To get back from Phu Quoc to Ha Tien, we had a smaller yet equally as laborious trip back to mainland. We took a bus to the ferry port, a ferry across to Ha Tien and a bus to the main bus station to get across the boarder. We sorted out our Cambodian visa at their shop which is also a cafe. When it took them an hour and a half to make me a pancake and coffee I should probably have seen it coming that we’d be stuck there waiting for the bus for a while. A while it was indeed, after five hours we could finally get on the bus. The funny thing is that the bus took us ten minutes down the road to the boarder. We hadn’t even looked where the boarder office was, otherwise I’m quite sure that I’m five hours we could definitely have made to a kilometre down the road. Trying to keep tempers cool we carried on into the office. The lady from the cafe was handing us back our passports and of course she had lost Jayde’s. Jayde lost her shit at this point, and in front of everyone screamed at the woman, “I’ve been waiting in your cafe for five fucking hours, and now you’ve lost my passport. Find it”. Miraculously the woman came back a second later with her passport. We then had to wait outside some other building until the lady got over to us to then be taken into another office, where a man was printing off and sticking on our visas slower than a snail. We were sat there for another hour or two waiting for that, and then we were sent to get another bus. As a group going through we were around twenty two people. The ‘bus’ was a minivan with about 16 seats in. Jayde, Abbie and I went to sit on a seat at the back which was apparently meant for four or five people. It was not much than a meter long. We also had all our bags by our feet so our knees were practically knocking on our teeth. The lady came along, pointed at Jayde and said “too big, sit at front”, Jayde moved and she said it again and told her to get in the passenger seat. Once again Jayde lost her shit, shouted at the woman to get another bus because this one clearly didn’t have enough seats when people have to make a seat out of their rucksack. Some people had paid for this bus as a luxury bus! How hilarious! To no avail of getting angry, we all squeezed into the bus for a long drive to Phnom Penh. At one point it started raining, and of course the windscreen wipers didn’t work. So what did the van driver do? Stuck his head out of the window and carried on…
Finally, we had arrived in Phnom Penh.
S-21 is a prison used by the Khmer Rouge to torture people they thought were foreign spies, people trying to disobey or corrupt their regime or their own soldiers who have done wrong and are thought to be traitors. The prison is actually an old school, and at the time of the Khmer Rouge regime, no one had any idea that S-21 existed. Most families had been moved out of the city into the countryside by the time they brought people to the prison. It was found by the Vietnamese when they saved Cambodia. Be sure to get the audio guide as well as the entry as this really helps, otherwise you’re walking around looking at headshots and walls; it’s $8 for everything. The floors are still blood stained in the detention rooms, the steal torture beds still in the exact place they were found and photos of 14 unidentified bodies line the walls, photographed exactly as and when they were found. This museum isn’t for the faint hearted. We spent around four hours there in total. There are rooms full of photos of the prisoners; they had a head shot done when they were admitted. The eyes of each face in the photos tell something different, be that hatred, anger, terror or fear. The regime even took photos of people who died during torture to scare people into following their regime. We managed to listen to a survivor whilst we were there, the museum has someone different speak every day of the working week. He explained that they were made to join a new village, and their mother was assigned as a chef for the KR. One day the KR murdered over 100 villagers from another area and gave this man’s village the dead people’s clothes. They then brought his mother a strange looking liver to cook up, which she assumed was just from an animal but she had never seen a liver that looked like this one before. They later found out that the KR had killed a sixteen year old girl that afternoon and taken her liver. The mother had unknowingly cooked human liver, and the KR had eaten it knowingly. The museum also offers a meditation room, education lectures for students and a movie room for independent films on the regime.
Inspired, if I can use that word in this situation, by this experience I wrote this poem in the perspective of the building itself.
The moss that grows
As time increases my years, the moss thickens over my sides covering the scars I wear,
Forced to comply to a time foreign to anything I, in my youth, could have imagined
My skin bears the lost suffering of victims that will forever remain unknown,
Along with the secrets of their purpotrators,
A human diminished to less than a piece of dust
With nothing but an abhorrent photograph of their mutilated body to show for their life.
Sadness cries out of me,
Muted between the molecular formula of my mass,
The open windows, the light breeze tickling my sides
Will never eliminate the odour that lingers,
The death and suffering of innocent humans,
The inhumanity and deception born into my arms and, worse, nurtured in my arms.
Forever I must bear this trauma,
Locked away and inanimate
As feet tread now on the blood stains that ferment further into my soul,
The moss still grows.
Slightly out of town, the Killing Fields is where the Khmer Rouge would bring their workers who they found to be disrupting their rules. They would keep men and women separately, naked, and when night fell they would play propaganda music loudly and kill people one by one into mass graves that were dug up from Chinese graves. They would take them individually, whilst the music was playing to keep the other captives completely unaware. Bits of bones and clothing rags can be seen throughout the fields as the mud wears away and the buried body remains come to the surface. There is a tree which, when the fields were uncovered, was clad with blood, flesh and brains. It is just next to a mass grave of women and children and it is suspected that the men KR men would take the baby by the feet, smack it’s head on the tree and throw it straight in the grave. It wasn’t just an individual that would be killed, the whole family would be wiped out. Listening to the audio you can take a walk around the pond and listen to survivor stories. Some of which are particularly harrowing.
New Year in Phnom Penh
Our hostel, Mad Monkey, (which by the way has the best we have had in Cambodia for both western and Khmer) had some free drinks and the usual music and drink deals on in the bar. They were taking us to a club we had tried before which we didn’t like the music in so we ended up going around the streets with some friends and stopping at Cambodian street parties and dancing around with them! There were so many BBQs on the side of the road, the locals would invite us to eat and drink with them it was amazing. We saw the New Year in with a big group of locals and taught them the traditional New Year song and dance. We then walked the streets to get to the river, which were absolutely packed with bikes, people lined the curbs and the river was a hub of life. It was most definitely a New Year to remember, and how blessed we were to be invited to the local parties!
Central market is a gigantic market space, where you can find just about anything you might need to buy. I managed to get a fake go pro for $35, and you can find any clothes, jewellery, food or souvenirs that you may want. Be prepared to barter for what you want and be very happy and smiley when you do so because this makes them think you are nice and polite and will give you more money off.