The first of our Thailand ancient cities-Ayutthaya

All having gone well in Bangkok, we made the decision to head North for a few days to chill out a bit-and Ayutthaya emerged as the place to visit. I hadn’t heard of Ayutthaya before, but definitely glad that Jo found it and we made the trip North!

Just a two hour train ride from Bangkok, Ayutthaya was actually the largest city in the world back in the year 1700-with an estimated population of 1 million. It’s essentially a small Island (3km by 4km) surrounded by the Chao Phraya, the Lopburi and Pa Sak Rivers, and these river links, as well as the fact that it was located perfectly between China, India and the Malay Archipelago, helped it develop into the trading capital of Asia. As was its importance as a trading capital, the city has incredible influences from many of the international merchants that once did business there. China, India, Japan, Portugal, the Netherlands and France all had major effects on some of the sights and tastes that you can find today. Apparently the city flourished and was one of the grandest cities in the world, that was until the Burmese invaded and pretty much razed it to the ground, destroying many of the incredible buildings and temples that populated this small island.
Now the city has rebuilt around the remaining ruins of some of the temples, and is a great place to relax and do some more exploring. Best thing for me to do is just share some pics from our travels..There’re a fair few photos here, so before I lose your attention it’s well worth noting the food that we enjoyed in Ayutthaya as well-it was AMAZING. Probably the best street food that we have had so far, with a regular row of stalls where you could eat some gorgeous Thai fare for around £4….For the both of us! Really enjoyed Ayutthaya, now for a quick pitstop in Bangkok again before moving on to Krabi and the island of Koh Jung!

First glimpse of Wat Thammikkarat

First glimpse of Wat Thammikkarat

More of Wat Thammikkarat-interesting fact, Mortal Kombat was set here!

More of Wat Thammikkarat-interesting fact, Mortal Kombat was set here!

Was great to be in and around temples as it was getting dark

Was great to be in and around temples as it was getting dark

Dramatic lighting and everything!

Dramatic lighting and everything!

First of MANY Buddha photos!

First of MANY Buddha photos!

The steeps of Wat Phra Si Sanphet

The steeps of Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Wat Phra Si Sanphet-this was just a small part of the Royal Palace complex which was destroyed

Wat Phra Si Sanphet-this was just a small part of the Royal Palace complex which was destroyed

Love their elephants!

Love their elephants!

Central city monument

Central city monument

WASSSSSUUUUUUP!

WASSSSSUUUUUUP!

No, not the Loch Ness Monster, but one of the many monitor lizards

No, not the Loch Ness Monster, but one of the many monitor lizards

The leaning towers of Wat Mahathat

The leaning towers of Wat Mahathat

Wat Mahathat

Wat Mahathat

Dusk creates some of the most beautiful scenes

Dusk creates some of the most beautiful scenes

Famous Buddha head in tree at Wat Mahathat

Famous Buddha head in tree at Wat Mahathat

Same Buddha, different angle!

Same Buddha, different angle!

Sunsets on Wat Mahathat

Sunsets on Wat Mahathat

MASSIVE bronze Buddha at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon

MASSIVE bronze Buddha at Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon

That's one biiiiiig Buddha

That’s one biiiiiig Buddha

One of the many Buddha shrines

One of the many Buddha shrines

The river was absolutely teeming wiith massive catfish-seriously, this was just a photo from the jetty!

The river was absolutely teeming wiith massive catfish-seriously, this was just a photo from the jetty!

After all this temple exploring, have to find a nice spot for lunch!

After all this temple exploring, have to find a nice spot for lunch!

Wat Suwandararam

Wat Suwandararam

Wat Suwandararam shrine

Wat Suwandararam shrine

The paintings on the wwalls of this tempe were amazing, and told the life story of the Thai king

The paintings on the wwalls of this tempe were amazing, and told the life story of the Thai king

Tuk tuk rank!

Tuk tuk rank!

Loads of reclining Buddha's in Ayutthaya!

Loads of reclining Buddha’s in Ayutthaya!

