Heart of darkness

Just three nights in Phnom Penh for us after a six hour bus ride from Siem Reap. First impression was totally manic traffic; mopeds and motorbikes everywhere – literally. And shiny new 4x4s, many of them pimped up. Opposite the anti-corruption police department HQ a string of three pimp-/Mafia-mobile dealers including Range Rover.

We met up with Joe and Phoebe on the first night and bumped into them again the next afternoon at the National Museum and Royal Palace.

We hired a tuk-tuk for our final day for the princely sum of US$10. First stop was the S-21 museum, one of the detention centres used by the Khmer Rouge for interrogating and torturing their victims. Harrowing is a pretty good way of describing it. It seems people are never so creative as when they’re inventing ways of hurting and killing each other. It’s also a damning indictment of the utterly stupid and unsustainable socialist and communist ideals. The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek were all the more haunting for having seen S-21 first. Having spent three months or so in S-21 being abused and tortured about 20,000 people were brought here over a period of three years to be clubbed to death and thrown into mass graves. Clubbing them to death was cheaper than shooting them. Estimates for the total number of people murdered by the Khmer Rouge range from 800,000 to 3,000,000. So much suffering and death, so incomprehensible.

The road to Choeung Ek was about the dustiest and smelliest I’ve encountered so far on this trip. Lorries, cars and bikes threw up the dust for the wind to blow in our faces. How the tuk-tuk driver managed to see where he was going I don’t know. We passed a building site employing the tried and trusted brick moving technique of a bloke on the ground lobbing them one at a time to his mate on the second floor. His mate was catching them one handed. We also passed a large hangar-like building which may have been called “Rock” with unlit neon signs saying “Tango” and “Cha cha”. Unfortunately I didn’t get to find out if it really was a dance hall, and if there really was tango to be danced there. Our final stop with our tuk-tuk driver was the Russian market. I sat in the air conditioned comfort of a nearby KFC. Hannah went on a gift shopping spree in the baking heat under the tin roof and bought up half the market.

After dinner and drinks that night we tried Phnom Penh’s most infamous club. The blurb I’d read described “Heart of darkness” as just about the seediest, sleaziest place imaginable. It’s also supposed to be the playground for the city’s spoilt young rich things. Six bouncers on the door made sure no-one took in anything they shouldn’t. Inside there was a smallish bar with punters, hookers and curious tourists. To the right a half full pokey little dance floor. Cheesy old dance music from not the world’s greatest DJ gave people something to move to and we joined in. The DJ changed at midnight, the mixing became smoother and the floor filled up. I spent three out of the four hours we were there dancing with a pretty Cambodian woman. I assume she was a she, and not a lady boy. It wasn’t tango, it wasn’t west coast swing, nor even modern jive; just clubbing. But it was dancing and I loved it. A nice antidote to the horrors of what we’d seen in the morning. If “Heart of Darkness” really is the sleaziest club in town then the others must be filled with nuns and choirboys. We left just after 3am for a couple of hours sleep before catching the bus to Ho Chi Minh.

As usual, there are photos at Flickr.

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