There she was – 5’2", pure unadulterated uninhibited fun, breasts unbefitting someone so small – all yours for $5.00. Welcome to Cambodia!
Under the expert guidance of our very own chewbacca, we navigated our way to the Lakeside Area. With a back deck that spread across the lake, a pool table and a cool little dude working there callled Chilly, we settled in. Phnom Phen is hard to imagine. It is lawless, it is hectic, it is smoggy, it is full of people and it is not a place for the fainthearted. Everything you could ever want is there.
Day one saw us chilling out; we had just been scammed in Laos. Here’s the scam. Don Dhet lies in the south of Laos, a little place called the Four Thousand Islands where the Makong encapsulates the land and divides it. Upon arrival, we noticed we had little money left – no ATM for at least 200 miles. A group of seven, we pooled our money. We had enough to get to Phnom Phen as long as we made it in one trip. Our day started with the driver claiming he wasn’t allowed to drive. He said he had a friend who would take us. This seemed fine. We got to the bus station, managed to find a driver, even a van.
Out from under a huge sheet of tarpolin limped a blue mini-van. This was to be our chariot, so we thought. The van had been sitting so long that a nest of mosquitos had formed in the AC resevoir. As soon as he turned it on, we got flooded, our comfy space suddenly became a malaria mini-van. Ten miles down the road, the van ran out of fuel.
At this point we were still in the van, waiting for a replacement bus. Then behind us, appeared a massive French girl attached to a scooter. She had to get on our bus, rightfully so, she had to pay. However, she happened to be the only girl travelling the country with only Australian dollars. This caused confusion as three taxi drivers tried to figure out what to do; they wanted to use us as an exchange bank. We had no money. Eventually the behemoth got in – and the oxygen went out.
"On the road again" was sung as we approached the border. Everything was going smoothly, we had avoided the $1.00 surcharge that makes border police richer than the rest. It turnout out that the woman had not only hijacked our chariot, she had also overstayed her visa. Not wise. Another delay. By this point, tempers were freying.
We sang On the road again – again. We had been driving for about two hours in this sweat box when the driver turned off the road, onto a smaller road, then a smaller one and another and another. Eventually we pulled into a guest house. From here, the driver miraculously forgot how to speak English. Lucky for him. He tried to get us out, eight people. We didn’t move. He ketp trying. Another man, who was sitting awaiting our arrival, decreed that we could not get to Phnom Phen; there was no ATM, we had to stay in his hotel.
By this point, Ray was ready to explode, Paul was reading his book, Jo was smoking, and I had manouvered into the front seat. Randomly, I started blowing the horn. This went on for an hour. We had a cavalcade of Cambodians ready to fight; the tour operator from the Cambodian side and the hotel owner. In the end we had to stay. Everybody paid one dollar. I took everything from the room in an act of divine retribution – toothbrush, comb, TV, if it had fitted in my bag. We left at 7:00 am on a local bus, for free. The guy got his mini-van back, and we made it to an ATM.
Back to Phnom Phen. The Russian market is like Toys R Us. You literally could buy a child here if you wanted. The food was great. I bought "real" aviators.
Then on to S21. Nothing can prepare you: three huge blocks, (think 1960’s high school), iron bars on all the windows, barbed wire over the edges to deter people from committing suicide, a gallows in the middle where people were tortured. Rooms upstairs for women and children. Pol Pot used this place to interrogate largely innocent people and he had them tortured. I took one photo. That was it. Rooms were full of photos of women, children and men young and old who were killed within these walls. It gives you the shivers.
To "brighten up" our day, we went to the killing fields! This is where people were brought after S21, where they were maimed, beaten, raped and humiliated before being clubbed over the back of the head to die in a mass grave. Signs around the place inform you that: This tree was used to beat children. Here loud speakers were hung to drown the noise "of those who were dying" and my favourite: "Please do not walk through the mass grave". In the middle of this complex, there is a huge monument of skulls, skulls of those who died here. I didn’t really enjoy that day; I found it hard to smile afterwards. I had to go to KFC.
Phnom Phen was coming to an end. So we went out on a bender to a club, "The Heart of Darkness". We walked in, a straight invisible line was drawn down the middle that seperated the foreigners and the locals, we went to the locals. I did not come travelling to be with people from Brighton. I came for the experience and we got one.
At some point during the night, everybody apart from Gringo and Felix left. Felix managed to bring a girl home, innocently enough. The bus left at 8:00 am. Felix and Gringo got back in at around 6:00 am. They missed the bus. They awoke to find a girl sleeping in their bed, a Khmer girl. dashing around, they ate breakfast in three minutes, packed and returned to the room to find the girl asking for money. "We didn’t do anything, if anything you should pay us for the room!" they exclaimed and left, leaving the girl in the room with Chewie, who had absolutely nothing to do with it.
That is how I left Phnom Phen – in a blaze of glory to the sound of Eric Clapton’s, "I feel free". We certainly did feel free for those five days!