Steeeeeeeeep!

Steeeeeeeeep!

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So long Cambodia, Bangkok bound once again

Originally our plan had been to travel up through Vietnam after Cambodia, but Jo needed to get some hospital treatment in Bangkok and so we organised for appointments at the world renowned Bumrungrad hospital-more on that later. With our 60 day visa in hand (courtesy of Lucky Lucky Motorcycle shop), time for our return to the Thailand via Battambang, the second largest city in Cambodia. Upon arriving you certainly don’t get the feeling that you’re in a big city, it’s a far cry from Phnom Penh, and has the atmosphere of a large town rather than a city-much akin to Kampot where we had been previously.

With only a couple of nights here as a stop gap, there isn’t too much to mention apart from our visit to the Battambang Circus-Phare Ponleu Selpak, a NGO which gives youths from deprived backgrounds the opportunity to learn circus skills very much in the ‘Cirque De Soleil’ style of performance. It is rated as the one attraction you have to see in Battambang, and so we were delighted to find out that there was a performance on the eve of our arrival. The performance was from those who were studying at the school, and it was absolutely brilliant-well worth a ‘big up’!

Amazing feats of balance....

Amazing feats of balance….

...With increasing difficulty

…With increasing difficulty

Strength and power...

Strength and power…

...Again with fantastic balance

…Again with fantastic balance

And then the aerial skills, which cam thick and fast

And then the aerial skills, which came thick and fast

Fantastic performances from some very engaging young acrobats!

Fantastic performances from some very engaging young acrobats!

So with not too much to report from the rest of our time in Battambang, we ate well and enjoyed watching some Taekwondo on the riverside…We once again boarded the bus to Poipet and the ‘Wild West’ border-time to try out the visas!
Fortunately, we were through the border with no problems, Lucky Lucky proved true to their name and we we granted a stay of 60 days in Thailand-PHEW!

Back in Thailand, back to a rail service-the five hour journey seemed much easier to cope with on our return-I think that you just get used to the travelling after a few trips. Getting back into Bangkok and first frustrations raise their heads at the train station-basically the taxis in Bangkok are extremely cheap, as long as you get them on the meter. Problem is, if you look like you need a taxi, or if you’re going to an area that the taxi driver doesn’t fancy-they either refuse to put you on a meter and quote you a ridiculous cost, or they just point blank refuse to take you! At the end of a hefty day of travelling, my patience is pretty short and my frustrations begin to show as driver after driver refuse our fare. One driver said that he would take us, but it would be 300 baht (about £6), but I wasn’t having it-I was determined to get in a metered taxi. It took about ten minutes to finally find a driver that would take us on the meter-total cost for the journey…78 baht (around £1.50), a small victory admittedly, but extremely satisfying! It’s a very strange situation when you get taxi drivers just refusing your business, definitely something that I couldn’t get my head around.

The reason for our return to Bangkok was that, before we left Blighty, we found out that Jo needed a minor operation, and that the recovery period for the op would be four weeks, during which time you’re not allowed to fly. We really didn’t want to delay our adventure and effectively tread water in the UK; especially seeing as we had left our flat and given up our jobs already, so we made the tough decision to get the operation done in Bangkok. Fortunately Bangkok boasts some of the best international healthcare facilities in the world, and the hospital that we were to be going to, Bumrungrad International, actually features as one of the top ten hospitals in the world for international patients. They treat 1.1 million patients each year, with over 520,000 of those coming from outside of Thailand. I cannot stress how much of a different world it is going to this hospital in comparison to healthcare in the UK. In Bangkok it is BIG BUSINESS, and this is evident as soon as you enter the building. Like something of a cross between a five star hotel, and a major international airport, it really is quite incredible! There are restaurants, coffee shops, and (to our disgust) a McDonalds…even a quite extensive gym, all within the confines of the hospital. What is quite bizarre is the way that things are processed with respect to your treatment-at the first appointment Jo met with the surgeon to discuss the procedure, and the was promptly put through a number of tests including a chest x-ray and ECG before they would even agree to operate. At the end of the evaluation we were given the go-ahead for the operation, and it could be performed within the next two days. It’s at this point that you’re given a break down of the various tests and consultations that you’ve had throughout the day-and then you need to go to the cashier (of which there are loads dotted around the place), and settle the bill for the costs incurred thus far. It really is an extremely business-like and efficient way of ‘getting things sorted’.
So, two days after the initial consultation and we were arriving back at the hospital for Jo to go into surgery, it was to be performed under general anaesthetic and so we were both, understandably, apprehensive about having this done so far from home. This element certainly was not helped at all by the fact that once we got to the reception, we were promptly told that I was not allowed to wait with her, and that she was to go through to the theatre preparation area immediately….I just had to go back to our hotel and wait for the hospital to call! As I’m sure you can imagine, something of an emotional goodbye and I was left to stew for a few hours waiting on news from the hospital, as Jo had to face the surgery preparation alone. Thankfully everything went without any problems and 8 hours after leaving Jo at the reception I was overjoyed to be meeting her and getting escorted back to the hotel together….After passing by the cashiers office obviously!

