A Travellerspoint blog


Chinese New Year in Cambodia and Vietnam...

sunny 34 °C

Our journey began in the typical tradition of us, barely getting to the airport on time.
The error this time however not being our oversleeping or going to the wrong airport in the same city, oh no. This error revealed itself in the form of me underestimating the Chinese ability to tell time.
I specifically requested a car to the airport at 11am to allow for adequate travel time and traffic, but when our driver finally arrived just shy of 11:30am, we had no choice but to ‘Home Alone’ run through the airport to our check-in desk!
However, due largely in part to my obsessive positive thinking to resolve all worldly issues, we arrive with 15 minutes to spare for check-in and 15 minutes early for what became a slightly delayed flight anyway!
Thank you, universe!

We arrived in Shanghai starving, but slightly warmer due to its southern placement within the vast land mass that is China!
With food dutifully scoffed and suitable seating acquired for a quick nap, we settled in for a while until our connecting flight to Phnom Penh departed.
It wasn’t until we went for a cigarette near our departure gate (27) that I glanced at the board listing all departures and noticed a flashing sign next to our flight…
Thinking our positive thinking had finally failed us, I read the flashing note:
“Gate changed to 214”
Lady Luck was still with us and we walked (quite a distance) to Gate 214 only to wait for 10 minutes before boarding our flight :)

The flight was nothing special; standard seat, standard food, standard safety instructions. However, the journey was made slightly more intriguing by the 10 deaf Chinese passengers that accompanied us in the occupation of the back of the plane.
The gentlemen sat next to me was so happy, he took a picture with me and Ricky and laughed in a way I can only describe childlike. It was beautiful!
I brought a magnetic travel game of 5 across (thanks to a Christmas present from one of my students!) and without realising, the group of Chinese people were our eager spectators!
It was fascination watching them communicate effortlessly with each other, in a blissfully silent world, all of their own.

The flight arrive 25 minutes later than it should have and with a lack of Bureau de Changes where we live, we didn’t have any US Dollars to pay for our Cambodian Visa! After faffing around losing a massive percentage through airport exchange rates, we got out visas, our US Dollars and our fingerprints scanned….Apparently, this was some form of Cambodian security against roaming foreigners!
Good job that we’re usually good people… most of the time!


Now our hostel, Me Mates Villa, had agreed to pick us up from the airport (very kind of them, given that we were supposed to arrive at 11:15pm but didn’t actually leave the airport until 12:30am!) and they were still waiting for us with my name emblazoned on a piece of card!
Into the tuk tuk we Dre, our hostel helper, and away to the hostel we went.
They told us to go up to bed and check-in when we woke up as we were obviously tired!

We crept into our 8-bed dorm of 4 bunk beds, spacious and comfy with clean linens and a fresh towel. Not bad for $6 a night.
The bar was lovely with its 75₵ draft beer and incredible food, and the staff learnt our names instantly!

On the way to our hostel from the airport, Dre was telling us about all the tours we could do and what sights to see (not that my anal planning hadn’t already written down what to do in each of our destinations…!).
I was aware of course that planning trips through the hostel tuk-tuks would probably be more expensive than going it alone, but it is comforting to know our driver would be waiting for us wherever we went.
When we woke up the next day, we showered, had breakfast, organised our money and jumped in the tuk tuk with our driver for the day…


S-21 Prison and the Killing Fields

Our first outing took us to the Killing Fields where Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge movement took thousands of brutally tortured and slaughtered prisoners from S-21 to be disposed of.
On the way, our driver stopped and bought us some medical face masks as the road to the Killing Fields was incredibly dusty and underdeveloped.


Having lived in China for over 18 months now, Ricky and I have grown accustomed and desensitised to the sights of westernly-deemed, unsanitary food stalls, stray cats and dogs and children roaming the streets. These things would probably provoke a discussion between other western travellers, but to us, that just reminded us of home!

After about 20 minutes or so of driving, we turned down a pleasant enough road through trees and green fields until we pulled up to large, elaborate gates: The Killing Fields.
On first impression, the place was really quite stunning – beautiful greenery and flowers, large open spaces of nature in its purest form…

DSC_0006.jpg DSC_0003.jpg
DSC_0052.jpg DSC_0039.jpg
DSC_0038.jpg DSC_0037.jpg
DSC_0036.jpg DSC_0022.jpg

Upon receiving our audio guides and headsets, it didn’t take long to realised the genocidal atrocities lurking beneath all of that natural beauty.
As we progressed around the numbered path of this hauntingly beautiful place, we were audibly assaulted by the terrifying ordeals these people suffered.
Large plaques stood in place of the buildings with detailed descriptions of those buildings purposes.

