I left for Cambodia after 2 days staying in Saigon. Before doing this trip, I had thought (even overthought) if I had enough money to fund it. But I looked back to the trips I have done so far and realized that I have always travelled with tiny budget and still survived. So why do I have to worry that much this time? Why so serious? Just do what I want and I will figure out how things work and what I should do. Don’t think think think, but do do do. I told myself so. And challenge accepted!
My first stop in Cambodia was Phnom Penh (PP). My first impression about this city was how dirty it was. Dust was everywhere, the whole city looked like a construction site. Don’t get me wrong but to be honest, Phnom Penh is the dirtiest capital city I have visited.
I stayed in PP for only 2 days but I had only 1 full day to visit this city as I came after midday. In addition, it was rainy season in Cambodia so the weather was very unpredictable. It could rain without notice. When I was about to take a walk around the neighborhood of my guesthouse, it started raining, so I ended up staying in my room, making plan for my touring the following day and did a bit of writing. I wasn’t meant to visit all places in PP. I just picked ones I really wanted to see, one of which was The Killing Fields since I have heard about Khmer Rouge many times before and I was actually keen on this one the most.
The Killing Fields is a bit far from the city center, about 15 km. To get there, you can go either by tuk tuk or by motorbike. Tuk tuks are always more expensive than motorbikes. You will be asked to pay 7$ – 10$ for a round trip with the tuk tuks but you can rent a bike with 4$ – 5$, maybe plus 2$ for petro and you actually can go anywhere with the bikes. However, bikes are riskier if you don’t know the way and in the worse situation, you may get in trouble with the cops. I was advised to rent a bike but 1) I didn’t know the way (no map or GPS with me at that time. I discovered the existence of Maps For Me which is an offline map later when I read my friend’s blog but it’s too late); 2) traffic in PP was crazy; 3) and the more importance was I didn’t want to get in trouble with the cops. I got stopped by the cops in Laos and had to pay money for nothing so I didn’t want to lose my money for stupid reasons like that this time. Therefore, I chose tuk tuk.
For the tuk tuk, I had to discuss price with the driver. My Cambodian friend, who I had met for a couple of hours in the morning before going to the Killing Fields, helped me bargain and the price was set with 5$/round trip. “Cool! So cheap! How it can be? Let’s go” I told myself excitedly. Unfortunately I couldn’t be happy for long. When the driver stopped at the gate of a museum called Toul Seng which is also a place about Khmer Rouge, I realized he misunderstood what we said to him earlier. He mistook the museum for the Killing Fields. Oh, damn it! I was totally lost in translation. Ironically, it’s my turn to bargain. I hated this job but I had to do. The driver kept telling me the minimum price was 10$/round trip but I couldn’t pay 10$. Too expensive. I tried my best then the price went down to 8$. It wasn’t the best price for me but I thought I had better go with it, otherwise I had to pay 5$ for what I didn’t want. 8$ but worth it is still better, isn’t it?
The road leading to the Killing Fields was dirty and tough but still better than the one to Buddha Park in Vientiane. There are two options for the entrance fee: 3$ for normally ticket and 6$ for one with audio guide spoken in 15 languages. The audio tells you about Khmer Rouge history and stories of ones who went through this harsh period, which is really helpful.
I should write some lines about this destination, shouldn’t I? The Killing Fields in PP was one of the main death camps during the Khmer Rouge. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed here, from children to the elderly, women to men, Cambodian to foreigners. Pol Pot killed so many people to such an extent that their bones were still somewhere in the field although they were collected. That’s the reason why there are signs “Please don’t step on bones” to remind people to be careful and respectful. The last stop of the tour around the field is a tower which displays skulls of Khmer Rouge victims. They were at different ages, killed in different ways and tools (being poisoned, alive burried , hitting over the heads with hammers knives or hoes, etc). Behind everything there (trees, houses, graves, clothes, ..,) was a sad story. Listening to the audio, seeing the relics, I felt someone was holding my heart. My chest, on the left, hurt. It was genuinely heart – wrenching. I just don’t understand why Cambodian killed Cambodian. Killing each other is the worst thing human being do. It’s beyond brutal. It’s animal! To get to understand this period more, you can google the film The Killing Fields!
This is a tourist spot but unlike the others, it’s horrifying but very solemn, touching and sad. Everyone who comes here to visit is very respectful. I could see that attitude on their faces and their actions. No one spoke, just listened and paid tribute to the victims of Khmer Rouge. It’s totally worth visiting. Visiting this place, I got to know some parts of the history of Cambodia and the relationship between Vietnam and Cambodia. Cambodian went through a harsh time with lots of deaths, blood, tears and hatred. Lessons from this time are not only for Cambodia, but also for other countries and the entire human beings in the world, I reckon.