After what was a beautiful but physically detrimental time on the Cambodian island of Koh Rong, Tyler and I headed to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia and the location of the majority of the historical facts surrounding the genocide they endured in the 1970’s.
I’ve heard that you need three days in Phnom Penh: one day to see the killing fields, one day to see the genocide museum, one day to cry, and then you can leave. As bizarre as it sounds, I have wanted to see the killing fields since I was 17 and watched a documentary on them. So this was a very morbid and unbelievably depressing check off my bucket list.
In retrospect, we should have done the killing fields first, which are located just outside of Phnom Penh (and I bartered a tuk tuk driver from $20 down to $10). Instead we did the genocide museum first (because it was walking distance), a building that was a high school until the Khmer Rouge overtook it and used it as a prison and torture house for those with supposed crimes against the State.
Thankfully in the audio tour they warn you that the stuff within is graphic, and they say you can step out at any time if it is too much to see, because I was not mentally prepared for that at all.
You can see the tiny cells prisoners were kept in, you walk over the metal rings in the floor where they were shackled in place. And you can see blood on the walls and floors. Still, decades later. The whole museum has a sombre air about it. No one smiles or laughs, we listen to our audio tour with frowns and tears.
In comparison, the Killing Fields themselves were easier to digest and process than the genocide museum. Even though you could see clothes and bones in the dirt on the paths, it wasn’t as up-close-and-personal. You could see the mass graves (the name sake for the killing fields) and a tree that they used to kill victims.
Okay, enough of that. Let’s talk about our stowaways.
The hostel we were staying in had so much going for it: a pool, billiard tables, a media room where you could watch movies, good wifi, a tasty restaurant. It’s irrecoverable downfall: bedbugs. This is the first time I have encountered bedbugs in a hostel (the other time on this trip was on a ferry of all things because nothing is sacred to these little things), and they had what can only be called an infestation. I saw one a day or two into our stay but I didn’t think anything of it. I saw a bug on the bed and flicked it off (probably onto Tyler’s bed because I was top bunk, oops). We got chatting with an Aussie guy who had been devoured by bedbugs, and he was in another room. A girl staying in our room had to sleep in the media room because she was being eaten to the point she couldn’t sleep one night.
By the time Tyler and I realized our room (and beds) were infested, it was too late. I had been sleeping in leggings and a sweater because the room was so cold, so on our last night I slept in the same attire only to fend of bedbugs, not aircon. Little did I know that those little shits travel with you. They will leave their families in the bed and come uninvited on an epic adventure with you. Rude.
We were waiting for our bus to Ho Chi Minh (for 2 hours because the bus broke down and was therefore delayed), and in that time we killed at least 10 bedbugs crawling across our backpacks. We told the hostel and they seemed unsurprised but gave us a 25% discount (a whole $3.25, woohoo). I told them they had to deal with it for everyone else’s sake but we’ll see. Well actually I won’t see, but my TripAdvisor review should give them a push in the fumigation direction.
After we arrived in Ho Chi Minh with our creepy, crawly, Cambodian stowaways, we checked into our hostel (after refusing a motorbike ride from this very aggressive lady with long fingernails). Obviously we didn’t want to infest this next hostel, so we put our stuff in garbage bags outside on our veranda. Google told us that heat is the best way to kill them. Perfect, we’ll just wash and dry our clothes and we’re golden. Three hiccups with that: 1) dryers are very hard to come by in Southeast Asia, most places just dry clothes outside 2) it was Tet, Vietnamese new year where most shops close for at least two days and 3) our backpacks, those bad boys would not fit in a dryer.
The cherry on top came when we were walking around looking for an open laundry place with a dryer. My stomach along the line of my leggings was itchy and I found a line of bedbug bites going across my stomach to my back. These bites were not there when I left Phnom Penh, meaning I had a little friend in my pants. In my fricken pants. So not cool.
At this point I sat on the pavement doing some confused mix of laughing and crying and asking what on earth we were going to do. Step one, breathe (always and forever step one), step two, get an ice cream, step three, buy a new shirt and shorts.
I felt loads better after the ice cream, buying a new shirt, pulling shorts out of the quarantine zone (the veranda) and checking them for bedbugs and showering. Unfortunately because my clothes were all in quarantine, I wore the same thing for two days, because that’s how long it took to find a place with a dryer.
We gave this little laundry man some good business. And we took our backpacks to the park in garbage bags so they could bake that way.
This is where we met Michael. Unfortunately I never got a photo of Michael. Michael is an Australian man who lives in the park in Ho Chi Minh where we were frying bedbugs. As he tells it, he came to Vietnam with lots of money but fell in love with Vietnamese women who took his money and left. Twice this happened to him, and now he lives in the park teaching Buddhist monks English for free. And he is dating a Vietnamese working girl. Yes, he is dating a prostitute.
We played Go Fish and Cheat with him in the park for hours, as I pestered him with questions about being homeless and dating a hooker. He was really bad at cheat, every time he would go to lie he would giggle. I eventually started tanking games on purpose so he could win and feel better. He told us he wanted us to meet Lei (a terrible yet very appropriate name for a prostitute), so we agreed to meet later. By the time we went back after having dinner with two German girls who were so appalled by this story, he wasn’t there. (Also, never thought I’d say the sentence “sorry ladies, we have to leave to play cards with a hooker and a homeless man”.)
So our creepy, crawly friends led us to make a homeless friend and share a most interesting afternoon. I am pleased to say our stuff is now bedbug free, and hasn’t smelled so good since I left Canada in October. And I bought new shampoo and conditioner so my whole life just smells so darn good right now. Silver linings, am I right.
Until Next Time,