Fiona and Ash's Gap Year Extravaganza travel blog

Memorial stupa.

The mass graves.

Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is where Jo, the 'volunteer liason manager' from TPA in Sri Lanka, moved to when she switched jobs. She now does a more important job for TPA Cambodia, and we remembered her invitation to meet up with her if we ever passed through the city. We emailed her the night we got here and she replied that she was going to a pub-quiz at 'The Lazy Gecko' just down the road from us with a load of the Cambodia volunteers and that we should have dinner the next night.

We planned to kill time in the day by getting our plane tickets for Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok (We were told it's actually cheaper to buy the tickets OUTSIDE of Vietnam) and maybe doing the city palace aswell. The plan went out of the window for a few reasons. Firstly, we got up at about 11. We'd had brunch (We haven't had 'breakfast' for weeks) by 12.30 when it began to rain. VERY hard. Thunder and all. LOUD thunder. We decided that we'd wait until the rain stopped and then go out, so we sat watching 'The Corpse Bride' in our guest house waiting for the deluge to end. We saw most of the film and the rain still hadn't stopped, so we made a run for it in a 'quiet spell'. As we didn't have enough cash for the plane tickets and didn't want to pay the charges for paying by card, we went to find an ATM. Oddly enough, in our 2004 edition of Lonely Planet, it says that there are literally NO ATM's in the entire country, so we were surprised to find them both in Siem Reap and Pnom Penh. I say 'find them' with slight hesitation because on this particular trip, I kiiiiind of got us lost. In a storm. Air France had actually given us umbrellas to use, but after half an hour of walking around, we were as wet as we'd have been without them. I didn't do anything wrong except take the wrong road. I don't know what all Fiona's fuss was about...

When we actually found the ATM (Which was a stand-alone cash machine inside a supermarket, so not all my fault as it was hard to find anyway...), it turned out it was literally a minute's walk from Air France. Oh well. By this time, the palace was out because it closed soon and because it was just soaking outside, so we went back and went to the pub-quiz.

It was nice to see Jo again and also to feel a part of a volunteer group. We came 7th overall in the pub quiz, but we all blamed the confused and confusing question-reader who stumbled on her words, read out the wrong questions and was down-right unprofessional. Fiona answered a very tough question about a Mexican festival, the answer to which was 'The day of the Dead'. Nice one! Ash's suggestion of 'Nepal' as the only Asian country not to have a rectangular flag was shunned in favour of 'Bhutan'. Nepal was the correct answer. Hmph. That said, I did myself shun Sam's answer of 'The Spaghetti Incident' as Guns 'N' Roses' most recent album in favour of 'Chinese Democracy', losing the team a point. So I was a valuable addition to the team anyway.

The next day was somewhat depressing as the two activities we filled the day with were visiting the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek and then 'Tuol Sleng', or 'S21' as it's more infamously known. The Killing Fields were a lot of holes in the ground which were ex-mass graves. There was also a Stupa erected in memorial to those who were killed here by the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. The Stupa is a square tower with a set of shelves in the middle of it going from floor to ceiling and cased in glass. Sort of a huge cabinet. On the shelves were hundreds, probably thousands of skulls and bones of people who were found buried here, and there was also a pile of clothes that were found on the bodies. It was quite eerie and quiet, but not quite as moving as S21.

S21 stands for 'Security Office 21'. It was a school until the Khmer Rouge took it over and turned the classrooms into prisons/ interrigation and torture rooms. We watched an hour long film about a couple who were separated by the Khmer Rouge and forced into manual labour in the fields. Although writing was prohibited under the ultra-communist policy, they kept in touch via letters which remain today. Sadly, they both ended up at S21 (Each not knowing the other was there) and were killed as being 'Enemies of the state', along with intellectuals, politicians and whoever broke the extremely strict rules (singing, for example). The rest of the museum was remaining prison cells, pictures of the inmates, paintings depicting the miserable lives and punishments of prisoners (Painted by one of the 7 sole survivors of the thousands of people who went into S21) and 'interrogation' rooms. All thoroughly depressing, but equally moving and a necessary reminder.

Rolf Harris Animal Hospital moment coming up...

Dinner with Jo was lovely. We went to a place called 'The Flying Elephant' (They all have funny names over here: 'Same Same but Different', 'The Magic Sponge', 'The Rusty Keyhole'...) which did all sorts of home-sick food. I had a huge piece of chicken in breadcrumbs covered in cheese and ham with vegetables and mash. It was, needless to say, utterly amazing. We caught up with everything, getting all the stories from her side as well as giving our own. Her first few days in Cambodia were spent in a brothel! She said she was given the only room used just for sleeping, but that the staff uniform of lingerie was slightly tell-tale. We've also decided to go on a volunteer weekend! The first time since Sri Lanka! We're leaving tomorrow morning at half 6ish and going to the Southern town of 'Kampot'. I don't know what's down there really, but it'll be good to feel like a volunteer again!

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