Genocide Lessons & Intruders: Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

I wake up in the morning at Nawin Guesthouse in Phnom Penh relieved that the chair we had propped up against the door was still in place. There are no security guards in our hotel, in fact the young men who run the front desk sleep on a folding lounge chair in the lobby for the night. But there are security cameras, and one is even strategically placed right outside our door. Maybe that nice local guy on the bus yesterday was just paranoid with all his warnings. I am glad that I have his number though.
We go down to the lobby for our breakfast, but honestly it is the worst breakfast we have had. They don’t even give butter with the toast.
As we prepare to leave for our day of touring, the hotel staff begins to pressure us to use their tuk tuk service. They tell us we should use their service because they have snatch proofed their tuk tuk so people can’t reach in as easily to steal your stuff. They also say that their drivers know how to get around town in such a way that we won’t get harassed by the police for having 6 people in a tuk tuk. They say the max is 4 by law, but if we get caught the driver will pay off the police. Now you may wonder why we would want to break the law with too many people in our tuk tuk, but we have decided that we don’t want to be touring in separate vehicles because it’s too stressful. The traffic is chaotic and it’s easy to get separated, and if something bad happens…..
We agree to $25 and immediately feel ripped off. Oh well, not the end of the world, I say, let’s just go enjoy our day! As soon as we hit the road we see that there are many many tuk tuks with 6 people in them, so that was just a lie…..I mean really now? There are motor cycles with 5 people on them……

Well, there’s not that much to enjoy about our first stop. We head off to the killing fields, where the Khmer Rouge communist regime headed by Pol Pot murdered many of Cambodia’s citizens. Anyone who was perceived to be a potential threat was killed, along with their entire families. Pol Pot had a dream of returning Cambodia into an egregrarian society, and he eliminated educated people and anyone who was unable to work hard in the fields. Many people died of starvation due to food rationing. A total of two million people were killed in the late 1970s and thrown into mass graves. 

The crazy thing is to think that this was not so long ago. We all like to think that we live in such a sophisticated world, that things like this don’t happen anymore….but the truth is we are all just once crazy leader away from such atrocities. 

This memorial building houses thousands of skulls of the victims of genocide found at this site.  There are many sites like this around the country.   

This gnarly tree catches my attention…..


…..but this tree makes me feel ill! The Pol Pot regime killed children and babies by swinging them and banging them into this tree. Then they were thrown into the mass grave here. Annika is especially emotional at this place. It is really creepy here. As you walk along there are signs not to step on bones…and sure enough there are human bones in the middle of the path. I guess when it rains the bones start to surface….

Not many imprisoned people survived the atrocities, but this man was one of them.


We scoot over to the Genocide Museum which is where people were held prisoner during Pol Pot’s murderous regime. Often they were tortured into making false confessions. These buildings originally were a high school.

We feel a little queasy. We make a quick stop at the Russian market, but I don’t see much Russian about it. We are kind of tired of markets, so we just buy some coffee, which they claim is the best coffee in Cambodia…’s pretty good…..even though their prep area looks a little questionable.


The National Museum is awesome, and filled with many ancient artifacts, so we hire a guide. Wow……her English is so lackluster that we understand almost nothing……

We see many monks….and they often walk in the middle of the road.

How about this? Fifty monks in the back of a truck is legal, but 6 people in a tuk tuk is not? I don’t get it.  

When we arrive at the palace I get a chuckle. The guard seems to be more interested in his cell phone than in guarding the palace. What is this world coming to?


We venture off to the palace, but realize too late that we do not have our skirts along. We are not allowed in. Oh, never mind….I would rather show my cellulite legs anyway….so we sit out. Of course when David comes out he tells us it was the best thing he has seen the whole day!


We are getting hungry so we venture down a sidestreet where we see a lot of locals eating at this shop…..


….so we order some fried rice balls, too…..

We enjoy a little exhaust and noise with our food as we sit in the cheap plastic chairs.


We notice people ordering these crepe like concoctions……so we order one….

Mmmmmm…’s filled with meat and something else…..


Ish……later…..after we eat I find out that this is the kitchen…..looks pretty sketch.  I wonder if we will get sick!?

Sidewalks are almost always blocked so you have to walk on the road in the busy traffic.  

Nice ride…..


Walk along the riverfront.


The balloon man’s motorbike….

Crickets…..cockroaches…..silkworms! Who eats these things….fried or not? It is repulsive!


Anyway, tomorrow morning we have to get up early to go to Bangkok, Thailand. That’s awesome. Cambodia has been great, but the visit to Phnom Penh makes us feel a bit uneasy and we are ready to move on.
We retire to our respective rooms for the night. I stay up late working on my blog, but when I go to sleep I prop a chair up against our door in the off chance that someone tries to come in. If they open the door the chair will fall down and make a loud noise to wake us up.
Suddenly at 3:30 am I hear yelling. David is sitting bolt upright yelling on the top of his lungs…..”you better get the heck out of here, buddy!” I hear someone fumbling with our room’s door handle.

David is frantically attempting to clambor out of his silk sleeping sheet, which tears in the process. The lock clicks shut, and whoever it was behind our door slips away unseen.
My heart is pounding in my chest. Actually, that is not the truth. My heart is pounding in my throat. My babies! They are all across the hall in the room with Aundrea! I wonder if I should go knock on their door to alert them, but that seems like a bad idea. They would be really scared if I woke them all up.
Suddenly I remember that their room has a door to the hallway, but also a door to a wraparound balcony! What if someone tries to get in from the balcony door? Now a true panic sets in……
I attempt to send a whatsapp message to Aundrea via the hotel wifi. She does not respond. I send another message… response….

I wonder if I should call the police. I look online and read that the Cambodian police are very corrupt…..they will be of not help….I wonder if I should call that nice man from the bus…..
Finally David comes up with a good idea…..FaceTime! When you FaceTime someone the ringer is loud and annoying….and the best thing is that even if your ringer is off it still rings….
I find Aundrea’s number in my directory, and sure enough she answers.  In hushed tones I tell her what has just transpired. As she listens and we begin to plan a strategy the hotel wifi suddenly shuts off and we lose our connection.

I can’t help but think that the hotel staff disconnected the wifi. Was it a hotel staff member who tried to enter our room? Who else would have a key that would turn the lock?

Gradually the adrenaline rush dissipates and David says he is going back to sleep. As for me I stay up for the rest of the night to listen…..

At 5:30 it is time to wake everyone up to leave to the airport. When we check out we tell the two young men at the counter about the attempted intrusion. It is hard to read their expressions. Are they surprised? Are they guilty? Are they concerned for us? Or themselves?

They tell us that at about 3:30 a.m. they had 16 drunken hotel guests show up, and perhaps one of them had tried our door by accident. Really? Surely we would have heard 16 drunken guests moving about! Plus they would not have a key that turned our lock. We could ask to review those video tapes but we are in a hurry.

Later we talk to someone about what happened and they tell us that their friends had just been staying in Phnom Penh and their room was broken into and they slept through it all.

I decide I don’t like this city. All this stuff about Pol Pot’s murderous regime has us feeling sick enough, and add to it an attempted intrusion while we sleep! I guess that nice man on the bus who had been worried about us was not being paranoid…..he had a legitimate reason to be concerned about our safety. We hear of many other purse snatchings and bag slashings…..and we are glad to be on our way to Bangkok…..and if you read up on Bangkok you might be even more scared….

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