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Quick Nip around Cambodia

I want to run, I want to hide, I want to tear down the walls, that hold me inside.


Phnom Penh - Sihanoukville - Battambang - Siem Reap

So after saying goodbye to all the kids and other volunteers at CDO I got on a bus down to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. It was an odd feeling being on my own in a big city after spending 3 weeks in one place, surrounded by people I knew - but also liberating, I was traveling again. I checked into a hotel and had a wonder around the riverside of the Mekong river, however didn't spend long out as I struggled to find a bar which wasn't full of hookers and old men.

The following day I got up early and grabbed myself a tuktuk driver to take me to both the S-21 prison and the Killing Fields. First stop being the S-21 prison, once a school, then turned into a prison by the Khmer Rouge when they took over in 1975. Horrific side of history which in all honesty I had never heard about, I bought the book "First they killed my father" which gives an account from a lady who was 5 years old when this all happened. Very interesting book as it is documented in such a naive way, as it would of seemed from the point of view of a 5 year old. As an over view - the Khmer Rouge (a communist party) took control of Cambodia for just short of 4 years (1975-1979), they removed all social classes and made everyone work in the countryside doing back breaking work in very poor conditions. The food which everyone was growing was then traded with the Chinese for weapons - to fight the Vietnamese. The death toll during this time is vague but ranges between 1.4 and 2.2 million - predominately resulting from famine and execution. The soldiers of the Khmer Rouge were mainly young teenagers who didn't know any better and were forced to carry out torturing, to get people to confess of anti-Khmer Rouge activity. Basically the Khmer Rouge had become incredibly insecure and therefore turned on their own people.

An estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned at S-21, usually for a period of two to three months - they would be interrogated and tortured into confession (of things they probably more than likely hadn't done). For the first year of S-21, prisoners were executed and burnt close to the prison, but soon they ran out of space and were forced to drive out to the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek). The torturing was pretty damn awful and I don't really fancy repeating much of what I saw and read.

Harsh realities

The prison is based in the centre of Phnom Penh and although you can hear the roaring and beeping of traffic it is quite an eerie place. You are free to wonder the 4 blocks, 3 floors of ex-ex-classrooms and ex-prison cells. It's amazing to see how crammed in the prisoners were - either in big classrooms lying down chained to each other, or in tiny constructed cells inside classrooms. It reminded me of when I visited Auschwitz last year, how ironic it is that a place so disgusting to human rights has now turned into a tourist attraction - of which I am part of.

Tiny cell

One of the corridors

Prison hell turned tourist attraction

One of the classrooms has photo's and descriptions of a number of the prison guards/torturers who are still alive. I found it very interesting - I mean, who do you place the blame on for this happening? The guards for carrying out instructions, the people giving the instructions, the Khmer Rouge as a whole? Also interesting that it was as late as 1998 that the Khmer Rouge still had a party - almost 20 years after the massacres; could you imagine the Nazi's still in government in 1965? Trials are still taking place now, and only in 2010 was Kang Kek Iew (head of S-21) sentenced to 35 years in prison for crimes against humanity, torture and murder.

Thought provoking graffiti

After a number of hours walking around S-21, I got back in my tuktuk and we took the long journey down to Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields). This was where 17,000 people were executed - sadly it is situated right next to a lake and during the monsoon season this area floods, every time it rains more teeth and bones are pushed up out of the soil. I hired a guide to show me around, and even though I'm pretty happy snappy with my camera usually I only took a couple of photo's here. Executions were done with farming tools, as bullets were deemed to expensive, so most of the skulls were cracked where they were hit over the head and pushed into the mass graves. Here is also home to the Chankiri Tree, where babies and children of victims were smashed against to make sure they didn't take revenge for their parent's deaths. It's hard to believe that on leaving the Killing Fields my tuktuk driver asked "You want to shoot AK47 at shooting range?" - needless to say I wasn't in the right frame of mind.

My tour guide, just picks up a tooth from a victim at the killing fields

Temple with shelves of bones and skulls

That night I took another walk around town and found an Irish bar (where isn't there one?) which was good fun and then headed back to my hotel room, making the decision to leave Phnom Pehn for Sihanoukville the next day. When I woke up, for the third time in a third different country I jogging down the Mekong river and after caught my bus down to Sihanoukville, which is based on the south beaches of Cambodia.

