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Phnom Penh

sunny 27 °C
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From Siem Reap we took a bus South 4 hours to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. We stopped off for a bite to eat in a tiny little place where Jenny had her best opportunity yet to prove that her pre-trip boasts of wanting to eat crickets and insects, weren't just hot air.

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But once again she bottled out by developing a mystery stomach ache at the crucial moment. When we arrived in Phnom Penh there were about a million tuk tuk drivers ready to pounce as soon as we got off the bus, in fact one drove along side the bus before it had even stopped and Jenny agreed through sign language to go with him. We ended up with him as our tour guide for the various sights of interest around the city the next day. We met up with him the next morning and were taken about half an hour out of town to the shooting range. This was an extremely bizarre experience. We drove down a little track off the main road and turned into a completely unmarked drive where a gate was opened and shut very quickly behind us. We were ushered to a table in what was a bit like a little cafe. We were gawking at all the various guns adorning the far wall when the guy who seemed to run the place brought us over a menu each with lists of various prices for various different weapons that we could have a go at. He recommended the AK-47 Kalashnikov for me with 25 bullet magazine, and for Jenny an M16 semi automatic with 15 bullet magazine. There were various other weapons from handguns to tommy guns you could choose from. You could also shoot a bazuka at the mountain, or throw a hand grenade into a duck pond. These were all a bit out of our price range however. So we went with our hosts recommendations and donned camouflage jackets then were taken into a long darkened room with a seat at one end and a target about 50 yards away at the other end. Jenny was sat in the seat first, the guy loaded it up, then the gun was put in front of her, and off she went.

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Same drill for both of us. He let us have a few goes on semi-automatic, then flicked a switch to automatic for the second half. Was pretty exhilerating, especially as mine jammed twice, which was a bit disconcerting. When he flicked it to automatic it was really kicking back into the shoulder. It was also mental how many bullets came out and how fast they did with one squeeze of the trigger.

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All good fun. Expensive fun though, $30 each for the 5 minutes that we spent there.

After the shooting range we went to see the killing fields at Choeung Ek, on the outskirts of the city.

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This place was really depressing. The area was used to execute and dispose of Cambodians in mass graves during the Khmer Rouge's regime from 1975-79. Very very sobering. Felt very guilty about firing the weapon just before going there. There's not a lot to see, however the history of the place and the huge gaping holes in the ground where mass graves have been disinterred, make it a pretty thought provoking site. At the peak of the Khmer Rouge's ethnic cleansing process, they were executing 100 people a day at the site. One of the graves had 450 bodies found in it.

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There is a stupa - memorial - to those who died which is a tower that contains some of their clothes and several hundred skulls. I think all in all 14,000 bodies were discovered at the site, many of them women and children. All very chilling.

It only got more horrifying when we went to visit the prison at Tuol Seng in the centre of the city. This place is probably the creepyiest place I've ever been.

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It's an old school that was transformed into a prison where thousands of Cambodians were brought to be interrogated and tortured by the Khmer Rouge, before eventually being driven to the killing fields to be executed.

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The classrooms had all been transformed into various types of prison cell and they have room after room of black and white photos of those who ended up in the prison.

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The sheer number is astonishing. There were also many women with very young children in some of the photos. They have also preserved some of the torture devices including amongst other things a box that housed various scorpions, venemous spiders and centipedes that was put on the victims'heads. There are also various extremely disturbing photos of people who have been tortured to death thrown in for good measure. Whilst the list of Pol Pot's security regulations are a window into how paranoid and ridiculous the Khmer Rouge was.

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The place is just sickening. But it is a testament to one of the most barbarous genocides in recent history, so I don't suppose that's very surprising. We both left feeling pretty shellshocked by what we'd seen.

We spent a couple of days recovering and dossing about Phnom Penh. It's not a very nice city so far as places to see, however there is so much going on, that it was great to just sit and watch locals going through their everyday lives, markets etc.

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The number of children begging and selling books is a bit depressing, and you can't go 5 minutes sitting in a restaurant without being mobbed by them. We got chatting to one of the booksellers who had amazingly good English. He looked about 12 but said he was 16. He told us that he sold the books to pay for school, and that he got to keep any money that he made from it. He said that it cost $7 a month to go to school. So we bought a couple of books off him. Unfortunately he borrowed a book off one of his less friendly colleagues who found this out and came and pestered us to buy his books, which ended in him threatening to kill me......which was nice. Turns out the books are pretty crap. I've got half way through my one only to find that there are about 25 pages missing. Bit annoying.

The food in Cambodia has been pretty good. Quite like Thai, but the curries are thicker. All good. We went to a weird little restaurant where their speciality is a soup that you make yourself called chnnang dei. They're supposed to bring the raw ingredients over and a big clay pot is put on a stove and you just mix it all in however you like. We obviously looked like a couple of clowns that that was going to be beyond, so all the staff came and watched as one of the girls made it for us while we sat and watched. They were all pissing themselves. Was quite funny.

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From Phnom Penh we travelled to the south coast of Cambodia and Sihanoukville, where we've been relaxing by the sea on the beach for the past week. Don't have time to update about that but will in due course. We are heading back to Phnom Penh tomorrow for a night before venturing over the border to Vietnam.....

Posted by calumfife 17:05 Archived in Cambodia

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