After spending 4 days in Ho Chi Minh City we were ready to leave Vietnam. The city in itself was exactly how I imagined it, chaotic, vibrant and disorganised. To my suprise, there wasn’t as much to do in former Saigon as I thought there would be. We met up with our friend Curtis and went to the War Remnants Museum which housed an impressive collection of military vehicles, photographs and historic relics. The museum demonstrated the catastrophic effects Agent Orange (which was a chemical spray scattered across Vietnam by the Americans) has had on past and present generations of Vietnamese people. With most of the victims suffering painful birth defects and deformities it was truly a crime against humanity that in my opinion has not been recognised enough as a significant moment in history. A time where America caused an unprecedented amount of pain to so many people without enough consequences to those responsible.
I left the museum feeling angry, frustrated and quite upset. Throughout the rest of our time in Ho Chi Minh City the weather wasn’t very kind to us. Rainy season is fast approaching and biblical downpours as well as Armageddon-esque thunderstorms crashed down on the city throughout the day. We could only spend our time inside either reading, drinking or playing board games, which was great as rest from a busy month was well and truly needed before we ventured on our next exploration of a new country. At 10am on the 10th June we departed HCMC and got transported by a well air conditioned bus through the remaining part of Vietnam we had not yet seen. A happy farewell to a country I love and adore. Passing though the Cambodian border we were immediately struck with how similar the scenery was to Thailand. A further 4 hours away from the border was the capital city of Cambodia where we were to spend 2 nights, Phnom Penh. Driving through the countryside we realised that Cambodia unlike Vietnam is still very much a developing country. It would be clear that Cambodia was to be the poorest country we had visited on our round the world trip so far. Construction was amounted everywhere, children playing football in sewage and half standing houses everywhere established a lump in my thought, that was difficult to swallow. Eventually we arrived in the tropical heat where a tuk tuk driver drove us to our hostel. He explained in tremendous detail the relentless corruption that is still evident in Cambodia today which he was clearly upset by. After a bit of an awkward conversation we had arrived and the awkwardness got more unbearable when he pulled me aside and said he wished he was me and that I was lucky I wasn’t a poor tuk tuk driver and that I could feed myself. Welcome to Phnom Penh. After clear instructions from the hostel not to take out your phone from your pockets in the street or to wear any form of handbag we checked in to our room. We had heard stories of bags being taken from westerners as they walk by and also of stories of people being dragged along by motorbikes not wanting to let go of there positions. These rumours were confirmed true as we spoke to an English group. Two of the girls in the space of 2 days had there bags being grabbed and attempted to be taken twice each. Unfortunately one occasion the perpetrators stole the bag and all of the possessions of that girl are now probably being sold at a nearby market or online. Our room was a dorm, but not like a dorm I have ever stayed in before. They were double bedded dorms which is truly bizarre, but I guess sort of makes sense space wise. We spent the evening walking around our local area to get our bearings, enjoying the vibrant nightlife and eating traditional Khmer curries before heading to bed for a well deserved sleep. The following morning we woke up at 6:30am to start our day. We made this a priority in Cambodia as a couple of times in Vietnam Georgia had some dizzy spells when we went out in early afternoon/lunch time when temperatures are 40 degrees. We hired a tuk tuk driver for the morning who drove us around in what looked like the bullet from Mario Kart, a pink version. A 45 minute drive South of Phnom Penh is the Cheong Ek Genocidal Museum, otherwise known as the Killing Fields.
The site is the most famous of 300 ‘Killing Fields’ where people were executed by the Khmer Rouge Communist group from 1975-1979. Pol Pots rise to power enforced citizens of Phnom Penh to leave the city on the 17th April 1975 after being told the Americans were about to bomb the city to its grounds. They were promised in three days time they could return to the city, of course this was not the case. Men, women and children were forced into manual labour and sent to camps to grow and provide food for the Chinese who were providing the Khmer Rouge with their weapons. Pol pots strict ideology discredited anyone who was educated, an employee of the former government, people who wore glasses or even had soft hands of any human rights and were sent to prison or to the killing fields to be executed as being an enemy of the state. Cheong Ek was a burial ground to 20,000 people which surprised me as the actual site is a lot smaller than I expected. Mass graves engrossed the area with large craters showing evidence to where people were killed. What was more tragic is that people were not simply shot in the head, as bullets were expensive. Men, women and children who were ‘enemies’ to Pol Pots regime were hacked to deaf with hoes, gardening tools, blunt axes and metal poles. They tortured them before executing them, forcing to confess to crimes they had simply not committed. The most upsetting part of the whole site was the killing tree. A tree similar to the tree that Buddha reached enlightenment under where women were forced to watch the Khmer Rouge smash their babies heads against, killing them immediately before being executed themselves.
I don’t think that in the 45 minute journey back to Phnom Penh me and Georgia spoke more than a couple of words to each other. I simply sat in the tuk tuk with my eyes closed trying to piece together how such horrendous atrocities could even begin to happen. I felt like all my problems that I think I have in my life are simply a drop in the ocean compared to the torment this beautiful country has endured. We then visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, otherwise known as the S-21 museum where ‘enemies’ to Pol Pots Khmer Rouge Regime were questioned, tortured and eventually transported to the Killing Fields to be executed. This was men, women and children who were being targeted, but not just the accused instead their entire families. As one famous Khmer Rouge saying goes; ‘to cut the grass you must take out the roots’. The prison which was formally a high school housed informative exhibitions on many different events associated with the prison. From real life accounts of survivors to the tales of women who were forced into Marriage by the Khmer Rouge. A particularly harrowing part of Khmer Rouges rules was that if a newly wed woman refused to consummate the marriage with her new husband she was sent to a re-education camp. The re-education camps involved the new husband repeatedly raping his new bride under the supervision of Khmer Soldiers until she accepted her fate as a wife of the Khmer comrade. By this time it was 11:30am and to escape the mid day heat and the terror of the prison we retreated back to our hostel to rest and contemplate.
We spent an hour wandering around trying to withdraw money which is insufferable on a humid afternoon. I’d say that the only segment of travelling that really grinds my gears is not being able to withdraw money in a reasonable amount of time. It took us 12 ATM’s and many swear words for us to be able withdraw money which incurred charges of £15. F!&@
We were now in the Sisowath Quay area of central Phnom Penh. There were an abundance of sleezy bars and restaurants to wet the appetite of Somebody looking for a good night out. We ended up eating at a place which was cheap and friendly but inevitably gave me an upset stomach. Stay tuned to here more on that anecdote. After a while walking around we stumbled on a film club called ‘Empire’. It listed that it was showing the 1984 film ‘The Killing Fields’ that was based on Cheong Ek which we had been to that day. They set us up with a private screening room with soft cushions, a can of 8% local beer and a couple of cockroaches to keep us from falling asleep whilst enjoying the film.
After a couple more drinks we went to an Irish Bar to watch a Euro 2016 game before heading off to bed for a much needed rest after a traumatic and emotional day. So today I woke up and the hangover of last nights undercooked meal quickly presented itself in the form of unpredictable bowel movements that caused me some discomfort. We decided against going out and exploring more of Phnom Penh and decided to wait patiently (by the toilet) before our bus to Kampot was due. I am now on the bus and looking forward to escaping the franticness of Cambodias capital city and enjoying a bit of the countryside which is what I personally enjoy most.