Now just four weeks of relaxing to plan to make sure that there is a full and speedy recovery-so now to get out of the craziness that is Bangkok and find something a little more relaxing-next stop the ancient city of Ayutthaya.

From one paradise to another, Ganesha @ Kampot…Then our return to Phnom Penh

It’s a pretty tall order to follow the serenity of Koh Rong Samloem, but next on our route round Cambodia was Kampot-officially classed as a city and a regional capital, but really it just fells like a large town.
It’s quite an odd introduction to the city as the bus makes its way in, much of the architecture is largely of French origin and it gives an impression of former affluence, however the city has definitely tired somewhat over the years-and the region suffered during the Khmer Rouge reign. Something of a monument to this period, and one of the main reference points for the town, is the old bridge that was partially bombed during the war and repaired with something of a mish mash of materials. Still, the city very much thrives on it’s industry, and is world famed for production of Kampot Pepper. Kampot is also the nearest major town to the seaside resort of Kep-which has the most amazing fresh crab market-and when combined with the Kampot Pepper you have a truly delicious dish!

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You can definitely picture how the buildings once looked, but many now are in  need of serious renovation

You can definitely picture how the buildings once looked, but many now are in need of serious renovation

The town very much revolves around the river-and at night you can take a sunset 'cruise' on this beauty!

The town very much revolves around the river-and at night you can take a sunset ‘cruise’ on this beauty!

When in Kep....

When in Kep….

All the fun of the fish market!

All the fun of the fish market!

Seriously, you eat crab here and it's FRESH!

Seriously, you eat crab here and it’s FRESH!

"Freeeesh fish, get you're fresh fish 'ere" (although obviously in Cambodian!)

“Freeeesh fish, get you’re fresh fish ‘ere” (although obviously in Cambodian!)

View from lunch table-you can actually watch them get the ingredients from the sea!

View from lunch table-you can actually watch them get the ingredients from the sea!

Trusty steed for exploring the area!

Trusty steed for exploring the area!

The guesthouse that we stayed at in Kampot was a little outside of the centre, and to be honest with you I was a little wary of what we were getting ourselves into on the tuk tuk journey there. Basically we left the smooth roads of the city and headed onto the dirt tracks, from the dirt tracks we turned onto even rougher mud pathways, littered with massive pot holes and at some points it seemed that we were just driving through peoples homes! As the journey progressed my apprehension grew-thinking that we were really going to find ourselves sleeping in a barn with some cattle….But then we arrived, Ganesha Guesthouse, truly an absolutely gorgeous gem in the middle of acres of rice fields. If you ever find yourself going to Kampot-go here: http://www.ganesharesort.com/bar-restaurant/
The food was absolutely superb with all ingredients coming from the immediate vicinity or the garden, the setting was gorgeous with it’s very own ox-bow lake, mangrove forest and gardens that lit up with fireflies at night, and the accommodation options are fantastic-we stayed in the main house and it was brill!

