Wednesday, 30 March 2016

S-21 and the killing fields

Anyone who stalks my Facebook will see the post I made about S-21 and the killing fields so today's post is essentially a modified version of that.

We got breakfast and headed off to S-21 in a tuk tuk we had agreed on a price on for the day. Here's an insight into the history and what we saw;

Between 1975 and 1979, one quarter of Cambodians died. A new government, the Khmer Rouge came into power and attempted to purify the nation, setting up collective farms with impossible production targets and forcing people to work up to 19 hours a day on a couple of spoonfuls of rice.
Anyone considered a threat was arrested and sent to prisons like s21. This could be anyone educated, skilled, who spoke a foreign language, wore glasses, had 'soft hands' (considered a sign of creativity) etc. These people had done nothing wrong.

Beaten, cut, electrocuted, shackled in rows by the ankles, forced to lick up their own defecation, starved, they were forced to write statements confessing to crimes they hadn't committed. One Australian man in his 20s sent here for sailing on Cambodian waters wrote a ridiculous & oddly humourous confession; accusing Colonel Sanders (aka KFC man) of being his senior in the CIA, as well as his own mother (to show her that he was still thinking of her before his execution).

Prisoners lay next to dead bodies for hours, sprayed through the window with a hose to 'shower' 4 times a year. These were men, women and children, many arrested 'of kin' meaning that they would be sent here because of their family. A Cambodian saying goes 'to kill a weed you must cut off its roots'; they would send the entire family to prevent anyone seeking revenge. There are thousands of mugshots; tiny children who didn't understand what was happening to them, accounts of newborn babies being murdered, children sent there simply because their parents were trained doctors or engineers.
Of the 14000 people to enter S21, 7 survived.

Though many died here this wasn't planned; executions were held in killing fields. Blindfolded and led to open graves the victims were beaten and cut to save bullets, babies and children beaten against trees (when discovered the tree had human remains on it from these beatings; these included hair, blood and pieces of brain). Later they poured chemicals over the graves to finish off anyone still alive and to cover the smell, while loud revolutionary music played to block out the screams so that local people wouldn't work out what was happening.

This all happened in the late 1970s, while our parents, and some of you, were alive, in a country not so far from ours. Yet we are not taught about the history or the aftermath it has left the country to deal with; many powerful western nations supporting the government responsible until the 90s.

There isn't a happy ending but I feel compelled to share this with people as prior to today I knew nothing of this nation's so recent suffering. Rest in peace to the 2 million victims, may no one suffer like they did

There's no way in words to express how horrific it was to see in person; the real cells these victims spent time in, the weapons used to torture them, walking through the killing fields where fragments of the victim's bones and clothing were coming through the shallow graves. People probably think of this as a far away, third world country, wildly different to our own, but this is a country full of people like us; it had cinemas, office blocks, houses, hotels, cars, televisions. This happened in a time of colour photographs and modern technology and it's still largely ignored by western countries. The victims are owed universal education about what they want through, and the Western nations included our own who supported the government responsible for years afterwards should be embarrassed.

After this emotional afternoon (hadn't anticipated walking round a museum crying to be honest) we got food at the hostel, went on a mini mart trip and are now watching the inbetweeners 2 in the communal area at the hostel.


We set off on our 7 hour journey to Cambodia armed with our last lot of bakery produce. The journey wasn't too bad; it was a fancier bus than we've previously travelled on with a tv playing strange Asian karaoke and free snacks. I was sat next to a Cambodian girl who offered me her food- can't imagine that ever happening in England!

We stopped off a few hours in for some lunch. Based on my rather beige and carb based diet I decided to try some traditional food, and ordered a green curry which I thought was vegetable. On closer inspection I discovered it was in fact packed with meat, like warm and tasted like I was sucking on the carcuss of a goat. I'm not a fussy eater, but combined with the risk of food poisoning I decided to give it a miss and consume something safe and beige.

We got our visas easily and quickly passed through the border; much less eventful than when we got to Vietnam and had to walk for ages with no idea where we were going.

We arrived in Phnom Penh around 3.30 and it was sooo hot. A tuk tuk driver practically begged us to use him but with no hostel booked we used some wifi and spent 15 minutes or so on hostelbookers tracking one down which our tuk tuk driver took us to for $1 each. We arrived at our hostel to a beautiful sight; the same bakery as the one in To Chi Minh opposite. We went in and arranged for a triple room for $7 each per night. It seemed too good to be true, and kind of is. A massive room with 3 double beds, a tv, air conditioning and a fan and a plug by each bed. However a worrying number of insects have made their way out from under the beds (it's it's no from me) and the bathroom is somewhat temperamental; the knob that turns on the shower is broken and takes several minutes and complex attempted mechanic work for us to get it to turn on. But hey, for $7 it's still a bargain; it's a good location with nice, (definitely stoned) staff.

