Living Down Under

Hi, everyone!! Sorry I'm so behind on new posts and keeping you all up to date with the craziness that is my life. I have a valid excuse! The last four weeks have been jammed pack with Down Under adventures from Melbourne living, Great Ocean Road driving, Great Barrier diving, wine tasting and quality time with Brandon. It feels like just yesterday I arrived in Melbourne and this week I'm getting ready to pack up my life again and take it to South America for the next and last three months of my trip. I'm going to post individual blogs talking about each of the big adventures but I wanted to share with you all what I love so much about Melbourne and Australia in general. 

I believe my general perception of Australia is probably the same as everyone else who has never been. You think of surfers, kangaroos, the outback, Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef... but I've learned a few things. DID YOU KNOW.. the entire continent of Europe and some fits inside Australia? Yes, I know.. crazy. This country is huge and there is so much to see. Traveling from one end of Australia to the other actually takes about 5 hours and isn't cheap. I had a long bucket list of things I wanted to see and do before getting here and once I realized how vast and hard it is to get around (not in Melbourne, but Australia) I had to whittle down my list. The biggest and most disappointing bucket list item I had to forgo was diving with Great Whites. Sad face. Turns out it's about $500 just for the experience and another $300 for the flight. Sigh.. a pretty big chunk of change for a 2-hour adventure that could possibly get me killed and/or starring in the next 47 Meters Down blockbuster. 

However, I have enjoyed staying in Melbourne and getting to know the city... We live in an East Melbourne, about a 30-minute walk from the downtown area also known as the CBD (central business district.) From every corner parks and green space surround us... Perfectly manicured with fountains, flowers, and acres of lush grass. I'm lucky enough to get to walk through several on a daily basis. Most evenings, once the sun goes down you can catch a movie in the Botanical Gardens. Hundreds of people bring their blankets, wine, cheese, and picnic before and during the film. It's been one my favorite night activities and the perfect 70-degree weather, and clear skies make it even better because you can star gaze, enjoy the view of the city and not freeze to death... all while watching the latest movies. So far I've knocked out I, Tonya and Game Night. This Friday I will be adding Black Panther to the list. So pumped about this one. 

Alleyways are one of Melbourne's biggest attractions. Artists from around the world put their stamp on the city with graffiti and murals that will only last a few days before they're painted over again. Wonder Woman and Biggie Smalls have been some of my favorites and the new art every week make walking to and from each local a unique experience. 

Each little neighborhood has its own unique trends and vibe. The streets are lined with cute cafes, restaurants, vintage shops, boutiques and trendy bars. The CBD is super classy, every designer store you can think of I pass on my route to the office, South Melbourne is a bit more beachy and chill, Collingwood is a bit more grungy.. there is something for everyone. I think Melbourne has a lot of depth, it's easy to get around and has made it to the top of my favorite city list. The one downfall the city...or country has is the cost of living. When you go to brunch and pay $20 bucks for AVO and Toast there is a problem. 

I've realized over the last couple months I've felt the burn in each country. Bali - physical burn.. like WEAR SUNSCREEN. The sun is intense, it's Bali. Duh. Cambodia - I'm not going into the detail about that burn.. let's just say the food and I don't agree. Australia - my pocket book.. really feeling the burn. I spent the last two months living like a queen. Going to the spa 2-3 times a week, eating out for most meals, going on many excursions, and a new Bali wardrobe. NOT so much in Australia. I limit my eating out to 2-3 times a week, knocked a few excursions off the list and walk from one end of the city to the other - most days. Take an Uber you say? Out of the question. New clothes? Forget about it. 

When I decided to limit my excursions I also decided to take advantage of free city activities or trips that didn't require a flight. Yarra Valley has been one of my favorite day trips. For $80 USD a lovely gentleman picked us up, along with a few other tourists and drove us a little over an hour to Yarra which happens to be home to lots of vineyards :-) The scenery was gorgeous and the wine didn't stop flowing. The girls and I had a great time. We went to three different vineyards, had lunch, stopped by a chocolate factory, took out some ice cream and ended at a brewery. It was a beautiful 85 degrees, the hills were rolling, and the grapes were ripe!! 

