6th – 10th January
The journey from Koh Rong to Phnom Penh included a two hour boat from Koh Rong to Sihanoukville, a 20 minute shuttle bus from central Sihanoukville to the bus station, and then a four hour bus to Phnom Penh.
We had booked one night at 88 Backpackers and three nights at The Mad Monkey. When we arrived at the bus stop in town, we were meant to be picked up by a tuk tuk sent by 88 Backpackers, but we couldn’t see it anywhere, so we had to accept a ride from one of the annoying touts. He told us it would take 15 minutes and cost $4, but remember they are always trying to rip you off. Even with no idea how far it was or what it should cost, I told him we had stayed there before going to Sihanoukville, so knew it was only $2 and took 5 minutes. He said make it $2.50 and ok, so we got in and I said ‘it’s only 5 minutes now, not 15’, and sure enough it was.
88 Backpackers was a nice place, in a wierd building, like some former mansion or embassy, we had to walk through big empty dining/conference rooms to get to our dorm. We had a much needed quiet night and went to Mad Monkey the next day and checked in. Later that night we met up with Vasco who’d just arrived in Phnom Penh, and had a few beers at the rooftop bar, where we met Eoin from Ireland and Sandro from Mozambique. The four of us tried to find a bar or club with some life, but it was Victory Day, a national holiday to celebrate the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, so it was lifeless in town, but the four of us found a bar for some beers in the red light district.
When we decided to call it quits, Vasco negotiated the tuk tuk home. The deal was, $1 to take us back to the hostel, or $3 and Eoin gets to drive! He went for the $3!
Eoin got in the tuk tuk, did a donut around the intersection and as he started to over-rev the shit out of it, the driver grabbed it and pulled him out, ‘no, no, no I drive from here!’
The next day a Danish bloke, Eoin, Jack and I got a tuk tuk to the Killing Fields. It’s a confronting experience, where there is still bone fragments visible in the ground. There are victims skulls on display, but the most disturbing thing for me was a tree, against which babies and toddlers were thrown and beaten to death.
As we left the Killing Fields, I saw down the road a few people, and three bloodied bodies lying on the road behind a stopped truck, with their smashed up motorbike stuck under the front wheels. They were dead, and we were amongst the first on the scene. I looked away, not wanting to see any more of it, but our driver pulled over and said, ‘You want to go see, take photos?’ – ‘Fuck no! get us out of here!’. That was the first time I had seen a dead body and I sincerely hope it will be the last. As if the killing fields weren’t shocking enough.
We then went to the S21 Prison. The S21 Prison was formerly a high school, but when the Khmer Rouge took control they converted it to a prison. It didn’t feel right taking photos, it’s really something you have to see for yourself. There are torture devices, blood splattered on the walls, ceiling and floors and photos of prisoners being forced to smile, or tickled, for their mugshots.
There are even a few former prisoners within the compound selling their books, they need to make money from their stories to support their families.
That night we met Ulrike and Tina from Germany and a few others including a very strange bloke from Australia and we went to The Top Banana and followed by the nightclub. The Aussie at one point asked me ‘how much does it cost to dance with the hookers?’ Not exactly my thing, and wasn’t sure what he meant by ‘dance’ at first, thinking he meant a little more than that. But no, he really meant just dance, and was thrilled when i told him he could probably get that far for free. He went missing at one stage and was seen dancing awkwardly with two at once, ha!
The next day we just chilled out and went out to some tiny, pretty shit bar/club with Patrick, the rap-battler from Perth. Jack and I called it a night early because we had to catch a bus early to Siem Reap.
Thoughts on Phnom Penh:
- It’s a bit of a dive. There’s a hell of a lot of poverty, begging and people generally hassling you. Not much to do either, apart from the historical sites.
- The club we went to was Pontoon, and it was only ok. The infamous Heart of Darkness looks ok from the outside, we never went in. Too many stories of rich Khmer kids and their bodyguards/entourage causing trouble. Generally speaking, the nightlife never lived up to the hype.
- As confronting as it is, I think it’s important to see the Killing Fields and S21 prison to understand how bad things were, and to avoid similar events in the future at all costs.
- Mad Monkey and 88 Backpackers were both very good hostels, both in good locations.