Once in Saigon, our next step was to cross the border into Cambodia. From speaking to travelers and mentioned in the Lonely Planet book, there were two options: One, to get a visa on arrival or two, to get an e-visa.
We were told by other travelers that the evisa was the best choice since it was a much faster process at the border and faster processing. Additionally for the standard visa we were told we would need passport photos which I didn’t have so opted for the e visa route.
The evisa was super easy and off the Cambodian website there was even an app for the visa. How easy! The only catch is it would take 3 days to process.
When we arrived in Saigon, we were stuck a day as our visa was not ready yet. To make matters worst, we were told that there was no point in us getting the evisa since getting our visa at the border was a breeze. Ugh!
In fact, the evisa had cost us $5 more by doing it online. We were also restricted to one border crossing since only one border accepted it.
We crossed the border with a bus load of people of which we were the only ones with an evisa. If we had come on our own then we could have walked right through but with a bus load of people this would not have helped us any.
After crossing the border, we were crudely told to leave our new air conditioned, wifi bus to an old dirty shitty bus for the rest of the ride. Welcome to Cambodia.
Part of the 10+ hour (8 hours we were told) bus ride entailed taking the bus on a ferry.
We arrived in the main city of Phnom Penn. I didn’t expect much of Phnom Penn; I expected it to be a big, dirty city but I was pleasantly surprised the area we were in was actually pretty nice.
There were some immediately notable differences between Vietnam and Cambodia; Cambodia was far poorer.
In Vietnam all the taxis are motorbikes, in Cambodia tuc tucs are the clear choice.
In Phnom Penn there was a ton of prostitution. As soon as we got there we realized that something wasn’t normal but we couldn’t quite put a finger on what that was. Then we started to realize that in most places 60-70 year old white men do not walk around hand in hand with 16-20 year old Asian girls.
I got scammed in Phnom Penn; a woman approached me with a baby in her arms. There are many beggars so I didn’t think much of it. She had a half filled bottle in her hand and said milk for baby! So I said I would buy her milk. She leads me to a drug store and points to a $30 bottle of dried milk powder. I said no I’ll buy you this milk carton. She said no need powder! And points to a $13 bottle. Without thinking I say fine and after a cheap thank you! She is out the door. Something just didn’t feel right; it could have been the ungenuine thank you or the fact that baby powder cannot cost $30 in a place where people make less than $100 a month.
I asked a local about it and he confirmed my suspicion; there is a ring of this and it is very common. Usually the baby does not even belong to the woman, they rent them or buy them from the hospital. Sick. I felt betrayed and pissed they used my kindness against me. Next time I saw a woman with a baby asking for money I yelled at her.
Phnom Penn was the hub for the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum sites.
The Pol Pot Regime was a massacre that took place in the 70s in Cambodia. Similar to the holocaust, thousands of people were slaughtered under the rule of a dictator pursuing a “pure” race. Similar to the holocaust, there were killing fields established where mass murders were performed in inhumane ways just like holocaust concentration camps.
To visit the killing fields we hired a tuc tuc that drove us around for the day for 15 bucks. He would drop us off at each place then wait for us until we were ready to go to the next place.
Included in this “tour” was first a visit to a shooting range, then a visit to the killing fields, and lastly a visit to the genocide museum.
I can see why they bring you to the shooing range first to play with the weapons; it doesn’t feel quite right after visiting the other sites.
The shooting range was run by the government and they had basically a wall of guns you could shoot, anything you could dream of. You could throw a grenade for $100, or shoot a rocket launcher for $300. From there, guns started at $55 for 30 rounds with an AK 47 and went up from there.
If you had $1000 bucks to burn I imagine you could have a ton of gun here. But we were working on a 5 week backpacker’s budget.
There were rumors that you could shoot a cow if you paid for it, or rumors that you could shoot a car. Our guide says you shoot at a jug of gasoline but I am sure money talks.
From the shooting range we headed over to the killing fields. Here, we paid our $6 (?) entrance fee and were given a guided audio tour.
The tour was very informative and very sad. At this particular site, 20,000 people were killed. Everything was mostly left the way it was found, so there were bone fragments in the paths and shards of clothing sticking out as you walked. They clean up the bones and clothing once a month but with rain it continues to resurface.
There were pits everywhere where mass graves had been dug and caved in.
One of the saddest parts was a “killing tree” a farmer had discovered where soldiers would hold babies by the legs and hit them against a tree and toss them in a pit.
At the end of the exhibit was the memorial which had a tower of bones which had been classified by age group and cause of death.
The killing fields were definitely an emotional experience. When we left, we then headed to the genocide museum.
The genocide museum was held in an old school building that had been converted to a prison during the regime.
Pol Pot and the communists did not support education so had most of the schools converted into prisons. Barb wire was put up and prison cells were created.
The last 12 prisoners killed on the premises were buried at the site.