I arrived in the evening and soon met a few people in the hostel Monkey Republic. I got my first impression so right with Sihanoukville - this was the Vang Vieng of Cambodia - a party town at night and a snooze fest on the beach during the day. I was in good company with people who had been there for a few days, so I let them show me round the number of bars available and then with Jed (our bartender) we went to a local's Karaoke night. Now, just for the record, I hate Karaoke. But for first impressions with people I've just met I'm not a party-pooper, so I got involved. We had our own private little booth with a bar girl making sure our beers were always topped up with our Tower of Angkor - I got very drunk so I wouldn't remember anything.

Only memory I have of that Karaoke room - even in this photo it looks like hell, and you can't hear them singing

I spent the next day relaxing on the beach, or trying to anyway - you're constantly harassed by children trying to sell you bracelets. The beach itself is a long stretch of sand lined with bars, you prop yourself on a lounger and are served beer all day - from my new mate Jed. That night we had a quiet one and headed to "Top Cat" a fantastic little cinema where you can hire your own private booth and watch any film you want. Next day I got up and headed out for a boat trip - we were on a large three story boat and had a mix of young and old and families on board. The weather wasn't the best and it was very rocky but hiding behind a number of the Islands we were able to get off and do some snorkeling - unfortunately visibility could only of been 3 metres max, but it was still fun to be in the snorkel and mask again.

We stopped off at a private beach which had the whitest, purest sand I've ever seen - it was like powder. From the beach we took a little walk through the jungle and up a little river, before swimming back to the boat and doing some jumps from the top. One of the girls we were with did the best belly flop ever. She lost her footing at the top and smashed belly down into the water - I was already in the water so went over and supported her (as she was in a lot of pain), it wasn't funny at the time - but hilarious looking back on it ...her legs and chest were bright red, ouch!

On our walk through the jungle

Chilling on the beach

Having a walk up a river

One claw crab

I was supposed to leave the following day, but instead I went out partying too much so had a hangover and ended up on the beach all day. Had met a group of three traveling together from London, Rick (whose birthday it was), Joe and Beth. Joe was exactly like Russell Brand in every way, and for the first hour talking to him I was in hysterics. So after spending 4 heavy nights in Sihanoukville I took a ridiculously long journey up to Battambang, via Phnom Penh - 13 hours.

Russell, no Joe and Beth

I woke up in Battambang and had arranged for a tuktuk driver to take me to the Bamboo train for a tourist ride. It just so happened that also a couple from Spain wanted to go, so we shared the tuktuk. The bamboo train was wicked - you get on these little bamboo platforms, one foot off the floor and speed along the one track. It's a two way track so if you come across another bamboo train, which ever one has less people on board has to get off, dismantle their train, let you pass and then get back on the track again. It's a slight shame that the Cambodian government have got funding to build a full working rail network, which means that the Bamboo train will be no more within 5 years. However seeing as the government is so corrupt, I'm sure tourists will have access to the Bamboo train for at least another 10 years.

Me playing tuktuk driver

All aboard!

We zoomed off at great speed, and as there were only 3 of us on ours we had to get off a couple of times to let people the opposite way pass. After half an hour or so we stopped at a brick making factory and told "these people didn't go to school, so they work hard as builders now", pretty much same as in UK I said. After a quick tour of the factory from some kids and a fantastic sales lady who managed to get me to buy a beer (would you believe it?), we got back on the Bamboo train and whizzed back to our tuktuk.

Brick factory

There's less of you - get off the tracks!

I was then expecting to head back to the hotel, as the Bamboo train was all I had in mind, but the Spanish couple fancied doing the other tourist spots so I joined them at no extra cost. This included Banan Temple - which locals say was the inspiration for Angkor Wat - and the Killing Caves.

Banan Temple is 400 metres high, so was a long climb up the stairs - thankfully supported by local children who fan you all the way to the top. You get great views of the surrounding area - and I even managed to relax in a hammock.

Quite a few steps

Battambang - the most heavily mined city in the world; we better not go that way

Banan Temple

Having a little rest

The killing caves are another tourist attraction formed from the Khmer Rouge - more awful stories from our 14 year old guide and saw more skulls on display inside the caves. Some of the surrounding caves are great for exploring and the kids which offer you torches, join you through the darkness.

