It’s a bit of a gruesome blog post today, not only because we ate a tarantula, but there are some awful stories from Cambodia’s history.
Anyway, we left Saigon in the morning for our 6 hour trip across the Vietnam border into our next country, Cambodia. The journey was ok and border crossing was fairly painless.
As we entered Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh, I noticed the wide boulevards and streets that were so different to the countries we had recently visited. The reason for these wide streets are the French actually planned the city when they colonised Cambodia.
Once we had checked into our hotel, we had a bit of a different type of orientation of the city. Instead of walking, we had an army of what looked like wheelchairs for a cyclo tour of the city. These special bikes had a seat at the front and the cyclists that did the hard work were all being helped by a charity. It was great fun lying bck and taking in the city as we all overtook one another on the busy motorbike filled streets.
We got dropped off by the river which was a really nice area. All these tourist orientated areas have only been developed in the last few years. Dinner was at a local restaurant where we ate some nice Cambodian food including crispy rice with a yummy coconut curry sauce. It was strange but very very tasty. We also watched a documentary in a small cinema room all about the genocide that took place just over 30 years ago. It was a good introduction to what we would learn about the next day.
Today we learnt a lot about Cambodia’s tragic past. It was fascinating but distressing at the same time. As well as covering much of the last century, the focus was mainly on the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 70s. A man called Pol Pot became the leader of the country and imposed a lot of his really strange communist ideas. He wanted Cambodia to start from scratch and become a classless society so he created the “year zero”. Phnom Penh was evacuated with everyone being made to move to the country side where they would be forced into slave labour.
Anybody that resisted Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge was killed. Anybody that was educated or skilled was wiped out in an attempt to start the country from new. Soon, thousands of people were being murdered across the country. It was clear that Pol Pot’s regime was not working and he started to blame innocent people for his failure. The Khmer Rouge started to imprison people and iterrogate them accusing them of being spys or coming up with false statements about them. People were being tortured and murdered in their thousands. After 4 years or so of Pol Pot’s reign, over 3 million people had been cruely murdered. This was nearly half the population of Cambodia at the time! This is a short summary, it’s a bit more complicated and disturbing than this.
After meeting our local guide we first set off to S-21. This was one of the prisons in Phnom Penh where tortures took place. There were 167 of these around the country.
It was horrific. The guide told us about all the things that went on as we visited the prison cells. The torture that went on was horrendous. Not much has changed in this prison which used to be a school before the regime. Although its now a museum siteits been pretty much untouched. There are splatters of blood across the ceilings and walls. Even the electric cables where electrocutions took place are still attached to the walls. It was very hard being there and hearing the stories. There are also black and white mug shots that were taken by the prison guards of all the prisoners that were tortured and executed.
Many people died at the prison and there was soon little room to keep the dead bodies. Eventually they started transporting prisoners out into the country side where they were killed and buried in mass pits. This is where we visited next.
Now known as the killing fields, they were used by the Khmer Rouge as a mass genocide centre. Thousands of bodies were found here. We walked along side the mass graves hearing some terrible stories of how men, women and children were killed. I will not go into detail because its too horrible to describe. Clothes and bones of those murdered still rise to the surface during the wet season and are fully visible. It really is a depressing place.
During big excavations it was decided that all the bones would be collected, studied (to find out how people were killed) and placed in a memorial at the center. The building is tall and contains a sealed glass enclosure where all the bones are kept. Seeing all those skulls was quite shocking!
That was the end of an eye opening morning. You really have to come here to experience it and appreciate what these people went through. We learnt a lot and we appreciate even more what we have today in terms of our family, friends, material possesions and peaceful lives.
The afternoon’s sight seeing was much more light hearted. After a little shopping and an amazing lunch at the Russian Market we visited the beautiful Royal Palace with its grand buildings and gold and emerald buddha statues. It was quite similar to the palace in Bangkok but very nice nonetheless.
In the evening we went to eat some street food at the local market. I had some amazing marinated squid that was chopped up and had along side some rice and salad. Delicious!
Next we went to Chivas. A bar which serves bugs!!
Heidi and I were the most brave out of everyone. Most of the group managed to eat a cricket but Heidi, Rhonda and I were the only three to eat a whole tarantula!! That’s right! The spider along with the crickets was actually quite tasty and it was all a good laugh. I’ll let the pictures and videos do the talking…
Some special messages this week. Happy Birthday to Heidi’s Mum Jan!! She turned 63 on Sunday! (He he, not really!!)
Also, congratulations to Heidi’s cousin Stuart who’s wife Jo has had baby number 2, a girl called Maya Josie. Congrats!