Our adventures in Phnom Penh were not over, and the rest on our to-do list wasn’t going to be enjoyable, but necessary. We headed to the Killing Fields:
On 17th March, the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh. In three days the city was evacuated.
Pol Pot believed in pure communism, where everybody was required to work the field. He introduced Year 0 and made it an order to forget their past. They were forced to declare blind love to the party. Pol Pot described himself a servant of the people, but treated them like animals.
Anyone with a title, soft hands, a foreign language, or even wearing glasses (described as ‘new people’) were killed at the Killing Fields. They were seen as enemies of the state. They were ordered to make confessions to being spies or that they were stealing rice, then killed.
Pol Pot was educated in France, joined a communist party, and then went back to Cambodia.
Some of his Party’s quotes were: ‘to keep you is no gain. To lose you is no loss.’ ‘Better to kill an innocent by mistake, than to spare an enemy by mistake.’ ‘To remove the grass, first you must dig up the roots (reference to killing everyone in the family).’
He recruited the kids from the rural fields because they were uneducated and impressionable.
The Killing Tree was notorious for being used to smash babies heads against it, before throwing them into a pit with their mothers.
The last sound the victims would have heard before being slaughtered would have been revolutionary music and a diesel engine, all put on very loudly to drown out the sound of people screaming.
The regime ended on the 7th January, 1979, as the Vietnamese entered the country.
Clothes still stuck in the mud.
One of the pits.
The strong, protruding bark was used to slit people’s throats.
Without a break from the harrowing Killing fields, we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum. In what used to be a school, and then turned into a prison, we saw pictures and read statements from people who had stayed here. One of the worst things we read were regarding forced marriages. Many women didn’t want to marry the officer husband they had been selected for. Many times, to make her accept it, other officers would hold the woman down, while her new husband raped her. Many women are still married to their officer husbands today, staying with them only because they have had children with them. Even now, many of these women say they hate their husbands.
The Genocide Museum – an old school converted into a prison.
Every prisoner had a mugshot.
After the madness of Phnom Penh, we were pleased to see that Kampot was far quieter, calmer and happier! After checking into our hostel and getting to know the cool Canadian owner, we were on the rooftop drinking with a drunk Indian guy, who reassured us that if you are Pakistani and cross the Indian-Pakistan border, you will be shot. He looked at one English guy – who looked so stereotypically English, you could have assumed that he invented afternoon tea – and, claiming to believe he looked Pakistani, told him he would be shot. Just travellers bonding…
We hired a tuk tuk for the day with Ling the driver. He took us to a pepper farm where they grow Kampot pepper. This green, red and white pepper goes off in four days, so cannot be exported. Therefore, can only be consumed in this part of the world, which was pretty unique. The red and white pepper is very rare because it needs to turn from green into red and white independently, which seldom happens. We got to the factory but weren’t allowed to take any pictures. It was like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but for pepper. We travelled to the neighbouring town of Kep, known for its crab market. Unfortunately, due to the overfishing, the crabs were not very big. We feared that this was not recognised by the townspeople, and will only notice this problem when there are no crabs remaining. We had lunch on a lookout thing, overlooking the sea, with our takeaway fish, but then were espied by a macaque monkey. The bastard saw us and casually walked up the steps to the lookout to sit eat lunch with us, picking leftovers from the floor. He was properly bogging us out and looked ready to attack the food in our hands that we were enjoying, holding above our heads, begging for it to leave. I could sense that he was saying, ‘come near me, and I’ll rabies you.’ He didn’t though. We survived. Afterwards, we headed for a cave which had some exceedingly tight holes, putting Ednora’s curvy derriere to the test.
The Pepper Farm.
Ednora negotiating a challenging gap.
Today was the day we finally plucked up the courage to do something we’d been putting off for our whole travelling experience – we drove scooters. Our destination was Bokor National Park and, like Knight Rider, we burnt rubber to get there. Ednora fell off, but it was fine, she was travelling around 5 miles per hour. Bokor National Park is known for its abandoned city. Empty buildings, a church and casino were all open to be explored. The church at the top of the hill was eerily aesthetic, and the view had forming clouds travelling over our heads. We learnt a key rule when driving a scooter – keep your mouth closed. By the time I’d learnt to keep my mouth closed, I’d consumed enough bugs to consider it lunch.
Ednora ripping up the roads.
The abandoned casino, with our wheels waiting for us.
Cool graffiti in some abandoned houses.
View at the top of the national park.
After a few days in Kampot, we headed to Otres beach. While relaxing beachside, I managed to find a friend to play pool with and beat him, but then he sold us a day’s snorkelling, so, effectively, he was the winner. That night we went for pizza and as Ednora went to pick up her dinner, the chef was throwing up. Lovely stuff. Our barman claimed that this chef had a crystal meth addiction and currently feeling the down, threw up everywhere, had a little hit, then was fine again. Ednora then got paranoid that he had put crystal meth on her pizza, as she sat there, and ate it all…
The snorkel day we had booked was a nice way to get to see a few islands. The coral was very beautiful, but the fish were a bit average. We met a couple from England who we got drunk with later that night back at Kampot, as we watched Albania get edged out 1-0 by the French in the Euros. In the same bar, I heard a local Westerner tell every punter, individually, that he’d ‘done a bit of business in Phnom Penh, innit’. I’d heard several times that he’d managed to strike a deal with some company to help him set up sky boxes in people’s houses. He said it was all going to catapult his career into success. When he asked whether anyone wanted a box, all declined, but wished him well. A second character in the bar had an obsession with playing ballad music over a football match. He said it made games so much more exciting and gave them an edge that commentary couldn’t match. When we tested it with Heat of the Moment and Don’t Stop Believing blaring over the top of Romania vs Switzerland, and I must admit, he had a point.
The next night when having dinner, we played with a kid and a balloon (at the same time). This kid was so damn happy with this balloon. It made us think how kids that age in the UK would now be more accustomed to iPads and computer games, as opposed to hitting a balloon in the air with two strangers. This also made us compare with how you would never see a child play games with strangers at a restaurant. Different worlds, and absolutely no idea which is better.