Day 361

Phnom Penh, Cambodia




From Angkor to Angkar. My sister and father arrived at the airport in Bangkok late in the evening. The first two days we spent in the capital before heading to Ko Chang, an island close to the border with Cambodia. We slept in big tents on a cliff above the ocean. Wild monkeys were jumping from tree to tree and in the distant horizon, sky and ocean became one. Our British neighbours were not as lucky: 'We have the only tent covered in monkey shit. Every night around 2am the sound of their fecies dropping onto the ceiling of our tent manages to wake us up'


Travelling through those touristy areas bears the risk of being scammed by locals. I heard a lot of lies during the last weeks from tourist agencies, tuk-tuk drivers, hostel receptionists and so on. I get it - relatively poor people try to make some extra money by offering their services to relatively wealthy foreigners. But this dependence and dishonesty that comes with it is building a barrier between me and the locals. On my bicycle, I never had the thought that locals lie to me about something in order to make a profit. The bicycle somehow managed to tear down that barrier.


We were only five minutes into Cambodia when our bus driver apparently hit another person. After a long wait we were to change the bus while the driver had to give a statement to the police. Outside my window I could see scruffy children play at the side of the road, too thin cows walk through rice fields and wooden villages build on red earth. The scenery reminded me on Laos.


Cambodia has a rich history. From the ancient temples of Angkor by the Khmer Empire to the modern atrocities of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, I learned a lot about this small Southeast Asian country.


Around 1,000 years ago the Cambodian Kings tried to better their ancestors in size, scale and symmetry, culminating in the world's largest religious building: Angkor Wat. Beside watching the sun rise behind this immense temple complex, we also wandered through the ancient city of Angkor Thom with its 216 huge stone faces and watched nature reclaiming edificies at Tha Phrom, the 'Tomb Raider Temple'.


After saying goodbye to my family, I moved on to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, to immerse myself in some recent history of the country. When the Khmer Rouge (in Cambodia called 'Angkar', meaning 'The Organization') under the rule of Pol Pot defeated the US-supported government in 1975, they soon established a terror regime that lasted for the next four years and within this period killed more than a quarter of Cambodia's population. In an effort to annihilate all intellectuals they transformed a high school in the center of Phnom Penh into 'Security Prison 21', where they tortured and killed up to 20,000 prisoners. The detailed notes and pictures of their torturing and killing are comparable with those of the Nazis. Visiting the school/prison/museum with an audio guide nearly brought me to tears.


Tomorrow I will leave Cambodia already. Now that my return journey starts, I won't stay at one place for too long. A bus will take me to Vietnam from where I will cross the country from south to north by train, heading towards big old China.