By day four we were ready for another tragic history lesson. So we found a young Tuk Tuk driver and went out to the Siem Reap land mine museum and then the war museum.
The land mine museum was only a small place, out in the middle of nowhere, with a school out the back funded by the museum proceeds for children who would otherwise never be able to afford the luxury of an education in Cambodia.
It featured several cases of recovered and disarmed land mines of numerous shapes and sizes and capabilities. It bore the stories of many limbless survivors, and mine removal team members. And it amazed us with so many horrific statistics and facts that we hadn’t been aware of previously. For example, although it seems obvious to me now.. landmines are actually designed NOT to kill their victims… they are designed only to seriously maim them. The idea behind this being that one injured man costs more to the opposing side (in terms of money, time and human labour) than one dead man… and further! Because these things are designed to be undetectable to the average human eye, and are made to last for very long periods of time.. people are still suffering to the blasts of these hideous weapons today.
And it’s not even just in Cambodia… it’s all over the world..
The war museum in contrast was a big, open field of old war wreckage. And we were guided through the main facts and most prominent old war machines by a guide who (basically, like all Cambodians over the age of 30) had quite a personal connection to the events of Pol Pots reign.
We were told about massive rocket launchers – designed to take out whole towns at once. We were told again about the evacuation of Phnom Penh and the forced movement of Cambodians to countryside fields for forced labour.. We were shown rifles, landmines, big old tank shells and missiles. And the sad, sad, ugly history of Cambodia was made clear all over again..
It was time to lighten the mood again! So on day five me and Sam signed up for a spoon painting session at the adorable little artisans market we had enjoyed so much on day three (the Angkor Handicraft association). And for over an hour we enjoyed painting thick, bright colours onto canvas, under the friendly eye of local artists. And I’m really proud to say, that despite Sam’s initial apprehension for such a delicate task, he really did get right into it! And we’ve both agreed that spoons and canvas will have to be purchased when our travels eventually finish and we find a home.
And afterwards, in a continuation of our newly found passion for ‘real’ local markets, we decided to go and explore the Made in Cambodia Market which was just on the outskirts of the city centre. Here we sampled flavoured rums and rice wines as the sun went down, listened to local musicians and tasted thick chocolate chip cookies.
And of course we bought a few small souvenirs… and a few bottles of liquor.
We decided that we had enjoyed the spoon painting experience so much, that we actually went back to our room on night five and scheduled another class (with the same company) for the next day.
But this class was a little different.. a little more physical.. involved a little more heat.. It was a knife making class in a small, open sided shed with local black smith.. who didn’t speak a word of English.
And it was damned good fun! As well as quite a good work out! – We got to help hammer and shine two, quite large hunting knives, and we got to watch the local pros do the hard parts.
And it really was something that we would never have done at home, it was a completely unique experience for us. And the fact that the local smith didn’t speak any English meant we had to communicate in apprehensive looks and laughs… making it all the more interesting. And the end product… was something we were both very proud of!
Day seven was a slow day. One for tying up loose ends, contemplating significant life decisions (I was running out of money… but what happens after all of this travel.. where will home be found beyond backpacking?!), swimming and carrying out some last minute souvenir shopping.. But day eight was one of activity!