be another good day. A quick 10 minutes ride, he dropped me off where my boat Hang Chau would depart at noon. Passport and details checked, I was then handed a lunch bag consisting of a bottle of water, crackers, banana and a wet wipe. Good job I’d made myself a ham and cheese sandwich at breakfast in advance.
Boarding the speedboat, we zoomed off on the water to Chau Doc, Vietnam. Sitting at the back al fresco, engines roaring, water spraying, the view was amazing. Green river banks and local fishermen in their long boats going about their daily lives whilst white cows lie by the verge looking on.
Arriving at the Kaorm Samnor Immigration Police of International Border Checkpoint (Cambodian checkpoint) at 3:45pm, I had time to play with the little puppies wandering around and cross paths with a big bug.