That time I fell in love with Cambodia

I couldn’t decide after my month back in the states whether I wanted to see the rest of Laos or the rest of Cambodia. I chose Cambodia because it was simply easier to get to and more importantly, easier on my wallet. But wow I couldn’t have made a better choice if I had planned it. People say that everything happens for a reason but this is the first time I’ve really lived it and felt just how real that saying is. I’ve met the most amazing people and have clicked so well with them I know they’ll be lifelong friends. Maybe it’s cause it’s the first time I stayed in one spot for so long and felt that it was hard to leave. Nonetheless, I’m glad I chose Cambodia and I wouldn’t trade my second time back for the world.

I headed to Phnom Penh first even though many people say it’s a shit city and there’s nothing good about it. I totally disagree! Someone put it in perfect words for me- even if a place is shit, you’re in another COUNTRY! You’re in fucking Cambodia and you get the privilege to explore another city, so no matter how shitty it is learn to appreciate the fact that so many people want to but can’t. Take advantage of wherever you are and make the best of it because you are in control of your own happiness and the outcome of your experiences. 

Here, you’ll learn about the killing fields and the S21 torture chambers that took place during the genocide under Polpot’s reign from 1975-1979. Being able to walk through the museum and the killing fields is eerie, emotional, and disturbing. But it has to be seen so that the people of Cambodia can get their story out into the world! Harvard estimated 3.3 million people killed during these four years. It’s terrifying how the world didn’t know about a genocide taking place when it was only 40 years ago, and even more terrifying that history repeated itself and there are still genocides going on! I would suggest going to S21 first to see what the people went through before getting thrown in the killing fields. Warning – it’s a damn emotional day so bring tissues with you!

S21 was previously a high school but was turned into a torture prison where people were taken to be tortured until they admitted they were traitors of the new regime, even though they weren’t actually traitors. Many of the people brought in were lied to, and told they were offered new jobs as a teacher so they willingly came. They tried to explain they were not traitors, but it was useless because Polpot didn’t care – he was going to kill them anyway. It got so out of hand that these innocent people would admit to treason just so they wouldn’t be tortured. Polpot had a vision for Cambodia to become a farming country and so anyone with an education, who wore glasses, or who was somehow affiliated with the old regime, was taken here and forced to confess to their “crimes.” I personally couldn’t spend a lot of time in the S21 cells because it was too hard to see it. The actual chains that these cruel men used to lock the prisoners up are still there. The metal beds they were electrocuted on are still present in the classrooms. The blood from these prisoners are still stained in the floor. The vivid pictures in the museum capture their sorrow that is all too real. And the vibe in the prison is so overpoweringly negative. The killing fields is just as eerie. Today it is a museum where you get a headset and walk around to get a glimpse of what had happened. These two places opened my eyes and made me realize how little I really know about what’s happening in the world and made me realize how cruel people can actually be. The most shocking thing for me, and many others, was the killing tree, where babies were taken by the legs and swung on the trees until their skulls were bashed in. Polpot had a belief that in order to get rid of someone you need to take them out by the roots, so he would kill everyone in the family to prevent anyone taking revenge on him. Really disgusting man. As heavy as these places sound, it’s really worth going to because it will change the way you view Cambodia and will give you a different type of respect for the people and country.

Skulls of the victims

Okay so other than Phnom Penh, the rest of Cambodia is not so heavy! It’s seriously magical place as long as you give it a chance because many people say they don’t like it! Well that’s cause they didn’t stay long enough to find out how wonderful it is! My next stop was Kampot. It’s funny because this wasn’t even really on my list of destinations – I was only going to stay for 2 days but ended up getting stuck here for such a long time and meeting the most INCREDIBLE people, and one really special guy! Kampot is a town in southern Cambodia that sits on along a river filled with magical bioluminescent plankton. I wrote about these for my night dive experience but Kampot’s plankton blew Thailand’s plankton out of the water! (#punintended) When you guys go to Kampot there is no better place to stay than Hightide. The name really says it all – you will come here and the best people will greet you with a joint and a beer and the rest is history! My first two days was spent on a hammock just straight up chillen and enjoying life. There are also so many things to do here you will never be bored. It’s a really small town so you quickly get acquainted with everyone and there’s always something going on! If not it’s a sure bet that Hightide will provide some form of entertainment. 

That time Ian drank himself to sleep and didn’t make it back to his room.

Bokor National Park is an awesome place to explore, and will definitely take you more than one day to explore it all. Rent a bike and drive up the mountain for an amazing view at the viewpoint and at the abandoned casino. Craig and I explored Bokor two days in a row and still haven’t seen it all. We stumbled upon a massive hotel with a huge spa, a huge reception area, a huge dining area, and literally like 10 guests. Behind this massive waste of space and money, there was an amusement park/arcade looking building with a clown’s mouth as the entrance. We looked inside thinking we would find something fun, but it ended up being an office building with a full staff of about 40-50 people. What the fuck do they need that many workers for when the place is deserted?! Maybe it was a secret agent building. Who knows. Super strange. The whole national park has a strange feel to it because there are so many buildings that have started construction but never finished. It’s a palette for graffiti artists now so it adds a cool touch and is fun for photo shoots!

About an hour drive away from Kampot is a city called Kep where you can eat fresh seafood, grilled right in front of you. Crabs are caught straight from the ocean for just $1 each. Such a good deal and super delicious. There are also monkeys along the way but be careful because they will steal your shit! When you drive past Kep, there is a cave with a natural swimming pool inside and a great view on the top. It’s also a really nice spot to smoke a joint and enjoy the view!

Leaving Kampot was such a sad day. I made friends with so many good people, many of whom are still there almost 2 months later because it’s that easy to fall in love with the place. I got my first tattoo here with my favorite people in Kampot right before I left so they will always be with me! On my last day, I met some people going in the same direction as me so we shared a cab and shared a bottle of whiskey for the ride. That was the most fun transit I’ve ever experienced in Asia – so fun that I ended up staying with the group for two more days! The perfect way to leave a place you love is to leave with amazing people who make it easier to move on.

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