DSC_0007.jpg DSC_0018.jpg
DSC_0023.jpg DSC_0024.jpg
DSC_0029.jpg DSC_0033.jpg

As we moved around and continued to listen to this reasonably modern horror story, we were introduced to mass graves of nameless men, women and children.
Visitors had begun a tradition of leaving holiday bracelets and Riel (small Cambodian currency) as tribute to those lost souls.

DSC_0047.jpg DSC_0046.jpg
DSC_0040.jpg DSC_0027.jpg
DSC_0026.jpg DSC_0025.jpg

We listened to survivor stories of dying children, no food, constant gang-raping and beatings.
One man spoke of a female worker who was bludgeoned to death with a hatchet to the neck, finished off with a sewage plunger until she violently convulsed and died – all for supposedly stealing a banana that was actually given to her by one of the guards…
We saw glass containers of rags and clothes, teeth and bones, and countless mass graves of the victims of S-21 Prison.

DSC_0057.jpg DSC_0056.jpg
DSC_0055.jpg DSC_0043.jpg

We saw the tree where babies were smashed against the trunk until they too died and were discarded in an open grave nearby. Another place of tribute from visitors to this harrowing sight.

270_DSC_0058.jpg 270_DSC_0051.jpg
270_DSC_0049.jpg 270_DSC_0048.jpg

A beautiful tree, named the magic tree, told a tale of loud music playing over the grounds to muffle the sounds of people being tortured and killed.

270_DSC_0061.jpg DSC_0062.jpg

Finally we arrived at the sompiah – a tall monument that we saw when we entered the sight built as a memorial to all the lost souls, displaying their bones and skulls as a visual aid to the already destroying aural tales of this place.

DSC_0011.jpg DSC_0013.jpg
DSC_0012.jpg DSC_0015.jpg

We finished the audio tour and returned the equipment in total silence. We left through the now less elaborate, and more confining gates and stepped back into normality.
We had a cigarette, found our driver, sat down and continued to say nothing.
Eventually Ricky turned to me and said, “I have no words to describe that”.
Nothing truer had ever been said.


We continued to S-21 - the prison that these poor people were sent to to be destroyed mentally before going to the Killing Fields to be destroyed physically.
Once again, apart from the dated buildings, the natural beauty of the place outside was juxtaposed by the inherent lack of beauty inside.

DSC_0097.jpg 270_DSC_0088.jpg
DSC_0109.jpg DSC_0076.jpg
DSC_0065.jpg DSC_0064.jpg

Wire beds, solitary in an otherwise empty cell, with only the odd shackles or torture paraphernalia to accompany them. Photographs of those victims hung solemnly on the wall.

DSC_0074.jpg DSC_0073.jpg
DSC_0072.jpg DSC_0069.jpg

We moved through the grounds into each building only to be greeted by hanging gallows, tiny cells devoid of even a chair and walls and walls of photographs. Nameless masses of victims, their identities gone from their hopeless eyes. Only numbers adorned their chests which provoked flashes of number-engraved Jews and other victims of the Nazi regime springing to mind.

270_DSC_0066.jpg 270_DSC_0070.jpg
DSC_0077.jpg 270_DSC_0078.jpg
270_DSC_0079.jpg 270_DSC_0080.jpg
270_DSC_0096.jpg DSC_0100.jpg
DSC_0087.jpg 270_DSC_0101.jpg
270_DSC_0102.jpg 270_DSC_0103.jpg

As the modern world progressed just over the barb wire-topped walls, I couldn’t help but notice that life inside this place appeared frozen, with only birds and stray cats let patrolling the grounds.

DSC_0104.jpg DSC_0110.jpg

We went back to our hostel to get some lunch before continuing our day by going to the Royal Palace…

Posted by Lady Mantle 19:32 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh travelling tuk_tuk genocide pol_pot chinese_new_year killing_fields khmer_rouge life_lessons s-21_prison late_to_the_airport natural_beauty horrible_history

Email this entryFacebookStumbleUpon

Table of contents


That was an amazing review of the killing fields...you should get it published xxxx

by mum

Comments on this blog entry are now closed to non-Travellerspoint members. You can still leave a comment if you are a member of Travellerspoint.