Thursday, 12 March 2015

Cambodia: Phnom Penh

Next up on our tour of Cambodia was the capital city of Phnom Penh. We arrived into the city at around 6pm, so plenty of time to find our hostel and get some dinner. After bargaining with the tuk-tuk driver to get a reasonable price, all five of us squeezed into the car and we were off on our way. Checking into the hostel was such a hassle - the owner definitely talks too much! After a chat at the bar for over 30 minutes we finally got shown to our room. We were so hungry we decided to just get food at the hostel and get an early night. Rebecca got more than she bargained for when she got offered a side order of tarantula legs, not one to turn down a challenge she ate them with no problems. We were not completely happy with this hostel so decided to move to another the next morning. Our new place was called Eighty8 and was much nicer and even had a swimming pool!

We arranged a tour of the Killing Fields, S21 Jail and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum for the next morning. The Killing Fields are a number of sites in Cambodia where more than 1 million people were executed and buried by the Communist Khmer regime under rule of Pol Pot during 1975-1979. However the total number of deaths resulting from disease and starvation during this time is estimated to be around 2.5 million out of a population of 8 million. Anyone suspected of connections with the former government were targeted and taken to these out of town areas for interrogation and usually executed within 24 hours of arrival. The most well known killing field is located in the village of Choeung Ek, around a 40 minute drive from Phnom Penh. Here there is a dedicated Buddhist memorial site which includes a stupa filled with over 5,000 skulls of the victims recovered from the mass graves in the area - some just tiny babies. Each of the skulls had been scientifically analysed for age and sex of victims and colour coded according to the cause of death. We all felt so shocked just how recently all this horror had gone on and that we knew almost nothing of its happenings. Even though it was a very eerie place to experience we felt like we learned so much.

Next stop was the S21 Jail and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This former school was transformed into a jail and was used to house victims before being taken to the nearby Killing Field. On arrival at the jail each victim was photographed, beaten and forced to write a very detailed story of their lives right from childhood, as a way to access the possibility of connections with the former government (a punishable offence). This often led to the capture of their entire family who were then also brought to the jail. We made our way around each of the five buildings, reading stories of the way victims were treated and of all the awful torture techniques that were used. We also learned how the guards used the old school gym equipment in the courtyard as a way of torturing victims for information. Again, it was such an overwhelming day for us especially since such horrific torture methods are almost unknown to us. It really hit us hard, again, like the killing fields, that none of this was discovered until 1979 and only because a journalist happened to stumble upon the stench of rotting bodies and followed it to the prison. Sorry for the graphic descriptions but it is really hard to talk about such tragic events in short - we wish that people knew more about this in the Western world because we felt really naive ourselves for being so ignorant to such horrible events.

We're very sorry for the lack of pictures here but we felt that taking photographs at The Killing Fields and S21 Jail was disrespectful. And we didn't really do very much else. As a city, Phnom Penh was our least favourite in Cambodia - largely because there was no real character to it and nothing really to rave about other than the above - which, although extremely interesting, was rather depressing and exhausting. We only stayed for 2 days and then decided to head on to Sihanoukville!

Cambodians love their king
Phnom Penh Palace

Enjoying your chips there?

The Happy Wanderers

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