|Morning of the 24th, we said good-bye to Vietnam and started our riverboat journey bound for Cambodia...a long day to be had! After being on the riverboat for more than seven hours and passing through the Cambodian border and customs, we finally arrived on land. We were both stoked to see an air-conditioned mini-bus waiting for us...seriously, the heat is getting so intense, it's the most extreme its been our whole trip...sweet, we thought, nice comfortable ride to Phnom Phen...little did we know, comfortable and Cambodian roads don't below in the same sentence...
After 5 minutes of driving on a dirt road, the driver stops and packs one more person into the already at-capacity van. "No problem", I say optimistically to Matt, "there's no way they can fit anyone else in here"...wrong again. Another 10 minutes of bumping up and down, and the driver stops again to pick up another three people...so long air-con, within two minutes it was a sauna in there...nonetheless, we obviously survived, and arrived in Phnom Pehn, the capital city of Cambodia, by 6pm.
So far Phnom Pehn is much different than either of us expected. We're staying in "the backpacker ghetto" on Boem Kam lake, where we have a cabin situated directly overtop of the lake itself, and can watch the sun rise and set behind the city. The city itself is much larger and more modern than we pictured, and everyone speaks amazing English. Cambodians are so friendly, and have the most beautiful smiles. Its incredible to think what they have survived and still have such a positive demeanor.
Our first day we hired a tuk-tuk driver (actually, he basically accosted us) and went to the S-21 prison museum. It is where the Khymer Rouge interrogated and tortured Cambodians during their terrible regime. Over three million people were killed by the Khymer Rouge, and they especially wanted to get rid of educated professionals. Ironically, the prison was actually a converted old high school. They used the classrooms as torture chambers and set up prison blocks to house the poor victims.
The museum was extremely sad and eery, and we just couldn't believe the torture that people suffered there. Its so unbeliavable to think that the Khymer Rouge got away with such evil, and that this happened relatively recently (in the late 1970s). One thing we noticed right away was how young their population is as a whole, and its because most people over 35 were killed during the genocide.
Visiting a place like that really chills you, and we both felt so sad after learning what really happened. We decided that the next day we wanted to do something positive for the people of Cambodia, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.
We hired the same tuk tuk driver the next day, who took us (as a torrential and short lived rain storm poured down around us) to the outskirts of Phnom Phen where we visited the Lighthouse Orphanage. Before getting there, we stopped off at a market and bought a 50 kilogram bag of rice for the kids. As we drove into the orphanage, the 45 kids swarmed our tuk tuk, and as soon as we got out, the immediatley held our hands and gave us hugs around the waist, all the while speaking perfect English and vying to tell us their names.
Before getting there, we were both a little nervous about what to expect - but as soon as we met the kids, we both realized that going there was a great idea...we had constant smiles pasted on our faces, as the kids told us jokes and stories. Those kids were so happy with the simple pleasure of meeting new people for an afternoon and having some individual attention paid to them. All they wanted was a little affection, and a chance to play. We were amazed at how well they spoke English, and we spent the afternoon with them, getting our asses kicked at a game of barefoot soccer on their dirt field. It was such a humbling experience to meet kids who have absolutley nothing, yet be such positive and charming people. It really makes you appreciate how lucky we have it at home. We have to admit though, leaving was really hard, because the kids grow on you so quickly.
After the orphanage, it was on to the Killing Fields, where the people who were tortured at the S-21 museum were finally taken blindfolded to be executed by the Khymer Rouge. The field was dominated by a fifty foot high glass memorial to the dead, that was filled with human skulls. Words can't even describe the place and the sense of loss and sadness that permeates it. As we walked around the fields, we were both silent in shock at the bones protruding from the ground, and the scraps of clothing from the dead that still litter the grass.
Our time in Phnom Phen was both chilling and enlightening. The prison museum and the killing fields shocks you with the reality of how cruel and evil humans can be to one another. At the same time, our experience there made us appreciate the resilience of the Cambodian people today, and their positive outlook for the future.
After 3 nights there, it was on to Siem Reap, to discover the beauty of Ankor Wat and it's amazing history.