As we were out of the city somewhat, the easiest way to explore was to hire a scooter and hit the roads. Being something of a backwater-the roads proved to be easy enough to navigate, and we set off to explore Kep, the Kampot pepper farms and Bokor National park.

Female Buddha on the ascent of Bokor National Park

Female Buddha on the ascent of Bokor National Park

Abandoned Casino at the top of the mountain after is was attacked by the Khmer Rouge

Abandoned Casino at the top of the mountain after is was attacked by the Khmer Rouge

View from the Casino at the top of Bokor

View from the Casino at the top of Bokor

Popokvil Waterfall

Popokvil Waterfall

The Kampot province coast

The Kampot province coast

Feeling fully recharged and ready for the next step-Phnom Penh was once again our destination. Definitely a huge change from the R&R of Koh Ron Samloem and Kampot, but we needed to head back to get our Thai visa sorted.
As expected the bus journey was relatively straight forward and we one again found ourselves in the heaving heart of the capital city. We had arranged for our superstar of a tuk tuk driver and guide to meet us from the journey, and so it was great to arrive to a smile and a hug from a familiar face.
On our return to Phnom Penh we ‘lived it up’ a bit and stayed in a hotel, and just did everything that we could to get our visas as fast as possible. This actually included circumnavigating the Thai embassy-as when we researched the process for obtaining a 60 day visa we found many reviews saying how difficult it is to deal with the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh, and that it would take a minimum of four days if we were to do it ourselves. So, what do you do? Well-you go to Lucky Lucky Motorbike Shop, who will get the visa sorted for you in two days, obviously!!! Yes that’s right against all of your better instincts, we travelled to Lucky Lucky and left our passports with them to get our visas, and two days later-there we were, proud owners of 60 day passes for travel in Thailand….Well, at least we hoped we were, obviously we would find out for sure when we got to the border!!

Living it up a bit second time round in Phnom Penh :-)

Living it up a bit second time round in Phnom Penh 🙂

Rooftop cocktails you say?!

Rooftop cocktails you say?!

Food porn

Food porn

Phnom Penh Central Market

Phnom Penh Central Market

Phnom Penh Russian Market food section!

Phnom Penh Russian Market food section!

Love a good hanging chair me!

Love a good hanging chair me!

Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument

Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument

Love a good monument in Phnom Penh

Love a good monument in Phnom Penh

Rush hour

Rush hour

To the beach-Sihanoukville & Koh Rong Samloem

Having tackled the madness of Bangkok, wowed ourselves with the wonder of Siam Reap & Angkor, and immersed ourselves in the history of Phnom Penh, we both felt the need to get involved in some serious R&R!
Our research had lead us to Sihanoukville, the most popular coastal destination for tourists in Cambodia. The area boasts a number of beaches, and as with everywhere else in Cambodia the accommodation was extremely affordable! However, one evening in Phnom Penh we met a couple who were also heading to Sihanoukville, but they were actually just using it as a stop gap before they set sail to one of the islands off the coast. They recommended an island called Koh Rong, Cambodia’s largest island and, apparently, paradise! From their descriptions and a little bit of research we were sold, onwards to Sihanoukville before, hopefully, finding our own little slice of island paradise.

Again the preferred mode of transport is a bus, and 6 hours later we found ourselves at the familiar stage of batting off tuk tuk drivers while trying to unload our baggage from the bus. Here things were slightly different, apparently all of the drivers in Sihanoukville have made a pact and they charge a flat $5 fee from the bus station into the town-rather overpriced for the region, but there simply was no haggling.
It did come as some surprise when the driver that we did choose lead us to a car-honestly travelling in a car is something that felt quite alien after the last couple of weeks of various motorbike based transport or buses. Still, after a long bus journey we weren’t complaining and we set off for our guesthouse in the town, at this stage you get the usual sales patter from the driver-everyone gets a commission for everything over here.