I also spent 4 hours roaming the halls of the National Gallery of Victoria. Went in with zero expectations and walked out wishing I had more time. Floors of traditional art combined with modern and high tea in between. Entire rooms were turned into dream world pieces from an apartment covered in red daisies to thousands of yards of yarn from floor to ceiling and wall to wall. I'll let the photos below do the talking. 

PS: A big thank you to Lo for taking pictures :-) She's so sweet and thoughtful. 

Living the day to day life here in Melbourne I've felt like I haven't done much but now that I'm reflecting back I believe I've accomplished an impressive amount for being here 3 1/2 weeks. Look for more posts in the upcoming weeks featuring The Great Ocean Road, Great Barrier Reef, Phillip Island, Day in the Life and one last post from my most memorable moment in Cambodia. 

Pad Thai For Life

Y'all, I had the best Pad Thai of my life and it was made by yours truly. While visiting Chiang Mai, Maria and I decided to take a Thai cooking class. Several blogs recommended MAMA NOI Thai Cookery School so we booked a half day, giving us the flexibility to choose our own dishes for a grand total of $13 or 400 Baht. This place is a well-oiled machine! They picked us up from the hotel at 9:00 am and took us directly to San Pa Khoi Market to see all the fresh ingredients we'd use throughout the day. 

Maria and Chelsea at MAMA NOI Thai Cookery School 

I've been traveling Southeast Asia for the last two months and haven't come across a market so clean! I could actually stand to be inside for longer than 5 minutes. No foul smells..   I'm still not sure I'd buy fresh fish off the chopping block but it was still fun to explore and watch the locals prepare their table and interact with consumers. Each stand sells the same fruits and veggies so I'm wondering how they differentiate themselves. Maybe they have loyal customers or just hope and pray someone decides to buy garlic from them opposed to the other 20 stands. 

After visiting the market we were taken to MAMA NOI's. They grow a lot of their own produce and have an entire garden before entering the pavilion. The space was big enough to have over 100 people learning to cook Thai cuisine. Classes are broken up into Chinese and English groups. We had two other girls in our group so it felt like a private lesson.

I tell everyone I love Thai food, but really I love Pad Thai, so naturally, I choose how to make this fine dish. If you're around in July when I get home I will be making you dinner!! You will die. Below are the recipes for the three Thai dishes/drinks I really enjoyed. Share pics if you happen to make any of them :-)

PAD THAI

Pad Thai Recipe at MAMA NOI Thai Cookery School 

Ingredients:

NOTE: This is one serving. 

  • 100G Rice Noodles
  • 50G Chicken Breast/Thigh or any other meat cut into chunks
  • 50G Tofu Cut into Cubes (you can forgo this if you'd like, brought me no value or flavor :-))
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/4 Cup Water
  • 1-2 Shallots Sliced
  • 2 Garlic Cloves Sliced
  • 50G Bean Sprouts
  • 20G Shredded Carrot
  • 2 TBSP Cooking oil
  • 1TBSP Dried Shrimp Seasoning
  • 1/2 TBSP Palm Sugar
  • 1/2 TBSP Fish Sauce
  • 1/2 TBSP Soy Sauce
  • 1 TBSP Oyster Sauce
  • 1 TBSP of Tamarind Sauce
  • 1.2 TSP Chili Powder
  • 1 TBSP Chopped peanuts

Instructions:

  1. Combine all seasoning in a mixing bowl and mix well
  2. Heat the cooking oil over medium heat with a wok and add sliced shallot, garlic, and dried shrimp. Fry until fragrant then scramble in meat and tofu, cook until meat is cooked
  3. Crack the egg in a scramble it with meat and garlic mix, once scrambled push to the side of the pan
  4. Add rice noodles in together with the seasoning sauce. Add water and cook the seasoning sauce with the noodle until tender. Mix the garlic and egg concoction with the noodles.
  5. Finally add bean sprouts, chives, and carrot. Stir for a few seconds. Remove from the heat 
  6. Garnish the Pad Thai with lime juice and roasted peanuts 

YOU'RE WELCOME!!! 

TOM KA SOUP (CHICKEN IN COCONUT MILK)

TOM KA SOUP RECIPE

Ingredients: 

Note: This is one serving. 

