Cambodia’s Dark Past Revisited
Pulling into Phnom Penh after a day of pleasant travelling from our activities at Siam Reap, we arrived fresh, and ready to explore the capital of Cambodia.
Let me tell you that Cambodia has the best buses EVER and I actually slept….actually I passed out before Matt injects into this post. Yes, I was out last night and yes I only had an hour and a half’s sleep, and yes I had to run for the bus after trying to go to the ATM to take out more money. It was actually a funny morning and recounting our experience the next day, Matt, Alannah and I would be in tears laughing what happened. I do remember trying to zip my overstuffed bag and nearly breaking into a freak out as it wouldn’t! And I do remember when we arrived at the bus station in Siam Reap, I was so ravenous that I quickly accepted a fresh bread with something stuffed inside. I didn’t care, it was so nice that I quickly ran off to the seller again for another one!
But the biggest laugh had to been when a local guy tried to sell us 2 pieces of bread and a bottle of water. Now, that’s not so funny but when he thrusted the items in front of your face by sheer centimetres, remain there without a word staring at you and not even smiling. He did this repeatedly to Alannah and I so many times that by the end, we ignored him, whilst hungover, and took a bread from the woman next to us instead! Aw bless him…maybe it’s one of those funny moments where you had to be there…so back onto Phnom Penh.
Checking in to the White Rabbit Hostel, we spent the rest of the day chilling out at the sports bar, having my first burger ever since I started travelling! Yummy! And quickly fell asleep in preparation for what was to come the next day.
Now we get serious.
From 1975-1979, Cambodia was in the grip of the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, who slaughtered a quarter of its population. The communists believed equality for all and that there should be no class structure. Everyone had to wear the same clothes, do back breaking work in the countryside, empty the cities, spy on each other and did not get fed even any adequate portions at all.
It didn’t stop there. There were brutal killings.
Anyone suspected of having any affiliation with the previous government that warred with the Khmer Rouge was killed. Many men were taken instantly from their families, being told they would be returned the next morning, and didn’t. They were tortured for many days or months and then killed instantly.
Many children lost their parents.
Even the world didn’t step in to help a country so gripped in this fanaticism and more shockingly, in 1979, the UN gave Cambodia’s seat to the Khmer Rouge. It wasn’t until Vietnam, after their war, invaded the country after getting fed up of Pol Pot’s attempts to raid Vietnamese border lands and defeating the Khmer Rouge.
But it was too late. Many people have died from the killings or by starvation as the Khmer Rouge used rice to trade with China in exchange for guns.
What a waste.
This post is certainly sobering but when I visited both S21, the genocide museum, and the Killing Fields, my heart felt for the Cambodian people. Never have I come to a country that welcomed me with open arms and remain in a constant state of happiness even as there are generations who remember the atrocities that happened.
Both places are a stark reminder that there are still threats in this world from fanaticism and this happened not that long ago.
But as I wandered around the mass graves of the Killing Fields, I was so shocked at the information and experiences that was fed to me by audio tape, videos and posters.
There’s a killing tree. For children. The Khmer Rouge, who didn’t want to waste their precious bullets, would swing babies to hit their heads on this tree, instantly killing them. Yes, they killed children.
Everywhere there is a reminder. As we were there while it was raining, many bone fragments and teeth would be pushed to the surface. Or even the clothes they wore.
For this, this makes me mad that the trials of the leading Khmer Rouge has just started. It has taken this long and you know what? All 4 of the leaders deny any knowledge of any killings happening. Well, in the first trial that has just finished for the head of S21 – the secret prison that used torture, has admitted remorse and has taken on responsibility of the killings. He has been given a lifetime of prison…but he’s already very old. He won’t last too long.
It was a very affecting experience and I do encourage you to visit both centres.
Now I will show you some of the photos I took and I want you to think of this and hopefully join in the world of saying…’Never Again.’
S21 – Genocide Museum – where Torture took place in this secret Museum.
No mattresses at all
The prisoners would be tied upside down and dunked into pots of brackish water as a form of torture
The Killing Fields
Monument built to house the skeletal remains recovered from the mass graves