Friday, December 9, 2011

Cambodian Adventure Part III: The Finale

Back to Phnom Penh…

            Phnom Penh is a big city but it lacks the glamour of a metropolis.  There aren’t many skyscrapers, it’s built on a nonsensical grid system, and honestly it just didn’t seem that impressive.  The traffic and pollution are horrible.  To anyone planning a visit, I highly recommend wearing sunglasses and having a bandana or something to cover your face with while riding in a tuk-tuk.  The dust and filth in the air, stirred up from the dirty streets, is like nothing I have experienced (not even in Vietnam or Thailand). 
            With that said, Phnom Penh is an amazing place and I did enjoy the time that I spent there.  It’s located where the Tongle Sap meets the Mekong River and every morning from sunrise til 8 am, you can see hundreds of people on the riverfront beginning their days with aerobics and yoga.  There are hotels, guesthouses, and hostels all over the city for an array of prices.  While I was there, the people seemed to be a little standoffish at first (city-like, I guess), but were really just as nice and friendly as everyone in Siem Reap if you talked to them for a bit.
Unfortunately, I didn't get to spend much time in Phnom Penh.  The plan was to stay in Siem Reap for a few more days.  Of course, I did what I always do and waited until the last minute to try and change my flight.  What I didn't know is that it's Air Asia policy that, even with the travel insurance I had, there's a minimum of 48 hours notice needed to change flights (mine was scheduled to leave the next day).  SOOO, without having much choice, Ry-dude and I got on a bus a few hours later and headed 5 ½ hours away, back to Phnom Penh.  This gave me from 6 am to 4 pm (on the day of my departure) to see and do everything in the city that I wanted to.
Skulls uncovered after excavations at the Killing Fields
            Ryan and I hired a tuk-tuk for the day ($12 USD) and the driver took us to the Killing Fields, S-21 (Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum), and lastly the shooting range.  “The Killing Fields” are about 35 minutes outside of town.  For a $2 entrance fee you’re allowed in and can see where the Khmer Rouge mercilessly massacred so many Cambodian people.  If you're not familiar with the history of the Khmer Rouge and what happened in Cambodia in the 1970's, you can school yourself here.  Once inside, there was a free audio tour that allowed us to move at our own pace between marked sites (including mass graves, execution areas, and a huge collection of human skulls), all of which were shocking.  I even found a human tooth in the dirt, recently washed up to the surface by rain.  After the hour-long tour we bought some incense for the shrine and monument, and then checked out the museum near the exit.  As hard as it is to stomach, I am really glad I got to see this.  I learned a lot and have so much respect for what the Cambodian people have had to overcome.
Mass graves, like this one where 450 victims were buried, are all over the Killing Fields
            Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, better known as S-21, was not much easier to see.  It’s a high school-turned-torture prison camp.  This is where the Khmer Rouge would torture people.  It causes the same distress as the Killing Fields, and after 20 minutes, we decided to leave. 

*In this picture (to the left of the Ginger) is a man missing one leg.  Unfortunately, this is an all to common site.  Still to this day, Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined areas on the planet.  The Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC) estimates that there are between 4 to 6 million mines in the ground.  Note that the entire population of Cambodia is only 11. 5 million.*

"Say Hello to my little friends!"
            Our final stop of the day was of a brighter hue.   On the opposite side of town our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off at the shooting range.  Talk about kids in a candy store; they had everything!  I had only shot a gun once in my life before, but I have to admit, the mere site of machine guns and RPG’s got me more than a little excited.  Although we opted not to, the option was available to shoot a rocket launcher at a live cow ($350 US).  Our budgets and morals didn’t allow for that so we opted to pay $65 each to shoot 20 rounds out of an AK-47 and 50 rounds from a Russian machine gun with a tripod.  Rambo would’ve been jealous.  Firing these bad boys and blowing coconuts to smithereens was a badass experience and the grand finale to the whole Phnom Penh escapade.
"Yippee ki-yay motherf*er!"

After that, the tuk-tuk driver raced me to the airport and I hopped on my flight back to my first love, Thailand.  I had a great time in both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.  Cambodia is now one of my favorite countries.  My only regret is not being able to spend more time there.  The food, the historical sites, the prices, and the people are all fantastic and I hope I get to go back again.  Maybe next time I’ll shoot rocket the launcher. 

Please... No smoking, no photography, and NO HAND GRENADES!

Thousands of skulls, teeth, and bones are kept in a shrine at the Killing Fields to pay respect to the dead and remind people of what the Cambodians went through
A tooth washed up from the rain that I found on the ground at the Killing Fields

Me, about to get medieval on a coconut... 

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