The beautiful people of Cambodia and their horrible history

We arrived in Phnom Penh from Ho Chi Minh City after an easy 6 hour bus ride where we (and everyone else) got ripped off by the bus company to pay an extra $5 each for them to “help” with our visas. Basically, someone got paid off somewhere and we didn’t have to unload our bags and get them checked. So we could of smuggled anything we liked over the border. Only if we had known before we had left…

Phnom Penh is hot. And humid. And dusty. But the cheery and lovely Cambodian people make up for it! How they stay so lovely in this sort of weather is beyond me. We searched for a hostel for the majority of the day and after traipsing round taking notes down in our little book and after 2 tuk tuk rides, we found somewhere in the old backpacker district for only $5 a night (but add in the $2 tuk tuks we got, we might have well stayed where we were and paid a bit more…) The $5 place was well, worth about that. Tiny room, fan, no bathroom door, and no bathroom window, just open bricks. We only stayed 1 night.

The next morning we got up early and changed hotels to one we found during our night time search and dropped our bags there. $10 this time for a small room, air con, no window, but a bathroom door….yes! No more headphones in whilst the other one “occupies” the lavatory! What a luxury.

We quickly got our selves sorted and found a tuk tuk driver to take us to the killing fields. After another man cheekily told us, “don’t go with him, he doesn’t know where anything is!” and looked at us, smiled and laughed, all in good humour. This is the Cambodian way we were soon to discover, friendly, chatty and plain old cheeky. Like the title says- just beautiful people.

After finding out their horrible recent history at the killing field and S21 prison, it puts their natural good nature and friendliness into perspective. Out of a population of 8 million, 3 million (1 in 4 people) were brutally slaughtered at the hands of Pol Pot in the late 1970’s. He was a man who wanted to turn his country back to the “year 0” by destroying anyone who he considered a threat. This included people who were educated, who wore glasses (!) and all their connecting family. As he believed to not let anyone live who could take revenge.

The killing fields were distressing, we listened to an audio tape the whole way round (as does everyone else) which leaves a very quiet area where everyone seems to be doing their own type of silent grieving. I know I did.

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The detail is horrendous, of which I will not go into, but if you are ever in Cambodia, it needs to be seen just to try and understand what the country has been through in the past 40 years.

The same goes for the S-21 prison where people were held before they were taken to the killing fields. It used to be a school before Pol Pot closed all education facilities and walking round it gives off a feeling of extreme ill ease. All the pictures of the prisoners staring back at you. The ghosts which haunt those grounds must be numerous.

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—Love to all—C Smith—

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