  • 100G Chicken Breasts/Thigh, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 30G Oyster Mushrooms
  • 2 Cups Coconut Milk 
  • 1 Cup Vegetable Stock
  • 1 TBSP Lime Juice
  • 1 Stalk Lemongrass, diagonally sliced into 1-inch pieces 
  • 2 Pieces Galangal, thinly sliced
  • 1 Kaffir Lime Leaves, torn in half (stem removed)
  • 1/2 Onion, Quartered (small red onion)
  • 3-5 Chilies, Crushed (I used one because spicy isn't my thing)
  • 1 Tomato, Quartered
  • 1 TSP Coriander, Cut into 1 cm lengths
  • 1 TSP Spring Onion, Cut into 1 CM lengths
  • 1 TSP Palm Sugar (I used two.. and I'm so glad)
  • 1-2 TSP Fish Sauce

Instructions:

  1. Mix 1 cup coconut milk and 1 cup vegetable stock in a pot over medium heat, add lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and chili. Stir and add in the remaining coconut milk. Boil for 5 minutes.
  2. Add chicken and boil until cooked, then add onion, tomato, and mushroom. Season with sugar, fish sauce and stir well. 
  3. Boil for a few seconds, turn the heat off and add in lime juice 
  4. Garnish with coriander and spring onion

I thought this soup was really good. Had great flavor and a little bit of a kick (depending on how many chilis you put in.) I'm not sure this is something I'll ever crave but I think I'd like to try and make this my own by adding in a few more veggies and a bit more chicken. 

THAI ICED TEA

Ingredients:

Note: This is one serving. 

Drinking Thai Tea at MAMA NOI Thai Cookery School 
  • 1 TBSP Thai Red Tea
  • 25 ML Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1 TSPN Sugar
  • 15 ML Fresh Milk
  • 120 ML Hot Water

Instructions:

  1. Pour hot water over tea leaves in a strainer and let sit for 2-3 minutes
  2. Strain the tea leaves
  3. Mix milk, condensed milk, and sugar with the strained tea
  4. Pour the brew over ice

In the past I would have never gone to a cafe and ordered Thai Tea. My life is forever changed. I wish it were a bit healthier but YOLO. It's so good!. Excited to buy some Thai tea and try this at home. 

For anyone interested in a Thai cooking class while visiting Chiang Mai, I highly recommend MAMA NOI Thai Cookery School. They had everything ready for us, the place was immaculately clean and the transportation to and from the class was highly organized. As soon as we were done with a plate, a pot, a spoon.. whatever, the staff was there to get it out of our way. In the end, they handed us a cookbook of all the Thai dishes they teach. I give MAMA NOI 5 stars. 

 

 

 

 

 

Chiang Mai, Elephant Rescue Park

Maybe twenty years ago, my best friends family flew to Thailand for a month and adopted the sweetest 7-year-old boy. I remember his welcome home party like it was yesterday. Robyn had brought me back the most beautiful Thai sarong, one I still use to this day and she told me all about her families travels. Ever since then, I've been dreaming of visiting Thailand. 

I've been planning this trip for the last 4 years, buying the Lonely Planet books, researching on Pinterest and other travel blogs. Chiang Mai and the islands were at the top of my list. The moment I was accepted into Wy_Co (formally known as We Roam) I had one adventure on my mind, an elephant rescue park. 

Before going into cuteness overload, I feel it's important for me to embark all my new elephant knowledge on you. For a second, imagine how you would feel if you had to carry a child on your shoulders for 8-12 hours a day. Exhausted, right? A lot of elephants here in Thailand and other surrounding countries are not treated well and are used for the benefit of the logging industry or tourism. An elephant has to eat 18 hours a day to fill full and can munch on 250KG of veggies, bananas, and plants. They also require a lot of rest. The tourism elephant parks are strictly trying to make money and don't care about the health and well being of their elephants. Very few tourists know and continue to flock to these establishments. The same can be said for Tiger Kingdom where they consistently drug the animals on a daily basis all so we can get a photo with the tiger who would normally EAT YOU!

Several elephants are injured from carrying tourists all day, and when this happens they're injected with steroids so they forget about the injury, causing horrible infections or compound fractures. There are a few rescue parks within the Chiang Mai area who take elephants in from the logging, tourism and the circus industry. Riding is forbidden at these establishments but they do rely on tourism to keep the animals fed and healthy. This is where we decided to go!! 