Upon arriving at the guesthouse we were happy to find that it was very nice-free pool, free Wi-Fi, nice restaurant and fantastic beetroot smoothies! Settled and fed, we set off to try and find some accommodation for Koh Rong. It’s at this point that once again our plans changed, it would seem that Koh Rong is no longer the semi-deserted paradise that it once was, while it is still supposed to be gorgeous, it became apparent that Koh Rong is now a party island, and the desired R&R sanctuary may not be found here. Instead we were directed towards Koh Rong Samloem, an island which is pretty much next to Koh Rong, however with only a few guesthouses on the entire island it seemed to be the only choice for our retreat. Accommodation booked, hi speed ferry tickets bought, it was just down to us to pack our stuff again and get ready for our island adventure.

We ended up staying in a jungle hut about 20 meters from our own private beach, with no hot water, no wifi, no phone signal and electricity only between the hours of 6-11PM…..We’d found it, bliss!!!
Needless to say there isn’t much more to say about our four days here-I’ll just share some photos instead 🙂

That's right....It's OUR beach!

That’s right….It’s OUR beach!

Niiiiiiiice view from the reception

Niiiiiiiice view from the reception

A demonstration of success in adversity!

A demonstration of success in adversity!

Dusk approaches!

Dusk approaches!

Snorkelling action shot!

Snorkelling action shot!

....Coral

….Coral

Bit more underwater SHRUBBERY!

Bit more underwater SHRUBBERY!

Coral?

Coral?

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This is our mate Hermon, a fine example of some of the native life :-)

This is our mate Hermon, a fine example of some of the native life 🙂

Ahhhhh the lovely gecko, mosquito killer!!! :-)

Ahhhhh the lovely gecko, mosquito killer!!! 🙂

Seriously, this place was gorgeous!

Seriously, this place was gorgeous!

Duuuuuuh duh duh duh, duh duh,  duh duh,  Hammocktime!

Duuuuuuh duh duh duh,
duh duh,
duh duh,
Hammocktime!

It would seem that tourism is on the up here though, with more developments on the island planned and the local village being somewhat impacted by the current influx of divers, it remains to be seen how long Koh Rong Samloem will stay as it is. There are initiatives which are being put in place to protect the coastline, so hopefully these will prove effective and the island will offer the same sanctuary to others in the future!

During our time on the island we had become friends with the team of diving instructors that had arrived the day after us. They were a group of guys from a diving school in Cyprus, and were going to be running the school on the island for the next four months. What a life, following the sun and working in amazing places around the world!
On leaving the island and setting off for Sihanoukville again, the guys from the diving school were also taking a trip to the mainland to get some supplies and go out for some beachside local seafood, so we organised to meet up with them so they could show us the local way of dining out! Queue the most amazing feast of crab, tom yam, clams and prawns on the beachfront with the locals-seriously the best seafood of the trip so far. If I’m to be honest I probably wouldn’t have eaten at the venue if it weren’t for the guidance of our new friends, it was all a bit confusing, daunting and a little bit crazy-but it was absolutely delicious! The evening continued with something of an over-indulgence on cocktails and laughter, a fantastic end to our Cambodian beach and island chapter!

….And now for something completely different!!

It goes without saying that our first day in Phnom Penh had a profound effect on both of us, and so the evening passed as a quiet and sober affair with contemplation and discussion of the day.
The following morning Thearea once again picked us up from our guesthouse and we set out for a day of more ‘traditional sightseeing’-The Grand Palace, The National Museum, and Silk Island (otherwise known as Mekong Island). Rather than another wordy post-a few pictures from our second day in Phnom Penh:

A view of the internal courtyard of The Grand Palace

A view of the internal courtyard of The Grand Palace

As you can imagine, the Cambodian people are extremely proud of Angkor Way, and it's a symbol you see everywhere-this is a replica featured in the Grand Palace

As you can imagine, the Cambodian people are extremely proud of Angkor Way, and it’s a symbol you see everywhere-this is a replica featured in the Grand Palace

The Grand Palace hosts a number of different monuments within it's grounds

The Grand Palace hosts a number of different monuments within it’s grounds

As is the norm, a stunning day without a cloud in the sky!

