General, Travel

Down low and up high

Today has been a strange day. Good, but strange. A day very much filled with lows and highs. We had our first properly activity free afternoon, which we could go off to do whatever we wanted. It was definitely need after spending the morning at the Killing Fields and Toul Sleng museum.

I was really hesitant about visiting the Killing Fields. Everyone else in the tour was going and I decided that as much as it would be unpleasant, I had a sort of duty to learn about the history of the country, and see first hand what the people had been through. The tour guide lost 4 brothers, his father, and other relatives. He knew a lot about the place (obviously, he was our guide) but also told us how hard it is for Cambodian people, and looked genuinely distressed at points. I know it’s really good money to work as a tour guide in a country where $1 per day is considered an OK wage, but it must be hard to return to a location of such horrific carnage when family and friends lost their lives there.

We arrived at the actual Killing Fields first, and it didn’t seem too bad. There were lovely trees, and walkways at the entrance, and the place had a very serene quality. However, when I saw the monument, things changed. The guide explained there is over 8,950 skeletons in there, and upon seeing them, the evidence of the brutal torture and killing methods were very visible. They ranged from tiny babies to OAPs. Wandering round, he told us more about the area, the regime, the leader, and of course the methods of killing. It was horrible, many were horrific ways to go discounting the days of torture that preceded a visit to the Killing Field itself. I won’t go into too much detail about it here, but the methods were deeply unpleasant to say the least. As we walked around the area, there were bones, teeth, and old rags in/on the pathways, as well as blood stained trees used for beatings, and insensitive American tourists who said it was no worse than 9/11.

It was unpleasant, but interesting, and considering I knew nothing of the Killings Fields until a few months ago, I was pleased I went. I didn’t realise that the Killing Fields was the ‘better’ place of the two sites we visited this morning. I use better loosely, I mean less bad. We visited SS21, also known as Toul Sleng prison, which was a detention and torture centre integral to the Pol Pot regime, and has now been converted into a museum. There were pictures of the inmates, which ranged from babies, to old people, and the torturers and guards; I think they were the worst pictures, some looked barely 10.

The cells were tiny, and were horrific. They had blood stains on the walls and ceilings, defecation boxes still present, torture devices and contraptions all over the place, pictures pre and post torture. It was really unpleasant, and confirmed a lot of what I feared it would feel like to visit. The tour guide said that there were only 7 survivors of a regime that killed over 2million, and only 2 that were still alive. They were both at SS21, selling things to make money to survive (compensation is $25 per month.) Was was quite cheery, smiling, showing pictures of his cell, and posing for photos. He visits his cell every day. The other guy was close to tears, and looked heartbroken and sad (a more normal reaction to returning to such a location in my opinion.) His wife died at the hands of the regime while he was there, it was all very sad. Interesting, but horrific.

Afterwards, we all went for lunch, and following on went to do our own things. In an effort to raise our spirits, we went for a manicure and pedicure (which includes mini-massages) for $5 for both, fairly cheap, and a good way to relax after the upsetting morning and epic bus journey yesterday. It was much better than the experience two of the tour group had – they were worried about the order to take ALL their clothes off, and about a ‘happy ending’. It was a funny story. Afterwards, we sat in the pool and visited the shopping mall. The Samsung Galaxy S5 was only $255 outright. Very cheap! A couple of people are considering getting the new iphone when it comes out here.

Then we went for food, which could only be described as a fiasco. It is common for food to arrive as and when it is ready, and it’s customary to eat it when it arrives instead of waiting for everyone to receive their meals. An hour after ordering, there was still no sign of any of the meals. Another hour later, Jade and Peter’s food still hadn’t arrived. It’s a good job you don’t wait for people here, or all the of the meals would have gone cold. When Jade’s was one of the only ones left, they informed her they didn’t even have the beef she had ordered. Just a disaster all round. My food was nice and arrived first, so I had much less to complain about myself. Phnom Penh doesn’t feel very safe, and their was a near miss with a snatching motorbike rider and a phone in someone’s hand today, so we decided to head back rather than check anywhere out at night.

I got a chance to video call my parents, which was nice. The internet isn’t quite as good as home so sometimes the connection drops, but it is a nice thing to be able to do so easily. There was also an impromptu pool party that occurred in the roof-top pool and bar. It was OK, but headed back to call, and shower, and pack. Definitely a good idea with another 5hr bus journey to tomorrow. We will be rewarded with an afternoon on a beach, which means a chance to swim in the sea. I love the sea.

See, today was full of highs and lows. I’m pleased it ended well!

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