Cambodia has unfortunately not had the best first impression on me. Our direct coach from Laos to Phnom Penh broke down (ie, the air conditioning stopped working and this was enough to bring the entire world to a grinding halt), and we had to wait for an hour and a half at the lunch stop for a replacement. When it eventually turned up it transpired that they had found two minivans, and didn’t seem to think that there would be an issue fitting an entire coach load of people and luggage into them. After most people had their luggage tied to the outside of the van (again, so happy I have a small bag) we still had two more people than we had seats and had to live with it for a further 9 hours. Then again, the poor people going to Siem Reap had about 7 people too many. Andrea was in that van. Apparently they arrived at about 3 in the morning.
It gets better though. After surviving for 2 months in India without the runs I was feeling pretty proud of my iron stomach. Even when the entire Madventure team got horribly ill for weeks I only had one quick toilet dash and was then fine the same afternoon. At this point I felt invincible. And then I crossed the Cambodian border, ate some sticky rice and my iron stomach rusted. I had to be that person who asks the bus to stop so they can desperately run off into the dark. Urrrrrgh.
So, seeing as I spent the next two days curled up in my hotel room not daring to leave, I haven’t seen much of Phnom Penh. From what I did see I can’t say I’m overly distressed by this. I haven’t been in a city this filthy since Chennai, and Chennai had considerably cheaper rooms. (It could be partly my bad mood speaking, I get grizzly when I’m ill, and even worse when I’m ill and hungry and unable to eat, but I’ve heard other people agree that it was fairly horrible.)
Once I was feeling a little braver I left the hotel to visit Tuol Sleng, aka Security Prison 21, a high school which was taken over by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 for use as a prison and interrogation centre. There is no way I can make this in any way light hearted and amusing. The hallways are filled with endless photos of all the supposed enemies of the regime who were imprisoned, tortured and killed here or at the nearby killing fields, including a shocking number of elderly people and children. I think the strangest part is how much the structure of the building looks so familiarly school-like (aside from the barbed wire), so you can still imagine children going to their classes completely unaware of the insanity about to hit the country in the next few years.
Too depressed to visit the killing fields as well, crawled back to my hotel to feel sorry for myself and the world in general.