We spent a while settling in, showering etc and then set off for some food. We walked through a market for locals; seeing a lot of seafood out in the open, chickens still alive with their legs broken etc was pretty weird. We found a nice but pricey restaurant overlooking the river, but generally it is more expensive here. We all opted for spaghetti with vegetables; who thought we'd get to a stage where a wanted healthy food, and then headed to an ATM. Withdrawing money incurs  a $4 charge which is annoying, and also ATMs dispense American dollars here; I found this out after attempting to withdraw $100000, thank god it declined!

We headed back to the hostel after stopping at a mini mart and as usual were in bed by 10. Craaazy

Laura x

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

last day in vietnam

Our last day in Vietnam :( this has been my favourite place so far, I want to live in Ho Chi Minh City! We woke up at 7 ish and Molly and i were pretty hungover. Possibly bucket sized drinks should be limited to one each... After showering we set off to burger for a suitably greasy breakfast but tragically it was closed. Fortunately the bakery was open which definitely helped and we got onto a bus to the mekong delta at around 8.30. The drive took almost 2 hours so we arrived just before 10.30 and set off to a boat we were travelling on. Our guide was really nice and we set off down the river

After a while we arrived and got off the boat. Here was a small shop area and then we went for a short walk through the local fruit trees; jackfruit, coconuts etc where we arrived for lunch. The trip was only £5 each but we got a huge Vietnamese lunch including rice paper rolls made at the table and a noodle broth which was really nice. Afterwards we got back onto the boat and drove to an area where we tried local honey tea which was delicious and saw where they kept bees and then went to some rowing boats. We boarded in 4s, we went with a really nice Filipino guy and set off. The scenery was beautiful but the people rowing us along kept asking for tips which was a bit awkward. She was holding out like suggested amounts but we had very little money- the ATM we tried that morning was out of order and when Lauren and I eventually scraped together the last of our change the woman laughed! But it was a beautiful area to see.

After this we walked around for a bit and arrived at an area where local musicians performed and each table was given a platter of fruit which was delicious. The awkward tipping continued but this time we had no money left so abruptly left to avoid too much awkwardness! Then we walked outside but it was boiling hot and i thought i was going to melt and then got onto a horse drawn carriage which we rode for 10 minutes or so which was fun.

We started to walk back to the boat with our group when we saw some tiny tiny puppies !!! They were sooooo cute and we went to see them and aw it was just adorable. Then we boarded the boat back to the coach and began the journey back to ho chi minh.

We arrived back around 5.30 and set off to the same Indian restaurant as the night before (it was that good) where we had another delicious meal. We went back to the hostel after a quick trip to the mini mart and packed up our stuff in preparation for going to Cambodia tomorrow

Laura x

Monday, 28 March 2016

Had a pretty quiet day which was nice. We left the hostel about 11 and the others headed to burger king for breakfast but I decided to get something vaguely healthy because of my cold so opted for Pho and a coconut. Pho is basically a broth with noodles in and i had mine with vegetables which was really nice.

I met the others and we walked towards a park but stopped on the way at a tour office to see how much trips to the Mekong Delta were. They were 150000 dong- £5 so we paid there and continued to the park. It was about a 15 minute walk and we sat down on a bench. After half an hour or so I decided to go to the post office which appears to be the only place in the city you can send post cards from so as we were already half way ish it made sense to go from there. It was another treacherous journey but I made it and walked back to the park.

We stayed a bit longer than headed back to the hostel. We showered and got dressed and went out for dinner at an Indian restaurant listed on the top 10 cheap eats in the city. It was sooo nice and we all agreed it was the nicest meal we'd had on the trip so far. We went back to the hostel and I skyped my family and lauren showered.

We went to a cheap bar near our hostel. The drinks were big and we sat outside but people begging and selling stuff kept coming up to us. We've got used to shaking our heads at the sunglasses sellers who are approximately every metre, but one came over and after Molly expressed interest in a sunglasses he wouldn't leave. He wanted $5 for it, she said no, and kept lowering the price. He looked so desperate and upset it was horrible to watch and when Molly bought one for $2 me and Lauren gave him some money- a tiny amount really but he looked so happy. After that several more street vendors approached us including a tiny skinny girl who looked about 6 who we later saw with her mum who was also selling stuff while holding a tiny baby. It was so horrible to see because it's difficult to know what to do; If her daughter sells a lot her mum will keep sending her out, but if they sell nothing they might not be able to eat. It was really sad to see these people forced to beg as so far we've seen very little poverty; although some of the housing conditions are poor compared to western standards we've seen very few homeless people and everyone just looks really happy. It's difficult ethically because obviously people selling stuff take advantage of us being tourists and give falsely high prices which we can't afford, but maybe we should be giving them more money anyway.

