We fell in love with Cambodia. Any country that can pull itself up from the horrors of a regime like Pol Pot has to have some special qualities to it.
We made the journey out to the Killing Fields on our first morning in Phnom Penh. It’s an extraordinary site, extremely well-presented for getting across what life (and usually death) was like once you were taken here.
There’s an amazing peacefulness at the place these days.
But of all the horrors shown there, this tree must be the one that affected me most. And although some of the Khmer Rouge leaders have gone on trial – and are still being judged even today – it’s extraordinary to think that Pol Pot himself died a peaceful death with his family close by him somewhere in the jungle near to Thailand, without ever facing any repercussions.
We spent less time at the genocide prison school. It felt more like the prison museum we had been shown in Tehran, another gruesome place, but there sometimes can be a limit to how much information and detail you need to hear.
It was moving, however, to meet two of the dozen or so people to survive this prison out of the thousand and thousands who were brought here in the three years plus of the Khmer Rouge regime.
The Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh prides itself on being the hang-out joint for journalists based here for decades now, though I felt they could have made much more of the people and stories that had come out of their premises in the past.
It’s still a great spot for an early evening cocktail while watching the world – and the Mekong – go by, though.
The road to Battambang takes you through wonderful landscape…
Though drivers need to keep a constant look out for creatures such as these, who roam freely anywhere and everywhere.
This guy guards the entrance to Battambang (pronounced Battambong, we soon found out). He’s a bit of a local hero who defended the town against the king in Cambodian legend, but he lost his powers somewhere along the road and Battambang apparently means ‘lost club’, so was basically named after him.
But you’re more likely to find guys like these on the streets of Battambang (or Phnom Penh for that matter) these days.
In that last picture they seemed to be lining up for free food hand outs in Battambang market.
And we had a bit of light relief in Battambang, too, with our visit to Cambodia’s Bamboo Railway.
It’s a bit of a tourist gimmick, but well worth it. You sit on a bamboo platform and get driven about 5 miles along the old Phnom Penh to Battambang track through beautiful countryside, through clouds of butterflies and trying to avoid your head going through the webs of enormous spiders.
It’s a wonderful experience, and I so hope they don’t close it down, as they’ve been threatening to do for some years now…There’s even fresh coconut juice to be had at the end of the line
More to come from Angkor Wat, one of the highlights of the whole journey from Yorkshire to Australia, but it’s worth a post of its own.