Yesterday we arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This city is a lot more quiet than Bangkok, and after we checked in at the hostel we walked around the streets to take in the vibes of this city. A city, and a country with a very dark past.
A little bit of history…
At April 17th 1971 The Khmer Rouge, followers of the Communist Party of Kampchea, invaded Phnom Penh and forced everyone living in the city to move to the rural areas to work on the land. The Khmer Rouge was led by Pol Pot who wanted to restore Cambodia as an agricultural country. Everyone who seemed intelligent was seen as a threat to Cambodia and the Angkar (literally ‘The Organization’) and was killed. Having soft hands, wearing glasses or speaking a foreign language was enough to appear intelligent and to be killed. The Cambodian Civil War lasted for three years and eight months, in which over 2 million Cambodians were killed, meaning one fourth of Cambodia’s population was murdered by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge.
The Tuol Sleng Prison.
We started our day with a visit to the Tuol Sleng Prison. This former school building was used by the Khmer Rouge as a torture prison for everyone who could be a possible threat to the Angkar. As Pol Pot said “it’s better to kill an innocent man, than to spare the life of someone guilty”. Also, they did not only murder a single member of the family, but the entire family, in case someone might ever want to take revenge.
If you go to the prison, make sure you get the audio tour, for it does not only tell you about the horrors you witness inside of the buildings at Tuol Sleng, but also tells the chilling stories of survivors. Inside the buildings you’ll find prisons, torture devices, and hundreds of pictures of innocent men and women who were unlucky enough to fall into the hands of the Khmer Rouge.
The Killing Fields – Choeung Ek
After our visit to the prison we went to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, just outside of Phnom Penh. Prisoners of Tuol Sleng were taken here to be killed in brutal ways. Because bullets were too expensive and the sounds of bullets could be heard outside the Killing Fields, the v
ictims were bludgeoned to death with a bamboo stick, shovel, branch of a tree, or anything you can think of. When they died they were thrown into mass graves, having their throats slit just to make sure they were really dead.
The most horrifying part of the Killing Fields is the Killing Tree, against which small babies and children were taken by their legs and beaten to death.
At the Killing Fields the people of Cambodia have built a memorial which holds hundreds of scalps and bones of murdered people. And while walking at the fields, you’ll see bones and rags of clothes coming to the surface everyday.
The National Museum of Cambodia
To end our day with something a little lighter, we visited The National Museum of Cambodia. At this museum you’ll find many great and beautiful statues from centuries ago. If you don’t have the time to visit Siem Reap, it is advisable to visit this museum as it gives you a glimpse of the beauty of Ankor Wat.
It was a very depressing but beautiful day. It is deeply disturbing and depressing to see what Pol Pot and his men did to this beautiful country, but it is also amazing to see how the Cambodians got on with their lives and live it the way they do now. The people of Cambodia are kind, warm and greet you with welcoming smiles. They will never ever forget what happened to them, but instead of looking backwards they are looking forward which has brought them better and brighter days. We’re off to the local market now to enjoy some local dishes and soak up the wonders of this lovely country, with even more respect for its people.