A solo Cambo Rambo trip. Part 2 – The killing fields

WARNING: This post contains graphic images from the  Choeung EK Killing fields which some may find disturbing. I have chosen to include some of the photos I took from here to reflect the seriousness and significance of this location. 

Our Gecko’s tour had organised for us a 9.30am Cyclo tour (If you don’t know what that is, photo to come) but before this, I ducked out for some breakfast at Riverside. This whole area is very touristy so expect some food to be relatively expensive for what it is. (Paid $6USD for 2 fried eggs, some French fries and a coconut drink)

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Riverside breakfast view. Note another lone traveller, plenty of other people travelling by themselves in Cambodia.
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Pepper and….rice? lol

The Cyclo tour took us around Phnom Penh, being a small city we saw most of the city.

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Fast and Furious: Cyclo Drift. (on the right). Approach to the Independence monument.
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A bank
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Another bank

First stop off was in the old French quarter (Cambodia being a former French colony) and the post office is the main landmark in this area. Best appreciated from outside as when you go inside its literally just a post office, with desks offering various services like EMS and DHL shipping.

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French colonial era building
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The post office. Reminds me a little bit of the Saigon (HCMC) Central Post Office, Vietnam.

My Cyclo rider was highly excitable and kept trying to do some sort of drift and laughing and trying to overtake the others.

We then rode around the base of Wat Phnom, however, we did not enter (I later come back here and go up). Pro Tip: Don’t try and take a photo of the nearby American embassy, a big no-no I was told when I tried to take a photo.

There was a shrine next to Wat Phnom dedicated to Penh, a widow and the legendary founder of the city. (Phnom means hill, so literally this city is Penh’s Hill). Today being a sacred Buddhist day the hill temple was fairly busy and there were locals giving offerings to Penh.

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Locals doing morning offerings at the shrine to Penh
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Offering prayers, shrine of Penh

This was followed by a stop at the French independence monument and the statue of Norodom Sihanouk, however, it was now all barred off as the King of Thailand was going to be visiting.

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See, it’s better by night lol
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Statue of King Norodom Sihanouk by day

By now it was morning peak, which was “exciting” if not a slight feeling of life endangerment in a Cyclo.

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Experiencing peak hour at ground level in a Cyclo
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Statue of Buddha near Riverside

We were dropped off after a ride up the riverside in traffic (just down the road from where we started) opposite the Royal Palace. As Ric, another tourist in this group and myself had already seen the palace the day before we thought to share a Tuk Tuk to the killing fields. Lo and behold as we start walking, it’s Teddy! (My original Tuk Tuk driver from the airport. He is probably stalking me for a fare) Driving towards me waving at me.

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Off the beaten track. Teddy taking us down small side roads instead of the main highway during traffic. The Killing Field is about 16km out of Phnom Penh.

Visiting the Choeung Ek Killing Fields is must whilst in Phnom Penh to truly grasp the horrors and brutality the Cambodian people faced at the hands of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Standard Tuk Tuk fare is $20USD return and is generally not negotiable keeping in mind the Tuk Tuk driver waits for you whilst you are in the fields. Unlike S21 Tuol Sleng, the audio guide here is included with the entry.

Choeung Ek Killing Fields is very confronting, and discomforting, to say the least, depressing and horrific would be more accurate. This former orchard farm turned mass execution fields (and only one of many from the mid to late 70’s) and now mass grave hosts a large monument containing remains of those who were found here.

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The monument containing thousands of remains. Each level contains skulls and then larger bones e.g. femurs and pelvis are on their own levels.
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Victims of the genocide inside the monument

 

It’s best to take care as you walk around this place as bones and clothing are still surfacing as the soil moves with time and with rain moving the topsoil.

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Remains in the open
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Clothing that surfaced and yet to be moved for storage
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One of the mass grave sites. Note the tent where more remains have been found and currently being exhumed.

After following the numbered sites around you there is a small museum which outlines the timeline leading to the fall of Pol Pot and his party, their arrest and trial before the UN for genocide and crimes against humanity. There is also a small movie played periodically regarding the discovery of this site and exhumation of the bodies as well as interviews with a survivor.

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The Killing Tree. Note that darker patch on the right. This is where babies were killed by having their heads smashed against the tree. (A local woman was there explaining this to her friend). The bodies were then disposed of in a mass grave to the right of this photo with their mothers, the majority of whom were also raped.
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Peace bracelets left by visitors on the fence of the mass grave where the mothers and babies were found.

It’s disturbing how one man and his party could do this their own populace and saw their own people as the “enemy” and the over the top brutal methods they used to kill people such as using axes, hoes and shovels as bullets were deemed too costly.

And on a much lighter note, back to Riverside for some lunch. A friend of mine had just recently travelled Cambodia with her boyfriend and they highly recommended the happy herb pizza so Ric and I went to try this.

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Pizza with the lot with additional happy

Extra happy for $1 USD.
Y’all don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about #420.

Would I recommend trying this? Yes.

Keeping in mind this was our last day in Phnom Penh, we wanted to cram in the last of the touristy activities. We headed up to Wat Phnom again to actually go up. Entry fee here only applies to foreigners, $1USD.

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A lot of incense burning going on today

Very busy given a sacred Buddhist day.

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Big pagoda on the hill
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Big clock under Wat Phnom

I think I would have enjoyed this much more if it wasn’t teeming with people everywhere  burning incense on an already very hot day. Worthy of a quick visit but not much to see once you get to the top to justify sticking around too long.

The Central Market aka. Phsar Thmei is much larger and grander than the other local markets. It’s also very tourist-targeted and in general costs more than the other markets, e.g. Russian market while selling the same products. Aside from the large structure, it’s just another market but more comfortable to be in (and doesn’t smell). I recommend you find your souvenirs at the other local markets unless you are a haggler extraordinaire.

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The Central Market from the outside
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One of the entrances, housing more stalls

 

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Inside the Central Market structure, its actually pretty comfortable here compared to the other local markets

This is where Ric and I part ways as he had not been to S21 yet and I was keen to find a place called Daughters of Cambodia. Daughters of Cambodia is a café / shop / visitor center that helps girls rescued from the sex slave and trafficking trade learn new skills for a new lifestyle and also given jobs at a range of fair trade business this organization runs. I couldn’t find it which was a real shame as I was really keen to see this center given it’s such a good cause, however while I was there they were in the middle of relocating from next to the museum to the riverside and renovating the new venue. A quick google search shows the new venue is now open again and I strongly encourage anyone to go visit as all the proceeds are going to a good cause. Now located at #321, Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh.

Given that mission failure and I was next to my guesthouse anyway I decided to freshen up. I normally wouldn’t want to bore you with a mundane thing like “wow I took a shower” but the happy herb pizza was in full swing now, and it comes with plenty of happy. With a bit of free time before dinner, a quick visit to National Museum

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National Museum, from the inner courtyard
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The inner courtyard of the museum is a serene place

Museum is filled with Khmer relics and art. If you have other things to see and do, I would suggest putting the museum on low priority. It’s just not very engaging. The Museum in Siem Reap is much more in every way.

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Historic metal works by the Khmer

Today ends with a group dinner at a local families’ home where they prepared dinner for us. I don’t really have photos of this as I didn’t have my camera with me and no one else was taking pictures of food with their phones. Over 30 people of the same family were living in this slightly larger than average double story home.
A personal favorite was the spring rolls filled with taro.

In part 3 we are off to Siem Reap!

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It’s hard to make out with my potato phone camera, but that is tarantula in vodka
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