So now I'm in Cambodia. You'd think all South East Asia was near enough the same, but rest assured it is not. Compared to Vietnam, Cambodia is noticibly poorer. There are many more beggars here, the countryside is stunning if a bit littered with rubbish, and also the cities aren't quite so densly populated. Of course the latter point is a definate step in the right direction after the insanity that was Ho Chi Minh City. The only downside here is pretty much the same one I faced in Vietnam and even a bit in Hong Kong. That is, that to the local populace I appear to made of solid gold and everyone wants a piece of the action. The biggest offenders here are the tuk tuk drivers (tuk tuks are those little motorbike-car hybrid vehicles). Some of them will actually follow you for a couple of minutes, as you repeatedly tell them to leave you alone. Once again, I wish I had some kind of blunt instrument to make my lack of interest in a tuk tuk ride known to all.
Well anyway, despite the background noise of tuk tuk drivers asking, "where you go" and the occasional restaurant owner asking, "where you from," I took in a few sights in Phnom Pehn the Cambodian capital. Most of these were related to the atrocities between 1975 and 1979 when the Khmer Rouge decimated the country. One such sight was the former S21 prison.
This was constructed hastily out of a high-school (as you can imagine the Khmer Rouge weren't that fond of the educated, which shows when you study their political aims and their understanding of marxism, so using a school made sense). This was a terrible place, and I wonder if going to Auschwitz has the same effect on people, but the brutality that went on in S21 is pretty unspeakable. Also there is a strict no laughing rule whilst on-site, which whilst seeming a little weird is understandable. In any case there isn't a great deal to laugh about there. The whole place feels like the prison in Nineteen Eighty Four, as does the Khmer Rouge regime seem a little like the power mad IngSoc party, as the things that people were asked to confess to were akin to the thought crimes of the book.
Afterwards I went to visit the Killing Fields, which is also quite a grizzly experience not least because of the human remains littering the fields, and the many mass graves dotted about the place. Its peaceful now, but in a sort of 'silent as the grave' manner. It's one of those sights you really have to see to understand the madness of humanity sometimes. Not to mention it's an important lesson to what can happen if the wrong people take power, and no one does anything.
From what I've learned the whole Khmer Rouge system was pretty poorly conceived by a group of mad and misguided fools. For one thing the revolution was not really a popular one, all that had simply happened was the Khmer Rouge just took power and sought to change the country into a artificially constructed agrarian economy, with a heavy emphasis on self sufficiency. Even the final idea turned out to be bullshit anyway, as they ended up importing heavily, and exporting for profit, which sometimes left no food for the workers producing it. Also they had the most clumsy and self praising (to the regime) national anthem ever. In summing up it was a horrible mess.
After all the depression and death I'd seen, it was time to go somewhere a bit more upbeat, so I've now made my way to Siem Reap in the north west of Cambodia. It is very a nice here, if a little touristy, but it's a lot more easy going after all the cities I've visited. Over the next few days I'm going to take in the Temples of Angkor and hopefully be inspired by humanity for once this week instead of horrified by its darkness, or mildly irritated by persistent tuk tuks.