Poverty and Massacres: The Beauty of Phnom Pehn?!

We left the baron Ban Lung for the capital city, Phnom Penhn, on what turned out to be the WORST bus ride ever!! We had to wait for 3 hours on the main road to the capital because lorries we slipping off the road!! Finally though, with some pretty crazy driving to make up time, our bus arrived at about 9pm.

Independance Monument

Our first conscious hours in Phnom Pehn were spent with our usual initial wanderings. We ambled down the main streets, hitting a market & mall & stopped off at the impressive Independence Monument. The evening brought more random adventures when we started talking to a homeless girl & her mother. To my surprise they were genuinely lovely & not looking for money. The surprise element is a sad but true thing to say given the beggary there. So we talked for a while & played sey with them & some old dudes, which was really fun! Sey is … well, it’s odd … but the best way I can describe it is a cross between a shuttlecock & a hacky sack, & you kick it between the group, keeping it off the floor. Nicky & I both loved it!!… though we did SUCK compared to the pensioners passing it with ease & finesse, while we swung at it aimlessly!

The next morning we headed out for a day of education to the killing fields & the infamous Toul Sleng, relics of Pol Pot’s reign of terror in the 70s.

The killing fields were a chilling experience. At the centre of the establishment was a glass tower filled to the brim with the bones & skulls of the unfortunate thousands who perished there at the hands of the genocidal regime. 

Human skulls

Piles of bones lying around the fields

At first glance, the fields themselves may seem bland & ordinary, but on closer inspection that observation would be far from true. There were countless numbers of bones & clothing protruding from the dirt. Every inch of ground made you fully aware of the horrors that had occurred a mere 30 odd years ago. Our tuk tuk driver continued on to Toul Sleng, a torture facility used to detain & murder numerous others seen as enemies to the regime. The pictures & untouched cells painted a vivid & horrifying image to burn into ones memory. There was a lot of information too, but thankfully Nicky & I had both read a book beforehand written by an escapee of the Pol Pot regime, an excellent book accounting his experiences under the Khmer Rouge so we were up to speed with the general history before our visit. The evening was a much lighter experience, with the necessity of a few beers after a heavy day. We headed out for the night with newly found chums James & Jules & hit a few clubs, including a pretty mad club on a boat, arriving home at a respectable 5am.

Our next day in Phnom Pehn was one of our better days. We went to an orphanage with our tuk tuk driver Khavi, a great guy, to visit 73 children. We bought 25kg of rice for them ,…& some candy so they would immediately like us of course! … & Stayed at the orphanage for 3 hours playing with these unbelievable kids. What struck me most was how happy they all were despite the fact they were all living on the brink of starvation, sharing 1 tiny bed with 7 others. I became a human climbing frame for a good portion of my time there while Nicky played with the girls & braided their hair. It was a phenomenal experience. A real eye-opener.

Amazing kids at the orphanage

We regrettably left Phnom Pehn the following morning, a lot nicer a place than I had envisaged, & headed for the beaches of Sihanoukville in the south-west of Cambodia. Some relaxation was definitely required after the harsh realities of Phnom Pehn.

~ Rhys ~


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