The Khmer Rouge led by communist dictator Pol Pot slaughtered millions of people in Cambodia in the 1970's.
We visited a converted school-turned-prison 'S-21' where they held and tortured prisoners. They explained how an apparatus used for PE had been turned into a torture chamber. The walls of the cells were posted with mug-shots of those imprisoned and later killed. Like the Nazi's they were ruthless in monitoring their prisoners to ensure no one escaped.
We also visited the Killing Fields where nearly 20,000 people were killed during the four year regime. We walked around the site with a recorded explanation of how the grounds were used. You can still see items of clothing and bones in the ground where the earth's moved over the years.
There's a lake behind the site where we sat and listened to harrowing stories from survivors. A man explained how as a young boy he was put into a cell with an old man. The old man argued everyday with the officers that he was too young to be there, that it was a prison for men and not children. The old man knew that his constant badgering would see him killed but he sacrificed himself to save that child.
In the center of the Killing Fields is a large monument dedicated to the memory of those killed. It is a large tower with 10 or more shelves holding 81,000 skulls and bones excavated in the Phomn Penh site and those in the surrounding areas.
This was the first experience that really shunted life into perspective. They were keen that we share what we'd seen and heard with those at home, in the hope of preventing similar atrocities. Knowing that something like this could have happened in our, or our parents life time is hard to believe. Knowing that genocide still goes on in many countries around the world is even harder to grasp.
Despite their recent history, the people of Cambodia have such a great attitude towards life. Many lost loved ones, in some cases entire families. Others lost limbs in prisons or in the mines that were placed along the boarders to prevent people from escaping. They lost at the very least their livelihoods. It was a very humbling experience.
Before I left I watched the channel four documentary Voices from the Killing Fields which showed a man trying to edge a confession out of one of the few surviving leaders, three of which went on trial in November 2011.
While in Cambodia I read The Killing Fields, which the locals photocopy and sell to earn their keep.
We were stunned into silence for most of the day. When it was done, we were all in need of a very stiff drink... or two.