Elephant Rescue Park, Chaing Mai, Thailand

Elephant Rescue Park offers half day, full day and overnight tours. We opted for the half day which really ended up feeling up being a full 6 hours. They'll pick you up from your hotel and take you 1.5 hours north of Chiang Mai to start the adventure. There we changed into an outfit provided by the park. We were told the elephants would adapt to us faster if we were all in this uniform, due to the fact no one in this outfit has ever harmed them. Our day was spent admiring a 35-year-old female, and three babies (two of which were more like toddlers.) 

Feeding baby elephants at Elephant Rescue Park, Chiang Mai

Our interaction with the elephants started by feeding them two giant laundry baskets of bananas. They saw us coming from a mile away and were already lined up and waiting when we arrived.  You could tell this wasn't their first rodeo. ;-) We all took turns getting to know each one by feeding and loving on them. This was my first time being up close and personal, I was surprised by how rough their skin was and how much hair they had. For whatever reason I had assumed their skin was a bit more velvety. 

Each elephant had a unique personality, the smallest was a little bit shy and never strayed far from the adult and another baby was ready to party. Sitting still was not something he knew how to do and was constantly swaying back and forth like he was a dad at a high school dance. 

35 Year Old Female Elephant at Elephant Rescue Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand

For an hour or so we hiked up a hill with all 4. What could have been a 10 minute hike was nothing short of an 1.5 hours as they stopped every few feet to graze or roll around. I made the mistake of dumping some of my bottled water down a babies trunk and he blew it back in my face. HA. Kids.

When we reached the bottom of the hill they were lead into the water by their Mahout (This is what they call each elephants keeper/trainer.) Being a 95 degree day, the elephants gladly submerged themselves, feet in the air, rolling around trying to cool off. It was adorable. I was SO tempted to join them. The uniforms they gave us were by no means sweat wicking material. 

Soon enough we were able to join each elephant in a separate pond for a good scrubbing. I took the smallest guy and watched his Mahout go to town. I couldn't believe how hard they took the scrub brush to their skin. OWE! They must have loved it because they were smiling, giving us the same face your dog gives you when you rub his/her belly. It didn't take long for us to become drenched from the chest down. As we were walking out the pond the elephants lined up, almost as if we knew we'd take one last group photo before taking off. 

This experience is one I'd do over and over again. I'm not sure it could ever get old and I'm wishing I would have experienced the elephant rescue park in Cambodia. February 26, 2018, marked a day I'll never forget, and a highlight of my trip abroad. You can't help but feel free, happy and full of life when walking next to a baby elephant. 

This is what we call, living your best life. 

 

Siem Reap Province - Angkor Wat and Tonlé Sap

Siem Reap is a lovely city in Cambodia and home to 200+ temples, bringing in 50% of Cambodia's tourists every year. A group of us took a bus to Siem Reap for a weekend and explored the city on bikes, truck beds, and jeeps. I left with a lot of memories but very little knowledge as to why the temples were built, the history behind them and what they represent. I'll tell you what the few things I do know and some tips and tricks for visiting if you ever add Angkor to your bucket list.

"Angkor" means capital city and "Khmer" means the dominant group. Today, the famous site is known as Angkor, the capital city of the Khmer Empire. At the Empire's prime, the vast city was made up of grand temples, waterways and over a million people. This was during the 9th-12th century.  The Empire controlled all of modern Cambodia, and a good chunk of Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

During the 12th century, some of the cities grandest temples were built including Angkor Wat, Thommanon, Banteay Samre and Beng Melea. Some of which I was able to explore. The holy grail, Angkor Wat was built for funeral purposes. What happened to the Empire after the 12th century is still unclear. From what I gather they went to the war with Champa and unfortunately lost (who they are, beats me.) 

Pre Rup Temple, Angkor Empire

Once we arrived in Siem Reap we hit the first temple, Pre Rup for sunset. It was a bit crowded due to Chinese New Year. Tip number 1: Don't go to Angkor over Chinese New Year. Seriously! Don't. All of China is on holiday and touring Angkor with selfie sticks. ALL THE PEOPLE.

