The Truth About Cambodia

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Cambodia was a very special place. From the temples to the beaches, you can experience everything, and every emotion too. I wanted to write about Cambodia in a positive way because it’s an amazing place to visit. I also want to write about the negative things we have come across as well because that’s just as important.

I’ll start with something we learnt a lot about. The country was taken over in 1975 by a repulsive man known formally as Pol Pot. You may or may not have heard about what happened in Cambodia in 1975-1979. To be honest we knew nothing about this until we arrived. 

This was a time where the most shocking and heart-wrenching stories changed a lot of Cambodian’s lives. Pol Pot became Prime Minister in Cambodia and lead a group called the Khmer Rouge. This was an army/extremist group that followed the orders of Pol Pot. The orders were to take anyone that worked for the government or that was earning more money than the norm and kill them and their whole families. They even killed the children and babies in the most gruesome manner to prevent them from ‘getting revenge’ when they were older.

He did all of this with the idea that ‘everyone will be equal’. But this lead to 300 trucks full of innocent people each day getting taken to what is now known as ‘the killing fields’. Sam and I actually went there and it was just awful. To put it into perspective, 25% of the countries population was brutally murdered and this only took place 38 years ago. Which means the babies skulls that we saw would be younger than most of our parents. 
Across the killing fields lies teeth, bones, rags and clothes which had all come to the surface over the years. I’d really recommend watching ‘First They Killed My Father’ it is a new film directed by Angelina Jolie, and it shows what it was like when the Khmer Rouge were in force.

Along with this monstrosity, Pot also had a prison known as S21. If he didn’t want to kill his victims straight away he would get them taken to S21 where they were beaten, tortured and forced to write a fake confession, sign it and basically give them permission to beat/torture and kill them. The confessions were basically a story that the prisoner would make up and ‘admit’ that they were in the CIA. Out of the thousands and thousands of people that got taken to this prison, only 12 made it out alive. One of them we were privileged enough to meet outside of the prison and brought his book (which was very chilling to read). 

The rooms and cells that the prisoners were kept in, had barely been touched. So the beds/walls/floors still had blood all over them. I found it particularly difficult looking around as you can only imagine the terror that went on at S21. The killing fields were also devastating, but it’s very quiet there and if you look past the eerie historical facts, it feels like now there is a sense of peace. Whereas S21 still has everything inside it and feels far from ‘at peace’.

 One of the many rooms at S21.
One of the many rooms at S21.

I think visiting these places made me think about home a lot and how bloody grateful I am to have all of my family and friends, school, college, nights out, work etc… just life in general. When you see something like this it puts everything into perspective with how truly lucky we all are. Even when we think we have it bad, even when it feels like we have had a tough ride, in comparison to this we haven’t at all. 

As well as seeing the killing fields and S21 we also saw a few very famous temples. Angkor Wat being the most famous, which by the way, was incredible. We also saw the temple that the first Tomb Raider was filmed at. Siem Reap and Phnom Penh were 2 big, very busy cities with lots of things to see. So after about 8 days, we decided to get the bus to Sihanoukville where there are the most beautiful Cambodian beaches and islands. 

Throughout Asia, I’ve experienced children coming over whilst we’ve been eating and asking us for some food. A lot of the time they genuinely don’t have much and are hungry, so we give them food. However, in Cambodia, it’s on the mass scale and a lot of it is a scam. They come over to you when you’re eating your dinner in restaurants and beg you for food or money. 

It started off with some boys that come into the restaurant where we were eating in and asked us if we wanted to buy a bracelet. I said “no” because we were bloody eating and so they started pulling at Sams necklace and flicking him in the face, so I repeated myself “no thank you” and this boy who was about 6/7 shouted, “shut up, I didn’t ask you, you’re fat”. 

This wasn’t the only time we had issues with the kids. Phnom Penh was the worst though. Another time we were being bombarded by kids trying to eat our food and then when I asked them to ask me nicely they refused and moved on to the next people. Then a young girl around 9/10 started eating my dinner (when I finally gave in) and under the table, she was stroking Sams leg with her foot in some kind of seductive manner. I was bloody mortified.
 
Sam asked me if it was me stroking him and when I looked and saw her doing it I was gobsmacked. Sam started freaking the f*** out. We went to leave and then she started trying to grab our underparts. Yep, you read that right. What and why and what!!!!??? Where has she seen that? Or why would she think that’s okay?! I found this really tricky as I didn’t understand what she was trying to do or how to act in this situation. It also made me worry about what she may have been through before and who might have taught or shown her that. Was she looking for comfort? What are you supposed to do? I told her “no” and she full blown squared up to me like she was about to wack me! 

Anyway, it didn’t end there, this was everywhere and a lot of the restaurants tell the kids to “p*ss off” and the ones that don’t are likely to be a family member. 
I saw time and time again, their mothers or fathers just around the corner of the restaurants. These children have homes and have food and get everything they need. So many of them are made to do it for their parent’s greed. 

Another thing that was giving me bad vibes was when you’re having food or having drinks, again you get bombarded, an adult this time, comes over and tries to sell you… more food!!! I’ve got a plate full in front of me I don’t want your burnt fish on a stick!!! But when you refuse they don’t shout at you like the kids, they just stand there and stare at you for a good 3 minutes and you have to just pretend they’re not there! It’s hard work!! 

Forgive me if I sound horrible in the above. But I’ve been in South East Asia for nearly 3 months now so I have experienced a lot of people trying to sell me stuff or begging, but for me, Cambodia was the worst for it. 

*Takes a deep breath* Ahh that felt good… Now, for the good stuff!

 Pub street in Siem Reap is so fun! The beaches in Cambodia are just beautiful and the food is delish. We found parts of the beaches that were completely untouched with nothing around for ages. Just Sam and I for about 100 meters of our own private beach. The islands are also so beautiful. We were lucky to get good weather for it. We went to Koh Rong Samloem which was the quieter island. No WiFi. No phones. No electricity. No nothing. Just our little hut – nature at its best (including wild monkeys). We also got drunk and went swimming in the sea late at night and had the pleasure of swimming with Plankton. In case you don’t know what that’s like, as you move, all around you glows and sparkles from these microscopic organisms. We didn’t get any pics unfortunately so you’ll just have to believe me when I say, it was magical. It was so good to finally unwind for a few days before heading to Vietnam. 

All in all, I did really like Cambodia. If the kids weren’t so bad or the adults bombarding you when you’re eating dinner, I wouldn’t even hesitate in going back. Next time I’d probably just head to the islands for a quiet getaway where there is no hassle.

A word of advice when you’re in Cambodia. Some Cambodians can be very consistent. Just be polite when you say no thank you, and don’t feel bad for repeating yourself. At first, we didn’t know how to deal with it as it was very full on. But saying no and not looking at them seemed to work. Also, a lot of tuk-tuk drivers will offer you every single drug you could possibly think of, again politely refuse and be on your way! If children bombard you, keep your things close to you as it can be quite intimidating if you get surrounded by them. We saw 5 kids run into a restaurant, steal the offerings (food) on the altar to Buddha and run away fighting over it. Out here, that’s just as bad as stealing a poppy off of a memorial stand. 

If you’re thinking of going to Cambodia, don’t be put off! It is 100% worth seeing. However just be mindful and don’t feel bad for saying no. Everything I have written above is from my personal experiences and opinions, some travellers will agree with me I’m sure, however, some others might not! For me personally, Cambodia was the most frustrating country out of the 4 I have visited so far.

Thank you for reading!

POP