Hey everyone, before I get into this blog post I just wanted to say where I have been. This past month and a half have been really busy as we have just moved so I was busy packing and unpacking. As well as this I’ve been busy getting back into the routine of “normal life” (I will be doing a blog post on this). I am really going to try and blog more from now on as I’m fully settled now in my new place and I have really missed blogging because I enjoy it so much. Anyways back to my Cambodia trip that I went on in September 2019.
In today’s blog post I am going to be sharing with you days four and five of my trip to Cambodia. Back in September, I went on a twelve-day tour around Cambodia all by myself however, I was apart of a group tour so I wasn’t completely by myself. The trip was amazing in so many ways but it also pushed me to my limits. I am going to write up a trip round-up at the end with all of my thoughts and feelings about the trip as well as the prices and what’s included in the tour. Anyways back to the main topic of this blog post, day five of the trip was our first main road trip from Siem Reap which is in the north of Cambodia to the capital Phnom Penh which is in the south of Cambodia.
I am not the best traveler at times especially in a car unless I am the one driving. Our journey was estimated to take around 6 hours as the roads aren’t very well built there so the journey takes longer even though the distance isn’t that far. Luckily, there were only four of us on our tour so there was lots of space in the van which made it a lot more comfortable and easier to sleep too. If you get travel sick I highly recommend buying some strong travel sickness tablets here in the UK before you travel. If we were traveling for long periods I would take two tablets (The recommended dose) before each trip as I know that it would ease my anxiety as well. We left Siem Reap around 8:00 am, we grabbed some breakfast on our way out of the city so that we could eat it in the car to save on time. En route to Phnom Penh, we stopped off at a Cambodian family homestead as when you pay for your tour a % of your money goes towards clean water wells in Cambodia. As Cambodia is still a developing country parts of the country are less developed than others including the water system. The water wells that are installed collect the rainwater which is safer to drink than the water from the rivers. The water wells are installed in the middle of several houses so that they all have access to it. Something that was really cool and coincidental was the water well that we visited was only installed a year earlier on my birthday of all days!
The drive itself was really scenic and I really enjoyed looking at all of the different landscapes. As Cambodia is still a developing country there are large parts of the country that haven’t been developed yet. This was actually really lovely to see as there was so much green space! Cambodia is also well known for its rice fields which are everywhere, although we didn’t visit one on this tour we did have a BBQ near one earlier on in the trip. On the way to the city, we stopped off at a cafe which was situated among the luscious green land for a bathroom break as well as a drink.
The little cafe was really lovely as it was right in the middle of the fields which were flooded as it was monsoon season during the time that I was in Cambodia. I ordered a green tea as it’s a calming tea and I remember feeling quite anxious from the long car journey. The seating area where you can eat or just sit and have drinks were so cute as they had normal seats as well as hammocks which looked relaxing to sit in. The little coloured bags around the seating area are to distract the mosquitoes and flies so that they don’t disturb you. I really enjoyed having a break from the car ride for a moment and taking in the fresh air before we headed off again. At this point, we had only traveled about three hours away from our first location and we still had around three hours left. We finally reached the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh at around six in the evening. However, we didn’t get to our hostel until around seven as the traffic was really bad as it is in most cities. We stayed at The Mad Monkey hostel which we stayed at for the rest of the trip but in different locations. This particular hostel company is well known for being a party hostel and it definitely was later on in the trip. As soon as we arrived at our hostel we checked in and were given bands which you could load money onto in order to pay for food and drinks. All of the Mad Monkey hostels use the bands which meant that you would pay a deposit at the beginning and could use the same band at each of their hostels and then you would return it before you left a Mad Monkey hostel for the last time.
As we were traveling as apart of a tour group we stayed in private rooms within the hostels at most of the locations apart from our last destination. This particular hostel had one of the best rooms as the beds were massive and really comfortable. There was lots of space to spread out and re-organize our backpacks which we did about a thousand times on this trip. If you have been a backpacker then you will know exactly what I mean. Once we had dropped all of our belongings off in the room we then headed to the hostel restaurant for some food as we were all really hungry. I decided to go for a classic Margherita pizza and a plate of chips which were huge! After dinner, we headed to a local bar for some drinks and then we headed back to the hostel for an earlyish night as we were up early the next day for the days activity. The next day we had breakfast in the hostel before we headed to the S-21 Prison to learn about the Cambodian genocide by the Khmer Rouge. As you can imagine, the tour itself was incredibly eye-opening and made me feel so many emotions. The tour was a self-walking tour as you had your own headset which you listened to the audio that took you on a route around the prison. Each part of the prison had many stories to tell some of which were very hard to listen to but also important as it’s a big part of how Cambodia became the country it is today.
One of the most shocking things is that the genocide took place from 1975 until 1979 which isn’t that long ago at all considering my mum was born in 1965. This meant that this was all happening while some of our parents and grandparents were alive and to me, that is hard to believe considering how awful and brutal the genocide was. Out of respect I haven’t posted or filmed any of the inside of the prison apart from the memorial statue. I felt that it wasn’t right to post this as there are many faces in the prison of people’s loved ones who were brutally murdered for no reason. If you ever visit Cambodia I highly recommend visiting the S-21 Prison even though it’s traumatic and has a lasting effect on you it’s important to learn about the history of the countries that you visit. However, nothing will compare to the pain and suffering that the Cambodian people went through.
Out of 20,000 people who were sent to the S-21 Prison only seven survived and I met one of them. I was very honored to meet Chum Mey who was kept alive because of his mechanical skills. Each week some of the survivors are present at the S-21 prison in order to tell people their story and educate people so that it doesn’t happen again but also to allow people to buy the books that they have written about their time in the S-21 Prison. Although Chum Mey didn’t speak much English I could tell that he was a very special man but I could also see the pain he had been through. I often think that you can tell how much pain a person has been through by looking into their eyes. After having read Chum Mey’s book I was even more grateful to have met him as he is a real inspiration going to the prison every week where many horrendous things happened to his fellow Cambodians but also people he knew must be incredibly hard.
After visiting the S-21 Prison we headed to the killing fields, however, the weather took a turn for the worst so we ended up going the next day which I will talk about more in the next blog post. We then headed back to the hostel to get dry mainly and then we went for dinner at a local burger place. After dinner, we headed back to the hostel and all got ready for bed as we had another early start the next day. As you can imagine all of us were feeling a lot of mixed emotions after having learned about the horrendous things that had happened. It was a really mentally exhausting day so it was nice to just lay in bed and reflect on the day as well as think about how I can help Cambodia. The main way that we can help them is by educating people on what happened so that it never happens again. There are so many different resources available for you to read or watch which tell you a lot about the Cambodian genocide.
Books you can read:
- Survivor: The Triumph of an Ordinary Man by Chum Mey
- First They Killed My Father by Luong Ung
- Lucky Child by Luong Ung
- Survival in the Killing Fields by Haing Ngor
- Alive in the Killing Fields by Nawuth Keat
- When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him
- To Destroy You is No Loss by Joan D. Criddle
- Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
- When the War Was Over by Elizabeth Becker
- Voices from S-21 by David Chandler
- Stay Alive, My Son by Pin Yathay
Movies/TV shows to watch:
- The Killing Fields
- First They Killed My Father
- The Missing Picture
- S-21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine
- The Land of the Wandering Souls
- The Conscience of Nhem En
- Enemies of the People
- New Year Baby