You get the picture ('scuse the pun)

In the caves with all the kids

More skulls

View out of the cave

Me and our 15 year old guide in the back of the jeep

View over the planes of Cambodia

All our gang in the jeep

It had been a long day, so that night I grabbed some dinner and had an early night. The next morning I had to be up at 6am to catch the boat back up to Siem Reap - this had been recommended to me, and I'm so glad I did it! You weave around all these local river villages with children all screaming and waving at you. Met some smashing people on the boat as well, and made sure I handed out as many leaflets as possible promoting the CDO orphanage.

Hannah and Matt (smashing English couple) wave at some of the children

One of the river villages we came across

Trying to cover up from the sun - determined not to get sun burnt

After the boat winded its way round the river, it suddenly opened out in to Tonle Sap lake - the biggest lake I have ever been to; it looks like you're in the sea as you can't see the edges. Then somehow the driver knew exactly where to go and we seemed to go straight through some trees and on to a tiny river path up towards Siem Reap.

That's no lake, that be the sea!

Tiny river path - had to stay away from the edges or you'd get knocked out by the trees

Small long tail boat draws up besides us and this lady jumps on board to sell us beer; they follow me they do

Upon arrival, we got a tuktuk back to my hotel and set up for the weekend. Met up with Sharnee and Leigh and then headed in to CDO - what a greeting I had; it gave me the biggest head ever, all the kids running up and hugging me. The friendly greeting from Mum was a pinch on the arm and a kick up the arse, it was good to be back!

New floor boards donated by family and friends back home

Reunited with the kids!

That evening with the other volunteers we hit Pub Street for a night of boozy pitchers and some pool. It transpired we had a few more volunteers which were great fun to be with, and I even met up with Rick, Joe and Beth from Sihanoukville.

The next day, I got up quite late and headed back into CDO. "You Hungover Alan? Always hungover!" says Mom. Thankfully I had had some more donations come through while being away for the week, so explained to Mom that we could get painting. We nipped down to the paint shop and bought a load of rollers and two huge buckets of paint and attacked the house, walls and thanks to the kids - trees!

In the middle of painting the back of the house

We painted everything blue - it was like Smurf Village

That Saturday night a load of us had a huge night of shenanigans on Pub Street, and at 5am had a lovely swim back at the hotel. Again, the next day I didn't get up to early and headed into CDO to play with the kids for a few hours and even managed to Skype Mum and Dad with the kids for a while! Monday morning I had to get up early to sort a few things out, go back to CDO to say goodbye one last final time - very hard thing to do!

Jager Bombs!

Look who I bumped into again - Ben, from our "jog" in Chaing Klong and our canoeing down to Vietiane

On my last morning with Marb

Driving away in my tuktuk, some of the kids chased after me with flowers - again, gave me such a big head!

That afternoon I caught a mini van across the border back into Thailand and into Bangkok. I had in mind I'd stay over in the Siam district, where all the shopping malls are - but I had met a couple of fantastic people on the bus who were staying around Khao San, so instead stayed in the area to spend some time with them. Had a big night back at Rooftop bar with some wicked company.

The next day I went over to MBK the huge shopping mall with Hannah and Matt (from the Battambang-Siem Reap boat), we spent a good 5 hours looking around and spending too much money! That evening would be my last in Bangkok, so I treated myself with an oil massage. However I think the masseuse should of paid me - she found loads of knots in my back and clicked it 4 or 5 times while saying "Yeeeesssss, goooooood".

Seeing as my flight home was late in the evening, I checked out of my hotel at mid day and put my bags in the security hold. Had a very lazy day, but in the evening Hannah, Matt and myself went to the State Tower Sky bar - where they filmed the Hangover Part 2. We arrived just as it was getting dark (cloudy), but the views took all our breaths away - 64 floors high looking over one of the most busiest capitals in the world. Drinks were a shocking price, well London prices - but that is about 5x the price of a normal beer on Khao San Road. We relaxed and took in the views for an hour before heading back to Khao San, and I made my way to the airport.

Argh! So hungover!

Not a bad restaurant

Chao Phraya River, looking south

View of the stairs where they filmed the Hangover Part 2

Dark panoramic

So hungover!

Me and Matt trying our best to re-enact the scene that Stu calls to say they'll miss the wedding

Stunning view

Rush hour traffic weaves its way down the motorway

The round bar

After a long 24 hour journey - Bangkok - Heathrow, Heathrow - Portsmouth, Portsmouth - London, I'm now relaxing at my brothers flat (Rach has just put a brew on!) before heading out to Paris tomorrow, can't wait!

Posted by Atregidgo 05:56 Archived in Cambodia

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Thanks for a great read!

by robhallam

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