I’m running out of words to describe all the beautiful places and temples I’m seeing, but I’ll give this a shot.
I took the bus to Siem Reap from Cambodia and did my first ever land border crossing: it was a fun experience, and the Cambodian side has some really nice looking entry point art.
Siem Reap is the gateway to the famous Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples, and this place alone made my trip to Cambodia worthwhile.
I stayed at the Siem Reap hostel, and I can’t recommend them enough. It’s a lovely hostel, and pretty much everything you need is taken care of by them. They have an arrangement with the tuk-tuk drivers, so you can just tell the reception the kind of tour you want to do, and they will have a tuk-tuk driver waiting for you the next day, no price negotiations necessary. The food was amazing, and they even have a pool! I think it’s a Cambodian hostel thing, but literally all the hostels I stayed at had pools.
The Cambodians suffered a lot under the Khmer Rouge rule, and the Siem Reap hostel, as well as a lot of restaurants I went to across Cambodia, employ and help victims of the land mines, their children, etc.
Cambodians eat insects as a part of their normal life, and it would be a shame if I came all the way to Cambodia and didn’t at least sample some of them. I found a place called Bugs Cafe that was very well rated. I got the platter, which consisted of: spring roll with ants, a feuillette with red ants, a tarantula samosa, crickets and silk worms wok, and an insect skewer consisting of a scorpion, a tarantula and water bug that looked like a cockroach.
From Siem Reap, I went down to Kampot and spent time at a hostel that doubles as a water park. They had those massive water slides that throw you a few feet up in the air!
And then my final stop: Phnom Penh. The capital city of Cambodia. I’ll keep my description of Phnom Penh brief because of the strong emotions I felt while I was there. The Khmer Rouge was a communist party that governed Cambodia in the 1970s under the directions of their leader Pol Pot. Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge committed mass genocide. They followers of the Khmer Rouge believed (or were led to believe) that the main cause of suffering of the Cambodians were the educated class and the people who lived in cities. Armed by their leaders, they arrested, tortured and killed anyone who was educated or lived in a city. A large number of people fled the cities to avoid being slaughtered. The ones who were captured were made to work in the rice fields. The Khmer Rouge government made absurd demands in the amount of rice that these workers had to produce – a feat not possible even if they actually knew how to work in the fields. People were randomly arrested, tortured barbarically until they signed confessions naming other people they had no links with – just so that the torture would stop.
They even had killing fields… a few hundred of them across Cambodia. I visited the killing fields of Phnom Penh, where they found mass graves of hundreds of people, including women and children. Since this was mass genocide, they didn’t have enough bullets to kill all these people. Plus bullets were expensive. So these barbarians had victims kneel and smashed the back of their heads with axes, swords, sticks, poles, and basically anything they could find. They would then slit their throats to make sure they were dead, and then toss their bodies in a pit filled with dead bodies. For the children, they held them by the ankles and swung them so that their heads smashed against a tree and they died. They were then tossed in the mass graves with the others. It was terrible. They say that 1 in 4 Cambodians were killed in that brief period of the Khmer Rouge rule. That’s millions of people killed for living in a city or having an education. They even arrested and killed you if you wore glasses!
The Khmer Rouge was finally overthrown with the help of the Vietnamese, but internationally, and even in the United Nations, the Khmer Rouge was recognised as the ruling party for many many years after that. That’s world politics for you. The leaders of the Khmer Rouge are still under trial, and it seems very unlikely that any of them will be brought to justice while they are alive. They’re all very very old now. The leader, Pol Pot died under house arrest, and it’s very unlikely that he was made to suffer even a little for his crimes.
I was so emotionally overwhelmed that I didn’t even bother clicking pictures at the S21 (high school converted to a jail and torture chamber) or the killing fields. Besides, I don’t think clicking pictures at places like these would even be appropriate. They exist today as a reminder of what happened, as a memory of the millions that lost their lives, and as a warning of the horrific consequences of genocide. But is the world really listening?