today is my last night in Cambodia and although I have enjoyed the scenery and the country, it is kind of hard to take it all in as I have already said in my last blog. Our last stop in Cambodia was Phnom Penh, the capital. Due to unforeseen circumstances in Sihanoukville where three people had all their chargers and cables stolen, we spent 3.5 days at the beach (hard, isn't it?) and only one full day in Phnom Penh. Today, we went to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) where the crimes of the Khmer Rouge are ever so present. Prior to 1975, Toul Sleng was a high school. When the Khmer Rouge came to power it was converted into the S-21 prison and interrogation facility. Inmates were systematically tortured, sometimes over a period of months, to extract confessions, after which they were executed at the killing fields of Choeung Ek. S-21 processed over 17,000 people, only 7 people survived. The building now serves as a museum, a memorial and a testament to the madness of the Khmer Rouge regime. The prison kept thousands of photos of their victims, many of which are on display. Most of the building has been kept in its original shape, allowing its visitors to walk through the same rooms and cells where so many people were tortured. After the museum we went to the Killing Fields. The killing fields were essentially ad hoc places of execution and dumping grounds for dead bodies during the Khmer Rouge regime. The memorial at Choeung Ek just outside Phnom Penh was and orchard and a Chinese cemetery prior to 1975. During the Khmer Rouge regime it became of the killing fields. This particular killing field is the site of the brutal executions of more than 17,000 men, women and children, most of whom first suffered through interrogation, torture and deprivation in the S-21 prison. Visiting the museum and the killing fields where new skulls and bones are still being found, was probably the most shocking experience on my trip. Ever since arriving in Cambodia, we were told about the horrendous regime of the Khmer Rouge but seeing the crimes of these people, in particular Pol Pot, is still more upsetting. Being able to see the instruments with which the prisoners were tortured and then seeing photos of the prisoners as well as the soldiers (who were between 12 and 20 years old) made every one in the group become very emotional. And if you were wondering why it all happened, then you are just one of many. Nobody seems to have an answer to this; nobody seems able to explain why over 3 million people had to die, either as a result of torture, mistreatment, execution or starvation. Pol Pot just simply wanted to create a mass of uneducated people who would be too stupid to have and opinion but he managed to convince so many people that what he was doing was the best thing that ever happened and the only way forward, it is hard to follow this logic. In the opinions of the Cambodian people, the crimes committed against humanity were greater than the Holocaust, which had so far been the most terrible crime I have come across. But the people here really have moved on. They are happy with what they now have and even though they know that their government is still corrupt, everyone tries to keep smiling, in the greater believe that eventually justice will be done. Truly amazing people!!!!
And this really is the last bit of Cambodia we will experience. Tomorrow morning we are setting off on our journey to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in Vietnam, where we will be spending the best part of the next two weeks. I am already curious what impressions I will take away from Vietnam. Cambodia certainly was an eye opener in every way. I am looking forward to heading up north, into cooler climates as the heat here (up to 40 degrees during the day, in the high 20's at night) can really wear you down. I hope that all of you are keeping well.