Angkor Wat, here I come!
Ok, so it was time to cross the border. I had changed from the slow boat to the fast boat and we were rocketing towards Cambodia. We arrived at the border and I bought some snacks from the kids on the shore for the ride to Phnom Penh. The boat driver took care of the visa (putting his commission on top which I didn’t have the energy to argue about) and after sitting around for an hour and messing with some ants on a tree (they just stood around waiting and if you put your hand over, they tried to attack from a foot away. It was crazy!) we were off again. We finally arrived in Phnom Penh and I agreed to go with this lady to her hostel because she offered a free motorbike ride. The hostel is right on the side of a lake (actually its built over the lake and my shower empties into it) and I have no hot water, but it’s only 3 bucks a night so I’m not complaining. So I arrived to town early and had time to go see the city. I negotiated a price for a motorbike driver ($6 bucks to take me everywhere I wanted to go for a few hours which was actually a bit too much I later found out) and he took me to the Toul Sleng prison museum and the Killing Fields. Have you ever heard about Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot? I didn’t know anything about this and it’s crazy. This guy took over Cambodia in the 70’s and tried to make a socialist country. Only he couldn’t stop killing people. He would jail everyone on these farms after torturing them (ripping out finger nails, drowning, electrocuting, etc…) separate them from their families and kill a few hundred a day (including his own soldiers). He didn’t want to waste bullets so they killed people by smashing them over the heads with hoes. His regime lasted 4 years and they say that nearly 2 million people were killed during this time. So I was at the jail where the people were tortured and walked through the cells. They had thousands of pictures of the prisoners dead and alive and it was a strange feeling to see them all looking back at you. I watched a video about it and there was one of the soldiers on it talking about how he used to take the prisoners to the fields blindfolded and they would smash them over the heads and then slit their throats. He was smiling while he was talking about it. I then went to the Killing Fields to see the mass graves. Thousands of people, many of whom were decapitated, were thrown into big holes. I walked around in dismay. It just doesn’t seem real. It seems like a movie.
There were little kids playing around on the fields and they talked to me and begged for money or “yum yums” while I walked. They threw rocks in the trees and ate the fruit that fell and were having a great time. In the center of the field there is a huge tower stacked to the top with skulls. It was a day of contrasts.
On the way back, I examined the town. Cambodia is very different from Vietnam. For one it’s much less developed. There are plenty of dirt roads everywhere in the town and tourism isn’t very developed either. There are tourists in some areas but not in most of the town. It’s just the people going about their lives doing whatever it is they need to do to make a living. On the side streets, random animals run around (I saw a sheep running down the street at full speed yesterday) and they don’t even have petrol stations (or ATM’s) here. You just go to some lady with a bucket of gas. Or you get a cash advance for money. Not so many people speak English either. And although the kids still wave at you and yell hello, the old people don’t smile at you as much if you say hello to them. It’s very different. But one thing you really do notice when you get here is that Cambodia has a lot of history. The architecture is something from out of this world. It’s insane. Take a look at the pictures and you’ll agree. I went to the museum and they have all this art and these statutes from so long ago, it’s incredible. They also have a king here and the royal palace is incredible. It’s hard to talk to the people about Cambodia though because they don’t speak much English but you get the feeling that they are genuinely friendly people despite nearly 2 million of them dying not 20 years ago. You actually wouldn’t even know that anything had happened here if you didn’t visit the museum. It is a very poor country though, and that is very apparent. I need to travel a bit more to get more of an idea about this place.
Things are a bit overpriced where I’m staying, but it’s not so bad. I am in a backpacker district and there are a lot of tourists there. I mostly keep to myself though. People just sit around talking about the same stuff over and over day in and day out. They travel for two weeks and want to tell me all about traveling. I don’t tell people how long I’ve been gone so much anymore unless they ask directly. I dodge the question by just saying how long I will be in Southeast Asia or how long I’ve been here. If I tell them how long I’ve been gone, they want to know where I’ve been and how I can afford it. I get sick of saying the same stuff over and over again. I just want to experience the country and be out, whereas most of the people here are content just sitting in the hostel all day, smoking weed and talking the same cheesy traveler chat trying to impress and top each other. I’m getting my Laos visa today and will then head north to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat and before heading toward Laos. It seems that internet connections are going to be the biggest challenge here and in Laos. They are really slow and I can’t upload my full size pictures to my site. Instead I have to resize them and burn them to CD which is risky because my bag could get stolen and I could lose all my pics. I’ll have to figure something out.
Anyways, it’s time to get something to eat. My next post should be from Siem Reap and Angkor Wat! By the way, don’t forget to check out the pictures from Vietnam and Cambodia. I just put some new ones up.