3. Phnom Penh – Pigs, Coffee and Genocide

The journey took seven hours from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, leaving us with the memory of dusty roads, stilt houses and a pig in a cart drawn by a motorbike. It’s dark when we step off our coach. Groggy after travelling, we turn down the wrong street and end up getting lost. After being told not to trust anyone and to expect a scam on the tongue of every seemingly friendly local (nonsense), we retrace our steps and at last find our hostel.

Outside we are greeted by a lively English woman, who immediately starts laughing manically that the hostel has no lights or A/C. We just stand there, thinking, Who is this crazy old lady?

We make our way around the woman with weary smiles to check-in. Alas, the receptionist also has a bout of verbal diarrhoea and wouldn’t let us go until she has told us everything there was to do in the Cambodian capital. She left us with the lovely warning of not to go out at night with our bags, cue our fear of walking around in the evening.

We eventually got into our room after the owner fixed the A/C (but not without a patronising introduction to the basics of A/C electronics). A prompt collapse into bed sees us up early for breakfast. While considering a random wander around the city, two travellers ask if we wanted to check out the Killing Fields, S21 prison and Russian Market with them. We said yes.

An enlightening and depressing trip, the Killing Fields is the site of a Cambodian massacre under the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s. Immediately after visiting this site is the S21 prison, where people were kept before being transported to the Killing Fields. Photos unfit for the weak stomached line the walls, the mugshots of former inmates staring at you as pass their former cells.

Lightening up our day was a trip to the Russian Market. We didn’t care much for the compressed chaos around the various clothes and trinket stalls, so we found our way to the food in the centre of the market. An old man by the name of Mr. Bounnareth cheered us up with the best iced coffee we have ever tried. He has been working the same stall for more than 35 years and proudly showed us published articles about his business.

Dragging ourselves away from his charm, we return to our hostel and decide we are in need of a new scene. We book a coach to Ho Chi Minh City for the following morning.

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