Phnom Penh Day 2 (24.06.2012): What a difficult and heart-breaking day!
After breakfast we realised we had no choice but to say yes to a tuk tuk driver as the places we wanted to go were too far to walk. We managed to find a half decent one who we hired for the day.
First stop was Tuol Sleng prison also known by its code name S.21. The prison was a former high school which was converted by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 into the most secret of the country's prisons. Most of the people taken to Tuol Sleng were Khmer Rouge cadres accused of largely fictitious acts of treason. Typically the entire family of an accused traitor would be imprisoned (i.e. including women and children). Most often prisoners had no knowledge of the charges against them when they were arrested, but they were tortured until they confessed whatever crimes they were accused of and then marked for execution. Around 20,000 people were held and executed at Tuol Sleng with only 7 known survivors.
The prison/extermination camp was harrowing. We saw some of the torture devices used, and photographs taken at the time the prison was discovered. It was a case of Cambodians killing Cambodians. Genocide.
Whilst it was difficult to view, I am glad they have kept this prison and made it into a museum. It acts as a harsh reminder of the potential brutality and capability of mankind - by openly showing the suffering that occurred I hope the museum hopes to protect against this kind of thing happening again (not just in Cambodia). There are obvious similarities between what happened in Cambodia in the 1970s and Nazism. What I found most alarming today was that the atrocities in Cambodia took place only a few years before I was born. It is no wonder they are still recovering today, indeed the atrocities of the past are so evident on the streets of Cambodia there being almost a generation missing.
Next stop for us was the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek). The Killing Fields are located some 15km outside of Phnom Penh. Here the victims detained and tortured during interrogation at Tuol Sleng were sent for liquidation. The fields are now a memorial ground, preserving the memory and the remains of victims of the Khmer Rouge. We took an audio tour around the fields. It was so difficult to hear some of the tales.. in particular there is a 'killing tree' where they would smash babies against to kill them before chucking their bodies in a mass grave. There are still bones and bits of clothing coming to the surface. We learnt more about this period of Cambodian history. I have such admiration for this nation for pulling through and wish them all the very best of luck as they continue to rebuild their country.
On return back to Phnom Penh we were involved in a mini tuk tuk crash with a food cart: I knew tuk tuks were dangerous. We made it back in one piece though and got dropped off at the Royal Palace. After a wander around we grabbed some food then headed back to the hostel to watch the F1!
It's probably a good job I am leaving Cambodia tomorrow or else I don't think I would have any possessions left as I just want to donate them all. There are people here with brutal wounds sustained in the Khmer Rouge. Most upsetting is seeing the mums living on the streets with new-born babies to nurse as well as young children - all very thin, dirty and the mothers almost all have no teeth. I haven't been anywhere this poor before and it is really difficult to see. I really do take for granted how lucky I am. I have tried to help where I can I just wish that every tourists would give something back to. I brought a bag of treats for a little boy this evening and he was so happy. I got the cutest smile and he was swinging it round and skipping like he had won the lottery.
So tired after such a trying day.