Kootje Dijkstra | 2018: Hi Cambodia!
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25 Feb 2018: Hi Cambodia!

The new year had started, 2018! We spent it in Mui Né, Vietnam, and stayed in the same hostel for a couple of days. After Mui Né, we went to Ho Chi Minh/Saigon as our final destination in Vietnam. After spending two days in the former capital city of Vietnam, it was about time to catch the night bus to Phnom Penh. It took us 7.5 hours straight to reach Cambodia. We didn’t withdraw any dollars yet, so we were not able to eat or even buy water. Very unprepared 🙂

First impressions in Cambodia:
1. The heat
2. More expensive than Vietnam
3. Way less developed than Vietnam
4. The heat!!

That being said (did I say it was really hot in Cambodia yet?), Cambodia is beautiful. Along the road we stood upon some beautiful sceneries.

In the morning, we took a 5,5 hour busride to Kampot, just beneath Sihanoukville, and slept in a cabana in front of the river. It was owned by two French girls. It is interesting and striking to see all the French influences in Cambodia, and Vietnam as well. The architecture, the French cheeses all over, the small bistros, the alleyways and of course the wines!

Second day in Kampot: we rented a small scooter and went for a 30km ride to Bokor Hill National Park. On the road, we passed by a primary school, called Chhay Kpous.

Bokor Hill Station is located at the top, and used to be a casino. During WWII it was occupied by the French, later on in 1975-1979 by the Red Khmer. From that last period, it seems that there are a lot of uncovered tracks remaining from the rebels that took over the place. For example; the amount of bullet holes in the old church and the abandoned casino.

Busride to Phnom Penh // In Siem Reap, at the Wat Preah Prom Rath.

Sweetest friend in Cambodia // Murals in Siem Reap at the Wat Preah Prom Rath.

Fourth day in Cambodia, we moved from Kampot to Otrès Beach. We woke up in a cabana, right in front of the beach (meaning: ‘opening the door and having bare feet in the white sand’- kind of cabana) with only the sound of waves. We spent one day in Otrès, accompanied with the Aussies Sheridan & Cole.

After that, back to Sihanoukville. From there on we took a ferry to Koh Rong Island. Due to the drinking of the tap water, I became sick and had a stomach ache. But still, it was such an amazing island, that typical white sand and palmtrees- kind of island. At Nature Beach, we camped in a tent. There was hardly any internet connection (which doesn’t bother me at all) and only one small restaurant to have some food, but it was a really nice ‘vacation during vacation’  🙂

We went to Siem Reap to see, of course, the famous Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a huge complex and the largest religious monument of the world. Our tuk tuk driver took us the whole day to show us the most impressive monuments for 15 dollars, which was totally worth it. The entrance fee was super expensive, 37 dollars and for a backpackers budget quite some money. Especially when I figured that 35 dollars of this price is meant for the local government, while almost all renovations are done by third parties from India, China, Japan and Korea.
First impression: so. many. tourists. Even at 7.30am!

But yes, Angkor Wat is definitely worth the price. Because of the scope of the site and the fact that there are so many temples to see, it is no waste of money at all. We saw the Angkor Thom, where Tomb Raider was shot a few years ago. Angkor Wat is huge, really huge. It was built in the first half of the 12th century, originally as a Hindu temple, and later on it transformed into a Buddhist temple. The Khmer King Suryavarman II started the construction. After his reign, Angkor Wat was looted and stripped down, but also recovered.

The Red Khmer camped in Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom as well in the years 1970-1980, but did not cause damage to the monuments back then. The Thai did though, and took almost all heads of statues in 1990.

The day after, we booked a tour to the S21 museum and the Killing Fields.
We did an audio tour in the S21 museum, also called Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It used to be a high school, before it was transformed into a prison by the Red Khmer in 1975-1979. This is only one of the ±150 execution centers that the Red Khmer had during this period. In the first building, you are confronted immediately with one of the cells, that captured over 60 people at a time, tied to each other by shackles. In the tiles, you see a remaining ‘black’ stain, caused by blood and feces.

Around 12.000 to 20.000 innocent Cambodians were captured, tortured and executed in Tuol Sleng. Only 12 people survived Tuol Sleng, which was rare because everyone knew they were going to be taken to the Killing Fields spread out over Cambodia.

After Tuol Sleng, we went to the Killing Fields. Choeung Ek is one of the most well-known ones. I think this must be one of the most imposing things I have ever seen. As said before, there are Killing Fields all over Cambodia, in total over 300, and over 3 million people (25% of the whole population!) were executed here. In the image, you can see the ‘Killing Tree’. Children were taken by their ankles and were literally smashed to the tree, killing them right away and in front of their mother and siblings. After some time, the corpses were drenched in DDT, a chemical substance to mask the smell. // At the entrance, you are faced to the Memorial Stupa, where the remains of Choeung Ek’s victims are preserved. Divided over seventeen layers, you can see the bones and skulls, all marked. Women, men, children, which ages and how they died (shot or beaten).

The ideology of the Pol Pot during the Red Khmer time, was inspired by four principles:
1. Independence and self-reliance
2. Preservation of the dictatorship
3. Total economic revolution
4. Transformation of the social values of the Khmer

In 1975, Pol Pot entered Phnom Penh and ordered every citizen to leave the city and move to the countryside. If you were an intellectual, you were troubled. Smart people were of no use, people had to be reformed to contribute to a new agrarian economy, mostly focused on rice production. The Khmer transformed the country into a classless society, meaning that schooling, private properties, money, foreign influences, religion and traditional Khmer culture were abolished.

Cambodia offers so much history, culture and impressive sites related to the struggles the country had years ago. And those acts are still going on today, not only in Cambodia, which is why it is in my opinion of great importance to see as well, besides of all the beautiful cities or national parks that the country offers.

After a whole month of traveling, it was time for me to go home. The 14th of January, I flew back to Ho Chi Minh, then I flew to Seoul to pick up my stored suitcases at Konkuk University, stayed there for 1,5 day and after that I flew to the Netherlands the 17th.

This was it! Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, we’ll meet again  🙂