WARNING: GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS
So today we hired a tuk tuk driver for the day to take us to a few attractions in the city. We only have one full day here so wanted to make the most of it. He was called 'David' and charged us $26 for the day so not bad.
In order for this blog post to make sense, here is a little Cambodian history lesson. Please do look into it more as it is fascinating yet truly heartbreaking.
In 1975 the Khmer Rouge headed by Pol Pot stormed into the city of Phnom Penh. They wanted to create a poor communist country. Within 3 days they had evacuated an entire city, it was like a ghost town.
Pol Pot was a very paranoid man and believed that most of the population of Cambodia were enemies of the state and so he took action to prevent these people from uprising and seeking revenge on the Khmer Rouge. He wanted to kill their spirit. These so called 'enemies' were not that at all but just regular people. Anybody that had an education and their families became targets. This was the 70s and like most of the world a lot of people were educated.
They were sent to work in the countryside often separated from their families. They worked in rice fields for up to 12 hours a day, with no break, no food, no water, no shelter from the sun. These people were teachers, lawyers, shop keepers, business people, nurses, etc with no experience of working in the fields. Many died from starvation and disease.
The Khmer Rouge were suspicious of everybody and so many thousands of people faced interrogation to uncover their 'truth'. The interrogation was that bad that people began 'admitting' to being CIA agents just so the torture would end which basically just signed their death warrant and the death warrant of their families. They weren't CIA agents but regular people. How desperate must they have been!
Over the course of 4 years, over a million Cambodians died at the hands of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. A quarter of the population, innocently murdered. Please do read into it.
Our day tour started at the Killing Fields which as the name suggests isn't a nice place to visit but a place to go to learn about the genocide and pay respect to all those that died. The fields worked in a similar way to the Nazi death camps, a place were people are taken to be executed. Men, women, children and babies all murdered for no reason. It's heartbreaking.
They were either shot, hit over the head or had chemicals poured onto them and then thrown into mass graves. For the babies, they were held by their legs and then had their heads smashed against a tree and thrown into the grave alongside their mothers. How can tiny babies be an enemy to the state? Paranoid Pol Pot believed that one day they could seek revenge on the Khmer Rouge for what they did to their families. Unbelievable. If one soldier heard a rumour about another soldier plotting against Pol Pot then he too was executed. The majority of soldiers were aged 12-15 who had no education so were easy to manipulate and too scared to speak up. No one was safe!
Overall around 9,000 bodies were found in the mass graves at the killing fields. This only happened 40 years so when walking around the fields you can still see bones and victims' clothes sticking up from the ground.
I didn't take any pictures whilst at the fields, it isn't right so the one attached to the post was found online. I was horrified to see people taking selfies with the fields. Like have some respect!!
After the fields we went to S21, a former high school turned prison during the Khmer Rouge regime. This prison held prisoners whilst they were tortured before taking them to the killing fields. Of the 14,000 people to pass through this prison, only 7 survived! The prison is now a genocide museum showing the horrors that happened with the aim to educate the younger generation and the rest of the world.
At the killing fields, thousands of skulls were on display in a memorial temple but they didn't affect me too much. It was seeing the faces at the prison that hit me. To see the people behind the skulls with such a terrified look in their eyes. Every victims photo was on display. There was one of a young woman with a sleeping baby in her arms. The baby looked so peaceful. Safe to say, they didn't make it out. It was also shocking to see blood stains on the floor of the cells. That shows how recent this all was.
One of the survivors now in his 70s works at the museum, sharing his story with visitors. He is so brave to visit the place where he was tortured and saw many people killed before his eyes. I feel so humbled to have met him.
My question throughout visiting the killing fields and the prison was "where was the rest of the world during this time? How was this allowed to happen so soon after the Holocaust? Surely someone could have stepped in?" But the rest of the world didn't learn about the horrors until it was all over in 1979. The borders to Cambodia were shut from the end of the Vietnamese war. Pol Pot invited some Swedish diplomats to visit Cambodia during his reign. They were supporters of what they believed he was trying to achieve. On their visit, they saw happy smiling workers (they were threatened to smile or be killed), didn't see any of the 300 killing fields so reported to the world that everything was good in Cambodia.
Please do read more into this horrifying chapter in History as my blog only touches on a small part of what happened.
That evening we ventured out into the rain to find some food. We stumbled across a nice sports bar and I couldn't resist having chips and gravy? You can take the girl out of Lancashire but you can't take Lancashire out of the girl.