Nov 5-6, 2014
The Killing Fields of Phnom Penh, Cambodia
GPS waypoint: 11°33'23.2"N 104°55'41.4"E
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
After a few years of civil unrest, King Norodom Sihanouk was overthrown by the inept Lon Nol in 1970. Lon Nol with his weak administration was outsted by the Khmer Rouge in 1975, led by Pol Pot. The people were brought to the countryside - the cities became ghost towns. They worked under slavery conditions.
My compelling reason to visit Phnom Penh was to get a sense of the barbaric genocide that took place. As recently as 1975-79, 2-3 million Cambodians were brutally and senselessly killed by the maniacal Pol Pot and his ruthless Khmer Rouge - that's one in every 4 Cambodians, including women and babies! The torture chambers of Tuol Sleng and the killing fields in Choeung Ek now stand as a monument to the horrors that took place.
The Torture Chambers of Tuol Sleng (S21, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum)
When Phnom Penh was emptied of its population, one of its schools were converted into a secret prison system, named Security Office 21 (more infamously known as S21). More than 20,000 people were arested and brought here for interrogation, imprisonment and torture. Many died in the process, but those who survived were later brought to Choung Ek for execution (the Killing Fields). In 1979, after the Vietnamese defeated the Khmer Rouge, S21 was converted into a museum.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
Choung Ek, about 15 kms south of Phnom Penh, was a former Chinese cemetery that was turned into a killing field. Those who survived the torture of Tuol Sleng were brought here and summarily executed - including women, children and babies. They even have the killing tree where babies were held by the feet and slammed with their heads into the tree. Pits were 15 feet deep and they were covered when it became full of bodies - there were 129 mass graves all together. Skulls and skeletons representing 8985 people were found. The victims were peasants, workers, diplomats, intellectuals, ministers, Khmers, foreigners and purged Khmer soldiers.
The one thing I'd like to have a handle on is why 2 million people were killed in a short span of 4 years by one man's warped mind. How the f$#%ck could that possibly happen in recent history? I was hoping I would get my answers in Choung Ek and S21. But even after visiting those 2 places, I couldn't find the answers. I guess there was no answer - just the muted remains of what a fucked-up mind has done. I feel terribly bad for what happened to the Cambodians.
Where was the United Nations? Where was the purveyor of democracy - the good ol' US of A? What did the international community do? Did they collectively conclude Cambodia was not a lucrative war to make an investment on? Next time these superpowers start their lip-motion on democracy and freedom, I will always have Cambodia in mind and what these super powers failed to do.
I'd been in Cambodia for nearly a total of 6 weeks - from Siem Reap, Battambang, Sihanoukville, Koh Rong, Kampot, Kep and Phnom Penh. It's been not just a home, but a mini-life as I would often refer to my extended stay in a place. I've learned to love the place, its food, its culture and its people. Cambodia grows on you. Physically, I don't look any different from them - in their parlance, "same same but different". I feel for them.
With my visa expiring, I now have to pack-up again. I don't know if or when I can come back. Cambodia will always be special to me. Thank you Cambodia!
- one mug draft beer (.75 happy hour)
- 1.5 liter drinking water
- from street coffee to restaurant coffee
- bicycle rental, 24 hours
- cheap dorm lodging (Mini Banana)
- glass of sugarcane juice
- best way to explore Phnom Penh is still by bicycle ($2/day) - intersections can be tricky
- if there is festival happening, it's best to book bus and hotels ahead of time as they can be more expensive or fully booked
- Phnom Penh is generally more expensive than the rest of Cambodia
- Cambodia accepts payment in US$ - even sidewalk vendors. If your change is less than $1, it will be given in riel
- How to Get to Phnom Penh from Kampot
- the minivan fare from my hotel straight to Phnom Penh is $8/pax ($10 during the Water Festival), 3.5 hours. Like most bus rides, you can have your hotel book it for you. Usually, the rate is the same as booking it directly with the bus company - so I book mine with the hotel (and get the hotel pick-up service).
- How to Get to Ho Chi Minh City from Phnom Penh
- there are many bus ticketing offices around the Old Market where you can buy tickets. 5 hours 30 mins, $5-7
Nov 5-6, 2014
»» next Traveling story: Exploring Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)
»» back to Traveling
»» back to Homepage