If you're here for cute bear picks go and see Clare's blog. It's ok, I'll wait :-)
Ah, that's better, isn't it. Cuuuute sunbears and moonbears! I actually had quite a different perspective to Clare. I haven't really been exposed to 'voluntourism' much before so I saw the idea of paying a bunch of money and getting to spend a day doing what amounts to a behind-the-scenes tour and learning a bit about the Free the Bears organisation as pretty cool. It was cool, and I recommend it to anyone who might have a spare day in Phnom Penh.
Now that we've had the cute, we get the other side. Our first day in Cambodia we went to Cheung Ek, also known as the killing fields, and S21, also known as the genocide museum. It was hard going, too much for us to wrap our heads around really. The contrast at Cheung Ek between the peaceful area and the horror we heard about on the audio guide was enough to give me whiplash. By the time we got to S21 I was kind of 'horror-ed out' and numb. I was hot and hungry and feeling guilty for wanting to complain when we were in the place so many people had been murdered and tortured. Dinner that night was subdued. I think we brought our books because we weren't up to talking.
I had also started reading 'First they killed my Father' by Loung Ung. It describes the awfulness of going from middle class city kid to persecuted peasant very clearly. So clearly, in fact, that I couldn't think of anything but my kids, and the terrifying thought of my boys ever being caught up in something so horrible. The thought of not being able to protect my kids is... Unbearable. I realised that it was turning me into a depressed and anxious mess, so I got some silly funny books from the second hand bookshop to keep me going.
Actually, Phnom Penh was better than expected. Less hassle and more.... I dunno. So we spent an extra day wandering around, finding coffee, buying weird fruit. We are now in Siem Reap and have seen the Angkor Temples, but talking about that is going to have to wait.