The name, Pre Rup means "turn the body" which means it was used for funerals back in 961. This was before Angkor Wat was built. This temple was dedicated to the Hindu God, Shiva. <--- No clue. I decided after the first visit, I was going to take in the greatness of each temple and not worry about the historical details. Too much to retain when it's 97 degrees out.

 

That same night a small group of us went to the Cambodian Circus. It was a bit of a slow start but really picked up. Imagine a smaller, less theatrical version of Circ. The crew is uber talented and had me chuckling most of the hour. It was a really small space but I imagined it was similar to the circus back in the states when it first opened. I highly recommend attending this while in Seam Reap. Tickets are $17 a person but get there early as the best seats go fast.  

Our longest day of tourism started off with bikes. It was incredibly hot so I ended up parking the bike and hit the flatbed an hour into the day. Although I missed some of the more adventurous parts of the tour I was still able to explore each temple, several of which I was in complete awe of. The amount of detail that went into the carvings of each temple blew me away. Each one having a unique design and meaning. 

Monkey with Fangs

Our last temple of the day was Angkor Wat. It's directly in the center of the city and faces west. It really is grand and majestic just as everyone says. I can only imagine the amount of people who spent years working on this with lack of heavy machinery, cranes and fancy tools to assist with the work.

On our way into Angkor Wat we were greeted by a monkey, eating some bread. We quickly realized he was blind in one eye, had tumors on his belly and had a giant hole in his nose. We were all snapping pictures when the thing hissed at us. I nearly thought he was going to kill Maria and I. He has fangs!!! Proof to the right! I'm praying to the good Lord above there aren't monkeys roaming the streets of Australia. Although, I'd rather have monkeys than snakes and spiders. 

Blessed by a monk at Angkor Wat

We spent about an hour at Angkor Wat, taking in the architecture and beauty. In the center of Angkor, there are several Buddhist monks who will bless you for a donation. I happened to partake in this as I thought it would be super meaningful. It would have been a tad more enjoyable had 100 other tourists not been gawking at me, waiting for their turn... such is life. He started by tying an orange bracelet around my wrist and sprinkling holy water on me while he chanted. A week later, I'm still wearing the bracelet. Apparently, you must wait for it to fall off and not cut it on your own or you'll remove the good fortune and blessing.

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” – Buddha

A small group of us broke off and decided to rent two old school US Army Jeeps for a tour the following day. We had a blast!!! We loaded up the jeep at 5 am and went back to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. We had to wait an hour or so before the sun actually sat above the highest tower. The small pond in front of the main temple had a perfect reflection. Hundreds of people lined the pond, some with professional cameras and others with their iPhone waiting for the perfect shot. My perfect shot below :-)

2018-02-18 07.21.43 1.jpg

500 photos later we were back in the jeep and headed towards our next stop. It was so fun to be in the open Cambodian air, hair flying, dirt roads, and amazing scenery. We passed a lot of children playing in the ditch next to the highway, scooters with dead pigs on the back and markets selling fresh fruit and meat. One market, in particular, had an entire dead cow laying on a table, half butchered.  #culture

We arrived at Beng Melea, the furthest temple a part of the Khmer Empire. It's the same blueprint of Angkor Wat but much smaller. It has been completely destroyed by the jungle, trees tearing down walls, vines breaking stone and the middle tower has completely collapsed leaving rubble everywhere. For a short second I thought we were in an Indiana Jones movie, until I saw the herd of tourists. 

It costs $5 to enter Beng Melea and takes about 1.5 hours to get there from Angkor Wat. I would go back during offseason when there aren't a million people with selfie sticks. :-/ 

Our final stop for the day was a trip to Tonlé Sap, a giant lake which connects to the Tonlé Sap river .. also connecting to the Mekong River (in Phnom Penh.) For $10 each we bought tickets to hop on a boat and explore the floating villages. This was without a doubt the highlight of my weekend. Millions of people live around the lake, 90% of them make a living from fishing. I've learned 30% of all fish in Cambodia come from this area. Children stop their education at a young age to help their parents. You'll see children in the streets, as young as 5 years old counting little silver fish. Not sure what kind they are but there are thousands lining the streets as you approach the floating village. 