As is the norm, a stunning day without a cloud in the sky!

There are many, many Buddha statues in and around the Grand Palace.... and everywhere really!

There are many, many Buddha statues in and around the Grand Palace…. and everywhere really!

Buddha?

Buddha?

Not Buddha!!

Not Buddha!!

Spot the butterfly?!

Spot the butterfly?!

One of the numerous temples in the grounds

One of the numerous temples in the grounds

This is actually in the Palace grounds, and is a temple hidden within some shrubbery... what's that I hear you say? SHRUBBERY?

This is actually in the Palace grounds, and is a temple hidden within some shrubbery… what’s that I hear you say? SHRUBBERY?

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An absolute picture of calmness, always the way when travelling in Thearea's Tuk tuk!!

An absolute picture of calmness, always the way when travelling in Thearea’s Tuk tuk!!

A picture with the man himself on the ferry from Silk Island

A picture with the man himself on the ferry from Silk Island

From Phnom Penh and the craziness of a major capital city in Asia, the beach called-next stop Sihanoukville and the first island of what we hope is many, Koh Rong Samloem!

Phnom Penh: S-21 and Choeung Ek Killing Fields

….And so Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor fade into the distance as the next leg of our journey takes us on an eight hour bus journey to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. It was a long, hot, but relatively comfortable journey-it’s pretty much a single road that runs the whole way.

As you enter the outskirts of Phnom Penh I definitely noticed a sense of foreboding, after the wonder and beauty of Angkor, being thrust into a capital city is quite a shock to the system. As the bus pulled in to our drop off point, we were greeted with the usual gaggle of tuk tuk drivers touting for your business-I find myself having to bite my tongue at these points,as after a long and cramped bus journey, having to try to negotiate with tuk tuk drivers isn’t at the top of my to-do list! All I really want to do is stretch my legs and consume the environment that I now find myself in-but that just doesn’t ever really work out, so you just have to click into ‘negotiate’ mode and try and get the best price for your journey.

It was at this point we met our driver, Thearea (pronounced Thierre), and his first input to our journey was to strongly advise us against our choice of area to stay in….However we were not to be moved, we had found a bargain and we were sticking with our choice. As it turns out the guest house was great, but it was in a really dodgy area of Phnom Penh, and we were advised not to leave the premises after dark for fear of getting robbed! “Welcome to the capital!”
Thearea talked us into hiring for him the next day to takes us round the must see sights of the city, and so we retired to our lodgings for some food, a couple of beers, and a nice early night before the sightseeing to come.

The next morning arrived and we set off to immerse ourselves in some of the more upsetting and dark details about Cambodia’s recent past. I am, of course, referring to the atrocities that occurred in Cambodia under the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Lifting directly from Wikipedia for the sake of accuracy:

‘The organization is remembered especially for orchestrating the Cambodian genocide, which resulted from the enforcement of its social engineering policies. Its attempts at agricultural reform led to widespread famine, while its insistence on absolute self-sufficiency, even in the supply of medicine, led to the death of thousands from treatable diseases such as malaria. Arbitrary executions and torture carried out by its cadres against perceived subversive elements, or during purges of its own ranks between 1975 and 1978, are considered to have constituted genocide’

The Khmer Rouge government arrested, tortured, and eventually executed anyone suspected of belonging to several categories of supposed “enemies”,[30] including:

  • Anyone with connections to the former Cambodian government or with foreign governments.
  • Professionals and intellectuals – in practice this included almost everyone with an education, people who understood a foreign language and even people who required glasses
  • Ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Chinese, ethnic Thai, and other minorities in the Eastern Highlands, Cambodian Christians, Muslims, and the Buddhist monks. The Roman Catholic cathedral of Phnom Penh was razed. The Khmer Rouge forced Muslims to eat pork, which they regard as forbidden (ḥarām). Many of those who refused were kill. Christian clergy and Muslim imams were executed.
  • “Economic saboteurs” – many former urban dwellers were deemed guilty of sabotage due to their lack of agricultural ability.

