Thank you for all the kind messages of support on the last blog, it definitely helps me to keep writing knowing that people are not only reading the blog but enjoying it too. It makes it all worthwhile when sometimes I struggle to find the time or motivation, so I hope it continues to be worthy of a read. Plus, I’m looking forward to reading it all back myself when I have the time someday.
We are now in Cambodia so will talk about our first 5 or so days here. The journey from Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam to Phnom Penh in Cambodia took around 8 hours to complete, but it was relatively straight forward, the border crossing was also very simple and taken care of by the bus company we chose to travel with (another visa stamp in the passport). There were however two cute but rather annoying little girls on the bus which meant the music on the headphones had to be up high to try and drown them out in order to get a few winks sleep during the journey. When we left Vietnam, we were in fact a little split up. Seeing as I had entered Vietnam a day before all the boys due to flying it meant I had to leave a day earlier, Con and Fred opted to come with me while Ollie made the most of his extra day in the country. Therefore, Ollie would be a day behind us for a little while. When Fred, Con and I finally arrived in Phnom Peng around 18:30 on the 11th of Jan we made our way to the hostel grabbed some food at the restaurant there and had an early night ready for the tour we had booked the following day.
On the 12th we got up early around 7 am for our organised tour which consisted of visiting the S-21 prison in the city and then venturing out to the killing fields just outside. For those who don’t know from 1975 for roughly 3 and a half years, the country was ruled by a group called the Khmer Rouge and their leader Pol Pot. In this time ¼ of the population of the country was systematically murdered. So, it’s a horrific time in the history of the country and one that occurred not that long ago. It was, therefore, going to be a sombre day but once again I feel it’s important to learn about these kinds of things even if they are rather grim. We made the short journey via minibus to the prison where we paid $8 dollars for entry and an audio guide. The audio Guide was actually a great addition as you could wander around the prison looking at exhibitions while listening to the history of the prison. The prison had basically been left untouched and you could still see dark patches on the floor which were old blood stains from people that had been tortured there. There were also prison cells you could walk in and exhibitions of the torture equipment that was used. The most disturbing thing was that people were tortured to get a confession, relating to them working for the CIA or KGB which they clearly weren’t doing, so people had to lie and create a false claim, once this had been done to the satisfaction of the prison warden they were then sent to the killing fields to be executed. Often if the torturers killed their victim, they were then sent into the prison themselves. It’s a very moving place and a must do if ever in the city. An estimated 12,273 people were detained there with only 7 survivors who lived to tell the horrific tales of what occurred there. Some of the 7 survivors were even sitting in the grounds of the prison enabling you to talk to them if you wished. It’s really is difficult to comprehend what occurred there.
After touring the prison, we then went to killing fields were those tortured at the prison were sent to be murdered. In total there are around 20,000 mass graves sites in the whole of Cambodia which contained more than 1.38 million bodies. The site outside Phnom Penh serves as a monument to all those who died and survived. It was also the largest mass grave were an estimated 17,000 men woman and children were executed. Soldiers would smash spaded into the victim’s heads before pushing their bodies into the mass graves. Once again, we paid $6 dollars to tour the site and listen to an audio guide as we walked around. The guide contained different stories of relating to areas of the site and of some of the survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime. The two most harrowing parts of the killing fields were certainly a tree used to smash babies and children’s heads before they were brutally chucked into the graves. It is beyond words how moving this part was and it literally brought me to tears. It’s hard to imagine how people can become this twisted and cruel to do such things. Secondly, there is a big memorial monument here which contains thousands of skulls dug up from the killing field site and serves as a very graphic indication of how many people were murdered here during the genocide of the Cambodian people. Quite obviously I didn’t feel it was right to take any photos of these places out of respect so don’t have any photos to go along with this part of the blog. But I would implore people to carry out their own research into this time in Cambodian history, which I honestly had no idea about until starting our travels.
After the sombre morning, we returned to the hostel to relax and spend some time around the pool. That evening we ventured out with a fellow English traveller called Craig who had been travelling for around 3 years now. We made our way to a local bar which had a guy from the Netherlands playing live music who was pretty good. After he had finished his set there was a band of local people who were kind of thrown together and had a jam session, but this was equally as good and amazing. The lead singer looked like an absolute boss and killed the song, Satisfaction by Rolling Stones . It was a great chance to enjoy some live music and relax with a few beers. After the music we went back to the hostel were Ollie had now arrived from Vietnam, but the reunion was short and sweet as the next day Con, Fred and I headed to Kampot while Ollie stayed in Phnom Penh to complete the tour we went on the day before.
The bus journey to Kampot wasn’t the most enjoyable experience as once again the roads in Cambodia are shocking so it was a rather bumpy experience. Plus, I was sat right by the wheel arch so had little leg room too. When we arrived in Kampot we were actually staying a little way outside the town itself at a place called Arcadia Hostel which had been recommended to us by many people we had met during our travels. Basically, the hostel is right on the river and contains a waterpark for all the guests that stay here. We spent 3 nights at Arcadia and didn’t even venture out to explore Kampot as we had too much fun at the waterpark. There were also lots of travellers here who we had met before, once again we met up with the Manchester girls (3rd time we’ve crossed paths now, I think they are secretly following us), there was also a group we had met in Mui Ne Vietnam, a 3rd group who we had met in Luang Prabang in Laos and finally Craig joined us here for a day as well. It’s one of the great aspects of travelling, making friends with people and then a month or so down the line unexpectedly bumping into them again and catching up on everything they have been up to. More often than not they have been or are going to places we have travelled too or are travelling to. It’s a great way to exchange tips and stuff about what to do and where to go. Honestly, the backpacker and travelling community acts as one big happy family and it’s so great to be a part of.
Our time at Arcadia consisted of making use of all the waterpark features such as slides, zip lines, this Russian swing thing and a big inflatable bag that two people jump onto to ping a person sat on the far end into the water. There were lots of flips and stuff, but certainly, far more fails and belly flops haha. The slide was the worst for that as you had very little control coming off this so often entered the water in very uncomfortable ways. We also went on a kayak down the river, whereby I left everyone behind and paddle for a long way down the river where the others weren’t even visible anymore. I guess I just found a grove and set off enjoying a peaceful paddle down the river.
On the final night, we went for dinner with a large group of us just down the road from the hostel which the owner opened especially for us (probably saw the $$$ signs in their eyes) but we were grateful none the less. Here I had a lovely Amok fish curry which is something of a local dish and had a fun evening with everyone. The walk back home was down a dark path, where on a previous trip I’m certain a big snake slivered away from me into the trees. but this time luckily there were no snakes on the way back. Instead a firefly which took a liking to me by landing on my shirt. Eventually, it made its way up my neck which tickled and freaked me out a little so Ollie flicked it off causing it to then land on his nose lighting up his face which was hilarious.
The first 5 days or so in Cambodia have been fun and it’s nice to see a different country and culture again, the people once again seem so lovely and friendly. From Kampot, we are now travelling to some islands off the coast of Cambodia called Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem, which look absolutely stunning. With a limited Wi-Fi connection, it will be great to get away from it all for a while and spend some time chilling out doing nothing. Slight admission, I am writing this blog from the islands themselves writing about a few days in the past, but I hope once we leave the islands I shall have written this blog and one about island life so should be up to date with post blogs.