Before this holiday I knew very little about Cambodia.
I had vaguely heard of Pol Pot and a film called the Killing Fields. I knew some bad stuff had happened there. And that was about it.
That was about to change.
Whilst in Phnom Pehn, we spent a morning at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This is a former school that became a prison (S21) during the Pol Pot Regime. It is estimated that 20,000 people were imprisoned here. Seven survived.
In case you didn’t quite catch that, let me reiterate.
Not seven thousand.
Not seven hundred.
Out of 20,000.
Here they are:
And this was only one of the many, many prisons in the country. All up about a quarter of the population was killed during Pol Pot’s regime. That these were largely the educated people – doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists and bureaucrats only made rebuilding the country even harder afterwards. How do you even start to rebuild an infrastructure when all of the people who would normally be in charge of that type of thing are dead?
In the museum there are rooms and rooms of photos of the people who were murdered. Many of the officials from the Khmer Rouge died here. But who really gives a shit if those murdering arseholes turned on each other? Live by the sword, die by the sword.
Whoo, look at me getting all Biblical on the Khmer Rouge.
And if you have a defunct political party you would like me to trashtalk, you know where to find me.
Back to Tuol Sleng. What was depressing was…well, pretty much all of it.
But what was truly distressing were the photos of the hundreds of children who were executed.
Jeez….Some of them don’t look old enough to be potty trained let alone be plotting the downfall of the government.
Tuol Sleng is a blood chilling place where the dark marks on the floors and walls are blood stains and the reminders of man’s brutality are everywhere. I couldn’t bring myself to take a photo of this because it was just too horrible but there was a board of children where their prison ID’s were pinned into the skin of their chests or necks
Murdering arsehole doesn’t even begin to describe the people who did that.
There is a name for them.
Which I will not repeat because I’m a lady.
(That breath of air you just felt? That was my mother breathing the hugest sigh of relief ever).
But you know exactly the word I mean.
Visiting Tuol Sleng also made me feel kind of stupid. Why didn’t I know about this? I studied history dammit! Let alone being alive, albeit a very young child whilst this was happening. It actually made me really angry. We spent a whole semester in History class learning about the Dutch guilds of the 17th century. And despite that being a truly fascinating subject (said no one ever) it may have been slightly more important to learn about the stuff that was happening on our doorstep. Then again, that we did nothing to help the Cambodian people as a quarter of their population was decimated may have had something to do with that.
The people who actually saved the Cambodians were the Vietnamese. Short version, Pol Pot tried to do his crazy arse genocide thing on a couple of Vietnamese villages. He too, obviously, was not au fait with recent history. Because here’s one thing I do know. If you go into Vietnam and try to push your agenda onto them, the Vietnamese will not only kick your arse but they will also hand your testicles back to you on a platter. And if you don;t believe me, ask France. Or America. Snapping Pol Pot’s nuts was a walk in the park for them. Seriously, it took all of about ten days for the Vietnamese Army to invade Cambodia, take control of Phnom Pehn and send Pol Pot back into the jungle crying for his mummy.
After Tuol Sleng, our Tuk Tuk driver asked if we wanted to head out to the killing fields. This is apparently a thing. We politely declined. There is only so much horror and unremitting cruelty I can cope with on any one day.
So after an experience like that, how do you shake the feeling that humanity is not only doomed but deserves to be?
A visit to the Lotus Blanc Restaurant.
The Lotus Blanc is an initiative by a French NGO called Pour un Sourire d’Enfant” (For the Smile of a Child) and is a venture similar to Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. Except without the shitty attitudes and sense of entitlement. PSE trains disadvantaged Cambodian kids in hospitality skills in order to give them a career and a life off the streets.
This was truly the best meal we had in PP. Not just for the food, which we will get to. But for the sheer joy of the young people who were working there. From the wait staff to the cooks, you have never seen a team of people so proud of what they are doing and so delighted to be sharing it with you. This place was an absolute delight from the moment we walked in to the moment we left. It was truly a magical evening.
Lyheang lead the team who looked after us and did a fabulous job!!!
Here is our entree which was a prawn (Shrimp) salad. Just the right blend of chilli and lime to make it truly delicious and you can almost taste the crispy freshness of the vegetables!
I had a traditional Amok for my main. Needless to say delicious!
Normally we don’t have dessert. But Lyheang convinced me that the Crepes Suzette would be a good idea. He was right.
It was flamed at the table:
And looked and tasted divine!
That this place exists gives me hope.
If you ever happen to go to Cambodia, please make this a must on your list, it really is worth it.
And it is a powerful antidote to the evil.
You can learn more about some of the things I have spoken about by clicking the links below:
About Pol Pot and The Khmer Rouge
Have a great week!