Anyway, a couple of vodka buckets later we were no longer on the verge of years and had a chat with a Nigerian man who thought we were all 27- concerning when I look about 12. It's weird that I feel so safe here; the locals are friendly and seem genuinely nice and we've only encountered about 4 weird men in the whole month; back in Bournemouth I'd expect that on one night out. I headed back to the hostel about half 11 and the others followed a couple of hours later. It was a fun evening though we probably shouldn't have done it the night before an early morning tour.

Laura x

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Cu Chi Tunnels

We woke up at 10ish and after showering headed to the bakery for some breakfast. After pastries we walked along the road towards a tour office thing and stopped at a touristy shop where i bought some postcards and a slightly excessive number of bowls. We got to the tour place which seems to be the cheapest around and lauren and i booked an afternoon tour to the  Cu Chi tunnels for £2 (Molly didn't fancy it).

We set off on a mini bus at 1 ish and arrived at around 2.45. We watched a short film which have some insight into the Vietnam was and then walked around the sight of the tunnels; where many soldiers and guerilla fighters spend much of their lives during the war. There was a network of tunnels containing houses, hospitals, kitchens etc as well as bunkers for fighting, all disguised so that the American soldiers wouldn't find them. They were really complex and impressive to see, though after walking/crawling through a short distance of them we decided we definitely wouldn't want to spend a prolonged period there. We also saw traps they had made for the soldiers and it was just really impressive.

There was an opportunity to fire a gun- we opted for an ice cream instead (what is appealing about the deafening sound?!) And also later were able to try a local dish which was really delicious before heading back and arriving at around 7. We met Molly and headed to a fast food place for dinner- classy. I was very excited about fish nuggets which did not disappoint and then we went to a fancy ice cream parlour for dessert which was really nice. I've managed to develop a cold- possibly need to reevaluate my diet...

Laura x

Friday, 25 March 2016

Dam San Water park

After one of us learned of the park's existence through tinder (I'll allow them to remain anonymous) we were excited to visit. Described as a massive,empty water park it sounded a perfect way to deal with the 30°c+ heat, and there was even a bus we could get there. So, armed with bakery products we picked up in the morning, we set off on the number 11 bus to the water park.

We arrived after 40 minutes or so; making our 15p bus tickets a bargain and walked to the entrance. It turned out it was not the eantrance, and then 3 different people proceeded to point us in the right direction, some 400m down the road. Onwards we want, past the deserted park we'd initially tried to gain entrance to (apparently another attraction) until we reached the actual entrance. And the most children I've ever seen. Or heard. It was like a swarm of wasps; there were probably 200 or so eating lunch just inside the entrance all screaming to their friends in the same pitch. Not to be put off we headed inside after paying, walking amongst the crowds of children running around who were entirely unfazed as they'd slip and fall over, and whose favourite hobby seemed to be shouting 'hi' to us.

We'd been given a guide book and discovered an area specifically for foreign guests; a private rooftop terrace with free lockers (instead of 50p ones for everyone else) and sun loungers, which was a nice surprise. We spent the day on rides and in the pools; a huge wave pool with rubber rings, a warm outdoor pool and a Jacuzzi, all of which were really nice and refreshing. The slides themselves were quite scary; the tiny children jumped and ran fearlessly to the entrance while we panicked and screamed the whole time. It was still really fun; I just started to question the health and safety regulations but nothing bad happened!!

We left the park at about 4 after going on nearly all of the slides and just taking full advantage of our entrance fee- though that was less than £5 anyway! And got the bus back. We had plans to go and get an ice cream and headed from the bus stop towards the shop when an English man approached us. I was wary; there are notoriously loads of scams here but he asked if we would like to watch a culture show for free. It has recently come back to the stage and not very many people were going to the night's performance so to benefit the actors he was looking for attendees. We agreed to go and walked into the theatre where people were stood enjoying free refreshments (all delicious apart from a coconut wine which was more like a shot of malibu).

The show was really interesting to watch; it told the story of Vietnam's history and culture and involved lots of music and dance. The people in it were really talented and although in places it could have used a little brushing up we could hardly complain when we'd seen it for free rather than the £15 ish entrance fee. Afterwards we thanked the man and lauren and i gave a measly donation of approximately £3- we're on a tight budget!! I also left a good review on trip advisor at the man's request.

We headed out for some dinner and went to a japanese restaurant. We all ordered the same tofu dish and it was pretty spectacular; then brought the food over in essentially a frying pan, poured sauce over it and basically cooked the food at the table for you. It was delicious and there were some vegetables in it; it was nice to branch out from the beige diet I've been following. Then we headed home and planned some stuff for the remainder of our days here and I skyped my parents which was nice

Laura x