Those who were convicted of treason were taken to a top-secret prison called S-21. The prisoners were rarely given food, and as a result, many people died of starvation. Others died from the severe physical mutilation that was caused by torture.[58]

Our first stop was to visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum, the place where 20,000 people were held, tortured and killed. Under the Pol Pot regime education was abolished, and so quite perversely the prison known as S21 was previously a school.
Thearea picked us up at the guesthouse as promised, and as our journey began-the real impact of the recent history started to become more and more apparent. Thearea is 46 years old, and he lived through the genocide that the country faced in those four years-and as we ride in the back of his tuk tuk, he began to share his personal account of what happened. The stories that he shares over the next two days are incredibly moving, he looks forward with hope and optimism despite the atrocities that he personally witnessed, and for sure Thearea emerged as something of an inspiration.
We arrive at the museum and the first block you enter is the part of the school that was converted into the torture cells, and the atmosphere is thick and menacing. As we went through the cells where the torture occurred, the mood drops significantly and you can’t help but feel upset and sickened at what had happened in these rooms-metal bed frames and iron shackles littered throughout, and ominous stains on the floors.
Through these cells and you come to a collection of pictures of some of the victims held at S-21, as well as many of the staff who were responsible for their incarceration. Many of the Khmer Rouge army were young children and teenagers, taken from their families at a young age, and brainwashed into following the command of the regime-often their first victims would actually be their own families, as part of the indoctrination to the army.

The torture cells, complete with leg shackles

The torture cells, complete with leg shackles

Pictures of the victims found in the cells

Pictures of the victims found in the cells

The holding cells

The holding cells

The entrance to the holding cells

View down on the prison yard

View down on the prison yard

Feeling pretty overwhelmed, we continue our journey and follow what would have been the final journey for those who were incarcerated at S21, The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. There are many of these sites across Cambodia, roughly 1.4 million Cambodians were executed in total, but Choeung Ek is perhaps the most famous and is now a Buddhist memorial to the victims. It is believed that all 20,000 people who were at S-21 found their final resting places here.

As with all of the stories relating to this period, the history is horrific-prisoners were transferred blindfolded from S-21, being told that they were being transferred to another prison. They would arrive at Cheoung Ek at night, and they would be executed and deposited into mass graves. To make this even more disturbing, the Khmer Rouge didn’t want to waste bullets killing these prisoners, and so they were killed using implements found at the site-from using farming tools to club the victims to death, to utilising the serrated edges on a palm tree to slit throats-the details are things of nightmares. Men women and children were slaughtered here indiscriminately, and bizarrely the Killing Fields today are quite beautiful.
Still bone fragments rise to the surface during the rainy season and these are collected and displayed in memory, they uncovered some of the mass graves but made the decision to leave the rest of the site untouched.
As you walk round you listen to an audio description of the atrocities that occurred, and it is quite overwhelming. At the end of the tour you come to the final resting place for many of the skulls and bones that were uncovered, sorted by age, sex and method of execution. A final tribute to those who lost their lives not only at S-21 and Choeung Ek, but throughout Cambodia at the time.

I had some knowledge of Pol Pot and his war crimes before we came here, and I shall take away a little more…However this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the story of Cambodia and it’s people in recent history-and for sure I don’t have the words or complete understanding to do it any justice.
One thing that I can say though is that my experience of the Cambodian people has been fantastic-everyone that I have met has been so friendly and welcoming, given the fact that these atrocities happened in living memory for many-it’s testament to the resolve to move onwards-or at least that’s the impression that I get.

The Killing Fields

The Killing Fields

One of the mass graves

One of the mass graves

Walkway of reflection

Walkway of reflection

The Buddhist Stupa containing the memorial

The Buddhist Stupa containing the memorial

All the skulls organised over ten stories in height

All the skulls organised over ten stories in height

Display of skulls in the Stupa

Display of skulls in the Stupa