And the history of Khmer Rouge
15.12.2009 30 °C
It’s been a while (I shouldn’t have left you, without a dope beat to step to) since the last post, and a lot has happened! When we last spoke we were in Mui Ne and were about to go to Ho Chi Minh City. Now, we are in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia! Woo!
The trip to Ho Chi Minh City was uneventful, a short bus trip. Ho Chi Minh is a busy city, but we liked it more than Hanoi – it’s not as busy, noisy, dirty or cramped. The place we wanted to stay in was fully booked, but a nice man (who had pointed out where the full hotel was) had a guesthouse, so we followed him along the road for a few minutes. The place was called “Y Nhi” and was clean and nice, with very friendly owners, and right in the middle of the budget touristy part of town, down a narrow alleyway full of local people and their guesthouses. It looks like most of the people there have built new (or adapted their existing) houses into guesthouses, as walking down the alley you could see families cramped into small rooms, spilling out into the street, even though their houses are four stories high!
While in Ho Chi Minh we booked ourselves onto a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels, where villagers from a whole region of Vietnam hid during the American War. They were all communist, or North Vietnam, supporters, and the South Vietnam (or ‘American Puppet’) Government (we’ve heard a lot of propaganda over our stay in Vietnam) didn’t really approve of them being there, so they were bombed quite a lot. The area is about 40km northwest of HCMC, just about half way to the Cambodian border. While there we got to see lots of bomb craters and what remains of the tunnels. There are different kinds of entrances to the tunnels: fighting tunnels that are big enough to get in and out of quickly; and hidden ones that are about 40x20cms - small enough to hide, and also small enough for westerners to get stuck in (as a girl in our group managed to do…).
We got to crawl through 200 meters of tunnel to see what it was like, and there was the opportunity to shoot a few guns: AK-47, M16, Thompson, M1 carbine, M60. The cost was a bit prohibitive though, so we passed on the chance. The whole trip was good though, and was accompanied with a lot of propaganda type messages from all the guides. It seems Americans are bad.
The day after the tour we booked ourselves onto at bus trip to Phnom Penh, as we are running out of time. The ride was a simple 5 hour trip with 90 mins of border crossing hoo-ha in the middle, as we moved into our 6th country! Phnom Penh is a clean, friendly city, not at all crowded or busy. We’re in a hotel right by the National Museum and Royal Palace, just down the road from the river! Location location location!
Yesterday we went to see S-21, the old Phnom Penh High School that the Khmer Rouge turned into a detention/torture place. It was all a bit daunting being there, seeing the cells that had been built in the classrooms, the classrooms that had been turned into torture rooms with huge photos of dead tortured bodies, the shackles that had been used, and loads of mug shots of some of the prisoners that had been through the prison. Enough said about that!
Today we went out to see The Killing Field, where the prisoners were taken from S-21 to be executed. It’s about 14km outside Phnom Penh, a short tuk tuk ride. They have found over 8000 bodies in 160-odd mass graves there and have built a Buddhist stupa (to help the spirits of the dead access their remains) to house the bones of all the bodies found.
There is a debate between the government and the relatives of the victims as to what to do with the remains, as Buddhism states that bodies should be cremated, but the government wants the bones on display to help remind people that this sort of thing shouldn’t happen ever again!
And now we’re at today! Tomorrow we’re off to Siem Reap, the launching point for Angkor Wat. Siem Reap is an historical place where the Khmer won a decisive battle against the Siam invaders – Siem Reap means Siam Defeated!
We’ve been super organised lately. Christmas and New Year are on the way, so places are getting all booked up. To make sure we have accommodation we’ve booked ahead all the way to New Years Day, when we fly to Bangkok to do some last minute shopping for fakes, before flying out to Sydney. If anyone has a good idea where we can spend New Years Eve in Phnom Penh, please let me know!
That’s all for now