On Friday, mid-morning, we took a taxi two-and-a-half hours to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. Phnom Penh is also the largest city in Cambodia with a population just exceeding 1.5 million people… not too big from American standards but definitely a “big city feel” coming from Kampot. We had a lot to see in a very short amount of time (as we quickly added this to the itinerary as we were ultimately passing through the capital city anyways). We started off at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a museum dedicated to the terrible time of the Khmer Rouge regime. The site was originally a high school which got turned into Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. This prison was just 1 of 150 execution centers in the country and as many as 20,000 prisoners were killed at S-21. The museum remained just like it was in 1979 as we saw the wooden and brick cells that the prisoners stayed in. Some of the cells were small for single people while others were large where lots of people stayed. On the walls in the prison cells, there were photos of recently killed prisoners with blood splattered on the ground. The prison had very strict rules and regulations–for example, if a prisoner drank water without asking first and getting permission, the prisoners were severely beaten. If prisoners even spoke a word that offended or went against the views of the soldiers, they were severely beaten. The prison was extremely unhygienic as skin diseases, lice, rashes, and ringworm were all rampant among the prisoners. Further, many of the prisoners had to eat human feces and drink human urine. The prisoners were often interrogated and the prison guards often asked about their family members then proceed to go and kill them. As we went through the museum, there were lots of pictures of prisoners and their living conditions along with pictures of their beatings and killings. We saw rusted iron bedframes, detailed autobiographies of the prisoners which were taken when the prisoners arrived and cabinets filled with human skulls. The following day, we visited Choeung Ek, one of nearly 300 killing fields that existed here in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. Between 1975 and 1979, more than two million people died, approximately half being killed and the other half dying from starvation and disease. These two million people came from a population of only 8 million… wow. At this particular killing field, nearly 9,000 bodies were discovered after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Most of the individuals killed at this particular site came from Tuol Sleng. The mass graves were marked off as we were guided around and learned about the horrific events here at Choeung Ek. Essentially, everything was very routine–initially a truck full of people was brought once every two weeks from Tuol Sleng to Choeung Ek at night. The individuals were told that they were being moved to a new location–however they were unaware that this new location would be the end. The individuals would be immediately put into a holding room until the soldiers decided to kill them… typically this wasn’t long. Often, poison was used for mass killings to save on ammunition. No one was exempt–women, children, everyone that came to Choeung Ek or any other killing field never left. There were other ways of torture and killings that were gruesome as well. The dead were thrown into mass graves then covered with DDT and dirt to try to minimize the stint. Towards the end of the Khmer Rouge regime, one or two truckloads of people were arriving each day. The events are certainly tragic and it is sad that anything like this ever occurs but it is even more disturbing that things like this have happened so recently in history… and are still happening today. Today, Choeung Ek remains as a memorial to those who died there and in all other killing fields across the country. In the center of the killing field is a memorial stupa (like a temple) which was built as a remembrance–to the people that died and to the times that were harder. It houses all of the skulls that they found at Choeung Ek and has put them in a far better place than they previously were in a mass grave. Any experience such as these are obviously extremely hard but I am always grateful to have the opportunity to learn about what really happened at the place itself. This is a time of horror in Cambodia’s history that no one here will ever forget about.
I also had the opportunity to visit Cambodia’s Royal Palace, where the king of Cambodia resides. Built in the 1860s, the palace is a great representation of Khmer architecture from buildings to temples to murals to statues and memorials. I was able to visit Throne Hall, a place nowadays devoted to religious and royal ceremonies such as coronations and royal weddings. Of course there was landscaping galore which added to the royal-ness! Overall, I thought the palace was a beautiful place… one certainly fit for any king!
As I mentioned, we didn’t have long in Phnom Penh but we made the most of it. Besides the museums and Royal Palace, we got a chance to walk along the riverfront and enjoy a nice dinner with a breeze… fortunately our dinner was not the fried bugs on the street that we passed… eww, ha. We went to the night market for a bit of shopping and entertainment… and scoped out a few dollar DVDs. The best part about Phnom Penh might have been the Dairy Queen that we stumbled across… yes, a Dairy Queen… I was certainly a very happy camper. It is summer after all… and what’s a summer without a few blizzards right! Ha.
We traveled from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap where we will be for the next few days enjoying the sights before more adventures begin! Hope all is well and a huge HAPPY FATHER’S DAY to my wonderful dad… I’m sorry I’m not there to celebrate but we shall celebrate soon! I love you!