Our last week in Cambodia was a really interesting one as we went from seeing the most horrific things on our day spent at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields to seeing beauty beyond measure during sunrise at Ankor Wat.
After our fantastic few days spent with the elephants we headed back to The Happy Hostel in Phnom Penh for another few more nights before making our way to Siem Reap.
We knew our plans for the next days would be very upsetting but something we wanted to do, like with all the other darker places we have visited. We think it is important to go to these places to learn and grieve for those lost.
We started our morning by going to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This was a very difficult place to visit, it was another old school, this one turned in to a prison, which was used as Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979.
Similar to Hiroshima Peace Museum, the outside gardens are very beautiful and there are birds tweeting and for a moment you feel like this is a place of happiness. That is until you step foot inside. This place documents exactly the terrible things that happened there, with photographs, paintings and the actual torture devices used on the prisoners.
It was very very difficult to listen to some of the audio all the way through in some of the rooms there. The depravity, too much to bear.
I wont go into too much detail, as my posts are usually very positive and I don’t want to catch anyone of guard and upset them with graphic details, that is how awful it was. The museum was however a tribute to those who suffered at the hands of monsters and a look at just how ugly humanity can be. In the past, in recent years and still, these things happen and it is a terrifying and incredibly upsetting thought.
Mel and I couldn’t stop thinking about the people after we left, knowing that anyone over the age of 40 who we passed or chatted to will of either witnessed or been a part of it all.
Throughout going on our tour around the museum we saw a few pictures of a group of men standing together, they were the few people who survived being inside S-21 and to our surprise at the end of the tour one of them was actually there.
Chum Mey, he had been imprisoned at S-21 and just about survived because of his skills as a mechanic and general handy man. He story was heartbreaking and he lost everything back then. I couldn’t stop the tears from coming when we got to meet him after buying his book detailing what happened. He seemed like such a sweet man. Read about him here:Chum Mey
I finished his book on the bus ride to Siem Reap. He lost everything back then, his entire family and it is a heartbreaking story. These days though Mr Mey has a new family and he has children who look after him now. He has been part of documentaries and of coursed published his book and recently saw his torturer sentenced to a long long sentence.
What we found most shocking of all is that after this all happened, Despite its deposal, the Khmer Rouge retained its United Nations seat, which was occupied by Thiounn Prasith, an old compatriot of Pol Pot – the man behind it all!!!
The seat was retained under a different name ( Democratic Kampuchea ) until 1982 and then under another name after that (Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea) These guys kept their seat within the UN – how this is possible we just cannot fathom.
After doing some research about how this was able to happen, I saw this quote from Thatcher – my dad would always make a jest spitting motion at the mention of her name so – spits –
“So, you’ll find that the more reasonable ones of the Khmer Rouge will have to play some part in the future government, but only a minority part. I share your utter horror that these terrible things went on in Kampuchea”.
– The more reasonable torturers – The mind boggles-
Anyway, after we visited the museum, we went on to The Killing Fields, another extremely difficult place to visit, again I wont go into to much detail but the evidence of just how recent this all actually happened is all around you there, bits of clothing still visible coming out of the ground from the shallow graves and not only clothes but also bones.
The stories you hear on the audio as you walk around the grounds are truly disturbing and i would advise only those with a strong stomach to listen to them. Heart breaking but their stories must be told. They cannot be forgotten about and they have to remind us to do good in this world.
So that was a very sad day for us but we are so incredibly honoured to have had the chance to meet Chum Mey and say a prayer for all the victims of one of the most terrible times in history.
We loved our time in Phnom Penh, it really is a lovely place and the people are so friendly. Cambodia itself is just a very beautiful part of the world and we have met so many funny people as well. All the staff and guides we have met have has us in stitches.
Our last stop was Siem Reap, the minute we arrived I loved it. I say that about everywhere but we have just been to the best places. Mel did so well planning this trip. Our hostel Garden Village Guest House was amazing as well, really hip and had a great vibe around the pool. Great music, pool tables and everyone drinking out of coconuts. We really enjoyed it there. Although I did feel a little old there, so that was devastating but other than that it was great. It also had lots of cute cats around, always a bonus.
The main reason we went to Siem Reap was of course to visit Angkor Wat and all the temples.
It was an amazing experience, we got up at 4am to go and see the sunrise and it is so worth it. It wasn’t as busy as we had imagined either and even with lots of people around, everyone is pretty silent as the sun is rising and it is a really beautiful experience.
One of the highlights of the day was ‘Big man’ our Tuk Tuk driver for the day. He was so funny and great to be around, when we first got to the Tuk Tuk he asked how we slept, I told him well and asked ‘how about you?’ he just replied that he had had 6 beers. Not the best thing to hear from your driver but it was fine. He was full of imformation and had us laughing away the whole time. When we went off to watch the sunrise he attatched a little hammock to his Tuk Tuk and slept off the beers anyway.
So sunrise was stunning…
It was incredible watching the colours change and the silhouettes become more clear and defined. What a magnificent place. We sat and watched as the sun came up and then we proceeded to go for a walk around and every inch of that place was just beautiful. There are little wild monkeys roaming around and the way the sun creeps in from all corners is truly stunning.
We spent time climbing the walls, finding different staircases all around and enjoying the sun rise and then we got so lucky to get that picture of the temple reflections in the water as that area had been very busy but we didn’t mind having perched ourselves on an old ruin with an incredible view for sunrise but everyone had left by the time we stopped exploring the inside and we got a great shot.
Big Man took us to about 5 different temples around Angkor Wat. I asked if that was the name of the temple or the place and confusingly I think it is both.
The only downside to a beautiful morning was we witnessed an elephant ride around the temple. Having been with the elephants in the jungle and learning all we did it was hard to see one being worked like that and it could of been Comvines mother as well as we learned that they tried to get both elephants to the sanctuary but could only save the one. Very sad.
We explored all these gorgeous temples all morning and they really are amazing and the trees that grow in these areas are like nothing we’ve ever seen before. They grow in all kinds of directions, twisting around one another in all shapes and sizes. Some seem to have been drawn to others and rapped themselves around one another. It was pretty unbelievable some of the shapes.
It was a brilliant morning and we think it was certainly one of the highlights of the trip. Bit pricey for our budget but it is worth it to see it all and kind of a once in a life time experience.
As well as all the beautiful temples we saw we also saw many other beautiful things around including lots of Buddhist Monks and a little cat becoming famous because of where it decided to sit.
It was a great day all around. That evening we went back for a swim and then headed to pub street and we were delighted to bump into Marco and Tina our friends who we keep bumping into, first on the bus to Cambodia then at the Mondulkiri Project.
We chatted away and had beer after beer as they are only 50cent! It was great to see them again and manage to connect on Facebook. They are at the beginning of their travels whereas we are nearing the end so it will be nice to see where they go.
Then it was another 8 hour bus ride to Bangkok. Not a pleasant one either because of the beer consumption the night before! But we made it and we love it already!
It’s so cool and colourful and our hostel is awesome! It’s called Fatcat and it is a hostel, cafe and art space and the owners are possibly the most amazing artists ever! Their stuff is crazy good! The dude draws pictures of himself and they are just incredible cool and the fat cat of course features in them too. I am going to ask him to stand by the painting he is working on now before we leave so I can have a picture of him and his work because he is great. They are also super friendly and helpful and they serve egg coffee. So we are very content here and looking forward to exploring Bangkok and getting Mel a haircut!
Still having the best time out here and love being able to share it with you back at home through the blog.
Who knows what my next post will entail with a week in Bangkok! Facial tattoos and Mike Tyson hopefully.