While the Khmer Rouge was in power, they either killed or exported all ethnic Vietnamese. Once they were able to come back into Cambodia, they were unable to prove their Cambodian citizenship so the government wouldn't allow them to buy property. More than 700,000 ethnic Vietnamese live on the Tonlé Sap fishing village, the only place the government would allow them to live (The law states only Cambodian citizens can buy land and water was the exception.) For more information on the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide, please refer to my last blog post. 

We hopped on the boat and slowly drove through the river. Three story homes on top of wood stilts lined the waterways. It was hard to take it all in as I was in complete sensory overload. Once we were further down we saw hundreds of houseboats. Floating schools, restaurants, shops all a part of the community. Some of the homes were well decorated with fresh flowers and others looked a bit more like a shack. Every direction I looked there were kids playing in the water. 

The jeeps took us back to the city where we embarked on another great adventure. One I can't say I fully participated in but others did. The eating of bugs. Laura, a fabulous chick on our trip had been told by a client the greatness of the Bug Cafe and insisted we pay it a visit. I thought I'd try the leg of a tarantula and call it a day but it was oh so much more than that. Our group ordered a platter of bugs. PLATTER! Can you believe it? Laura was bound and determined to give almost everything a try. She along with the rest were pure champs. I'm weak so I stuck to the simple bugs: ants, crickets, and silkworms. The others tried tarantula, SCORPIONS, and a water beetle which just about put me over the edge looking at it. Before arriving at the Bug Cafe I was starving and quickly lost my appetite after checking out the menu. 

We finished our Siem Reap adventure by shopping at the night market and eating some ice cream while getting an hour massage for $5. That my dear readers is what we call "winning." 

Your Guide To.jpg

Here are a few serious tips and tricks for traveling to Siem Reap - Visiting Angkor Wat

  1. Tickets are $37 for one day and $61 for 3. I'd recommend getting the 3-day pass and take your sweet time. The days are long, hot and exhausting. Especially if you want to see sunrise and sunset. Your 3-day ticket will be valid for 10 days. They punch your ticket when you enter the first temple of the day. You can buy your tickets here: Street 60, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
  2. There are 200+ temples, choose a small selection. It's impossible to see it all. Some of the more famous temples include Angkor Wat, Thommanon, Banteay Samre and Beng Melea (an hour away from Siem Reap.)
  3. Visit Angkor Wat around noon. It seems to be really crowded in the morning and evenings. Everyone wants a picture of the sunrise and sunset. 
  4. Hire a guide if you're really interested to learn about the history. I didn't notice any audio guides anywhere. 
  5. If you're into the Bike Tour, our guide was SO good! He speaks perfect English and has a fabulous accent (he learned English watching BBC every day) His details are here.
  6. Wear closed toe shoes. There's a lot of climbing up and down uneven, broken up pieces of temples. Some of them look like they could crumble down at any minute. It's also very dirty. I wore flip flops and my feet were filthy after a day of temple hopping.
  7. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT: Make sure your knees and shoulders are covered. Sometimes a scarf is not enough and they will make you buy a t-shirt. This is to get into any and every temple. 
  8. If you want to be blessed by a monk, give a donation of $1-2. You can find monks in the center of most temples. 
  9. Bug spray! Take it. There are so many mosquitos and red fire ants around each temple. 
  10. I highly recommend the jeep tour. For $55 a person we rented two jeeps, including beer, water, and soda. We had the jeeps and drivers for the full day. 
  11. Our tour guide brought an entire box of electrolyte powder with him and I'm so glad he did. I was pretty dehydrated after the day even after drinking 5 bottles of water and using the powder. If you don't have an awesome tour guide who is this detailed, make sure to bring some Gaterade or Powerade packets from home. 
  12. The night market is amazing. You'll find a lot of great bargains. It's also walking distance to Pub Street where you'll find a ton of restaurants and bars. Pub Street reminded me a lot of New Orleans but a lot cleaner. 

If you'd like to see the people I encounter and beautiful places I see on a daily basis, follow my Instagram account @throughherwandering_eyes. 

The Cambodian Genocide: Killing Fields and S21

It saddens me to no end to sit here and write this post. I'm upset to relive yet again the reality and history that plagues Cambodia. However, back in the 70's social media wasn't present. Seeing real-time images of what was going on in the world wasn't as easy as it is today. Textbooks in the US don't discuss it (at least mine didn't) and I think it's important for you all to know the horrific details of the Cambodian Genocide. 

