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Phnom Penh

sunny 35 °C

We had a lazy morning and after dragging ourselves out of bed, we decided to check what it costs to get around this city. We talked to some Cambodian guys who said they would give us a day tour for $15/person--which was ridiculous--so we left and found motorbike to rent from a really nice guy right around the corner for only $6/day. He was really helpful and told us the places that were worth checking out and the ones that weren't. He even gave us a brief historical run-down of the Cheong Ek killing fields which would be our first stop. Nate had a good time navigating through the thick and erratic traffic of the city, which was filled with swarms of motorbikes, tuk-tuks, and pickup trucks. This was our first time renting a bike in a crowded city, and weaving our way through the seemingly lawless roads presented a new challenge. I did some excellent navigating and we got to the killing fields with no problem. We spent a couple of hours at the museum and took time to look at all of the displays and the large memorial in the center that contains hundreds of skulls, bones and clothing that were exhumed in the 1980s after the Khmer Rouge lost power and the extent of their horrific reign was uncovered. We spent a lot of time looking around the displays. The mass graves were still around the center area, pock-marking the soil with hundreds of shallow graves. In this one area, they have disinterred 8,985 bodies of men, women, and children, and some experts estimate that the total number of people killed during this period for the country to be nearly two million. The areas surrounding the graves were well labeled and gave us a clear picture of the horror that had occurred. We were horrified to find that most of the victims had been killed by hand, first being clubbed unconscious with metal bars, hoes, and shovels, and then were strangled to death. Some that were not killed were buried alive and chemicals were dumped on the graves to insure they died and that the remains would decay quickly. There was even a tree labeled there that had originally held a speaker system used to drown out the noise of those being killed so as not to scare the remaining victims or draw attention from surrounding neighbors. Everything has been very well documented and it was truly overwhelming to learn about how many people had been killed there and in such a short time--only 2-3 years. And to thick that all of this happened only 25 years ago.

After visiting the Cheong Ek Killing Fields, we headed back into town to visit another museum but first stopped to get a bite to eat. We found a spot near the museum and got a couple of Khmer dishes (curry and a stir-fry) then walked over to the Tuol Sleng Museum. This museum, originally having been built to serve as a high school, had been notoriously known simply as "S-21" during the Khmer Rouge reign. It was here that thousands of people had been imprisoned, interrogated, processed, and the majority of them who were considered enemies to the regime and were (fortunate?) enough to have survived the interrogations, were sent to concentration-style hard labor camps and ultimately to be exterminated at the killing fields. These so-called enemies of the state, consisted of women, children, and men from all walks of life. When the Khmer Rouge fled the area, they left behind 13 bodies and photographic evidence as well as documentation of the horrors that had occurred there. Now the entire complex serves a memorial, and many of the rooms have been kept in their original condition, complete with the simple metal-framed beds with shackles which held the prisoners. On the walls in many of these rooms--which were used for the interrogations--hung gruesome pictures of prisoners who had been beaten or tortured to death, taken by Khmer Rouge soldiers. There were also several large rooms filled with massive boards containing thousands of prison line-up style pictures of all of the people who had been "processed" here (some of the evidence the Khmer Rouge had left behind), and there were also exhibits of pictures and painting of tortures that had been made while the prison was in use. Also very interesting was an exhibit from a Swedish group that had been given a tour during the Khmer Rouge reign. At that time, they thought Cambodia was a good example of an ideal communist state. After the Khmer Rouge's tactics were exposed however, they reevaluated how unbiased their tour had been and reflected on what they now see as a huge propaganda campaign. It was a very powerful museum and we both learned alot.

After the museum we needed a break from from the carnage of the Khmer Rogue. We headed to the Silver Pagoda and the Royal Palace, but were caught in really heavy traffic. We discovered that the cause of this traffic jam was a small parade for the Cambodian circus that was winding its way through town! We pulled over and watched the excitement and also waited for the traffic to clear a bit before continuing along. We dropped off the motorbike at the end of the day, got some dinner at an Indian restaurant, and then topped ourselves off with a banana split and a couple of beers before heading to bed =)

Posted by heidigras 03:55 Archived in Cambodia

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