Note: there are some horrific details which may be challenging to read. 

US Secret Bombing of Cambodia 

In 1969 the United States government dropped over 2.7 million tons of bombs on the countryside of Cambodia. They did this during the Vietnam War to wipe out the supply routes the Vietnamese had running through Laos and Cambodia. President Nixon was the one who authorized the attacks and kept this a secret from US congress until 1973. Over 500,000 farmers and their families lost their lives due to these bombings. Thousands of Cambodians had to flee their homes and move into cities to avoid being killed. Cities were covered with homeless, unemployed farmers and their families. Several more lost their lives from the displacement due to starvation and disease. The political unrest caused the Pol Pot Regime to be installed throughout the nation and Cambodians truly believed the regime to be the peace they so badly craved. 

Pol Pot Enters Phnom Penh 

Pol Pot built his regime by recruiting young, uneducated children who were traumatized by American bombings. They were promised a bright future, food, and steady job. In 1975 when the Khmer Regime communist party took over, they entered the streets of Phnom Penh and forced everyone to leave. Their campaign promised they could come back in three days and warned the Cambodian people of American bombings. If they didn't leave the city they were killed. Most left large supplies of food and personal belongings back in the city. They had no idea they would be forced into rural areas for years to work as slaves in the fields. Many died due to being overworked with little water, food, and medicine. They labored in the burning sun for 12+ hours a day. Modern machinery wasn't allowed to be used, only the hands of the Cambodian people. Many didn't know how to grow rice and other crops as they were from the city. When they failed at their job they would be beaten or killed. The Khmer regime wanted a society made of peasants. People were stripped of their money, land, religion, and names. Those who were educated, wore glasses, and had soft hands were sent off for execution.

S21 Prison

In the middle of Phnom Penh lies a school. When everyone was forced out of the city, the regime used the school as a prison, capturing anyone who they thought might be against the regime. Most of the prisoners were government officials, lawyers, doctors, monks, artists and their families. A total of 20K people died in this prison and only 12 survived. There were single cells used for interrogation and torture. The rules below had to be followed or one would be tortured for hours:

As stated in the prison.

  1. You must answer accordingly to my questions - don't turn them away
  2. Don't try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that. You are strictly prohibited to contest me.
  3. Don't be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.
  4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect. 
  5. Don't tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.
  6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.
  7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting. 
  8. Don't make pretext about Kampuchea Kromin order to hide your secret or traitor. 
  9. If you don't follow allow the above rules, you shall get many lashes of electric wire. 
  10. If you disobey any point of my regulation you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric charge. 

Gallows were used to hang people by their wrist and when finally passed out they would lower them head first into a bucket of human waste until they woke back up. Some rooms had 30+ people chained and bound together by metal ankle links. Some stayed in the prison for months only receiving a ration or two a day and maybe one shower a month. A shower would consist of a hose being blasted into a room full of people. 

When people came into the prison they were stripped of their name, given a number and records of their past life were documented. Any babies who came into the prison were instantly killed. 

Three young men from New Zealand were sailing around the world when a storm caused their boat to drift into Cambodian waters. They were captured and brought to S21, where they were tortured for two months, trying to get any kind of confession. They were unfortunately killed and burned. 

The Killing Fields

Over the four years Pol Pot was in power, 3 million people died. A quarter of his own army is included in that number as he was extremely paranoid they were creating a coup against him. Over 300 mass grave sites have been found all over Cambodia. Some of them are open to the public and memorialized and others are off limits due to undiscovered land mines. 

One of the largest fields is located south of Phnom Penh, where 129 mass graves have been found. 1975-97 trucks would pull up to the Killing Fields with people blindfolded and bound every couple weeks. By 1978, trucks would pull up everyday. They were told they were going to a different home and had no idea they were being driven to their grave. Once they arrived they had to sign a document, their death warrant. Detailed records were kept on each prisoner to make sure no one was missed. A teenage boy was recruited to be the one in charge of escorting prisoners from the truck to the grave. If he would have refused, he would have been killed himself. 

Loud revolutionary music would play from speakers hanging in the trees. They did this to cover the sound of cries and screams. Bullets were expensive and to keep the noise down so peasants close by wouldn't know what was happening they beat the individual over the back of the head with a hammer, ax, machete or anything else they had on hand. Sharp palm trees would be used to slit throats. Each person was stripped of their dignity and their clothes before they would die and be thrown into the massive grave. DDT was used to cover the bodies. This served two purposes, kill those who were still alive and to cover the stench. 

Better to kill an innocent by mistake than to spare an enemy by mistake
— Pol Pot

There is a specific grave where women and children were found. Babies and children were murdered in front of their mother's eyes. Held by their two legs and smashed their heads up against the tree. When the grave was discovered, remnants of hair, blood, and bodily fluids were found all over the tree shown below.

In 1979 Pol Pot and the Khmer regime was overthrown by the Vietnamese army and his own army who had turned against him. For more than 10 years after he was overthrown he and his communist party was still recognized by other countries as the leader of Cambodia, including the US, UK, China and many more. He was even given a seat at the UN and received financial aid while Cambodia was trying to put it's country back together.

Cambodia Today 

Those who survived the genocide are still deeply affected. Families are gone and it's very evident the people don't like to talk about the past. A lot of Cambodians believe the US had a lot to do with the Khmer regime coming into power. Although, all of the Cambodians have been extremely nice to me I often wonder if they hold a grudge against Americans. I notice every day while walking the streets of Phnom Penh how young the country is. Most individuals are under the age of 30. While attending a traditional art show they said: "We want to be known for the arts and not the Killing Fields." They're trying to rebuild still to this day, rebrand themselves and get back to the country they once were before US bombings, communist parties, civil wars and genocides. They've built the memorials so they can always remember and to ensure it never happens again. 

Me 

I was told I'd leave the S21 Genocide Museum and Killing Fields very somber. This was not at all true for me. I left pissed. Still, as I'm writing this post my blood boils. How we as individuals can let events like this happen is beyond me. Cambodians killing Cambodians. Religious groups killing religious groups. Kids shooting up kids. Why? All I could think about while walking the fields and prison was Syria. It may not be 3 million people but it's families, children, babies who are being affected by civil unrest every day. It's Americans who are too afraid to let those who need us into our country because we might let in a terrorist, when we have our own flesh and blood raping, molesting our children, shooting up schools and movie theaters, need I go on? I don't like to think about it as our country. This is our world. People who are no better than each of us need us and what makes me even more upset is the fact that I have no idea where to even start. How can I help? How can I even make a dent? How can we create change? How can American finally be great again, not for our own financial gains but great because we're a country that stands for the basic right to human life - regardless of age, race, sex, religion, and class. Will my children someday be visiting Syria and other countries, walking through a museum thinking "Why didn't we do anything about it?" Am I going to be an embarrassed mother who says "I was too busy fighting for gun control and human rights in our own country." 

One of my biggest challenges and struggles on this trip is something I should be extremely proud of. When people ask where I'm from I shy away from saying "America." It's true and I hate admitting it out loud. I'm sure I'll get a lot of people lashing out because of that statement and I honestly don't care. How did you feel while reading about the children and babies being killed in front of their mothers? How are innocent children being bombed in Syria any different, or children being shot up in your own country any different? There has to be a better way and quite frankly, America does not have it figured out. Everyone is too worried about their own personal interest until they're affected by tragedy. This breaks my heart. 

Learn More

I'm not a historian and there are a lot of details about the Genocide I missed or have yet to learn. If you'd like to learn more about the Genocide from the perspective of a survivor of S21, I highly recommend reading this book. I was able to meet this gentle soul at the museum. You can still see the sadness in his eyes but he smiles at each person who walks by and proudly puts his John Hancock in each book he sells. You can purchase the book here. 

Survivor

The Triumph of an Ordinary Man in the Khmer Rouge Genocide

But I do not condemn the people who tortured me. If they were still alive today and if they came to me, would I still be angry with them? No. Because they were not senior leaders and they were doing what they had to do at the time. I consider them victims like me.... There’s a saying in the Khmer language; “If a mad dog bites you, don’t bite it back. If you do, it means you are mad, too.
— Chum Mey, S21 Survivor