I was prepared for an emotional day today as we were off to visit the Killing Fields and S21 prison in Phnom Penh.
Not knowing a lot about what happened, I had seen other YouTube videos and read blog posts from people who had been to visit both places, so I had a rough idea of what to expect.
Between 1975 and 1979 the Khmer Rouge regime brought destruction across Cambodia in a civil war that cost over 2 million lives. The communist routine led by Pol Pot saw people who were well-educated, and their families, brutally murdered in ‘killing fields’ across the country, having been detained and tortured in make-shift prisons like S21, a former high school.
Those who weren’t killed, mainly children, were forced to work within the agricultural sector in horrible conditions, where many died from starvation, disease or exhaustion.
We were taken to what is believed to be the largest killing field in Cambodia in Cheung Ek, where around 17,000 people are thought to have been killed and buried in mass graves.
Nearly 9000 bodies have been exhumed from this field, most of whom were either killed with a blow to the head or had their throats cut with a blunt make-shift knife.
I can’t bring myself to write what they did to mothers and their babies, as it was so horrifying.
Walking around Cheung Ek is very eerie as there are still pieces of clothing and bone fragments sticking out through the ground, and each year when the rain comes, more and more are unearthed.
After spending some time there, we then paid a visit to the S21 prison where most of these victims will have been kept prior to being transported to Cheung Ek.
S21 used to be a High School, until Khmer Rouge soldiers turned it into a prison. The soldiers would interrogate prisoners to find out information on the prisoners families and friends in the hope of gaining information as to the whereabouts of more educated people, who were their main targets. If the prisoners were not forthcoming with such information they would be tortured.
If the prisoners managed to survive the torture, they were then told that they would be ‘re-housed’. This in fact was a death sentence and they were sent to the killing fields.
We were told some harrowing stories about the lives of prisoners, both male and female, and I just can’t imagine what they must’ve gone through all because they were well-educated individuals.
The majority of the Cambodian population is under the age of 35 because of these atrocities, which also turned one of the richest countries in South East Asia to one of the poorest.
It was really an emotional morning, and after we had finished we went back to the hotel to spend the afternoon at our leisure.
Me and a few others decided to visit the Royal Palace as we had a couple of hours to kill before we went to dinner at a local family’s house.
The Palace was very grand, golden and shiny! It always kind of irritates me that even in poor countries the Palaces are always well kept. In hindsight, we should’ve paid extra for a personal guide as we didn’t really learn anything from going there.
Before we headed for dinner we went for a sunset boat trip along the river. It was so relaxing and beautiful, just what we needed after a rather hectic and intense day.
The home dinner was hosted by our tour guide who took us around the killing fields and prison. He had a very personal story to tell during our day with him, as his father was killed by the Khmer Rouge regime and him and his brothers were forced to work, and unfortunately he lost a brother too.
His family made us feel very welcome, and served up a huge home-cooked feast for us. The food was simply amazing, and probably the best food we’d had whilst in Cambodia, and that is saying something. We also got to try a local delicacy, tarantula wine, with is rice wine poured over dead tarantula and left to marinate. Very strong stuff!
Soon it was time to say our thank you’s and our goodbyes, and set off on another hair-raising tuk-tuk ride! The roads are crazy in Cambodia, but particularly in Phnom Penh. We even saw a lady breast-feeding her baby whilst on the back of a scooter, crazy stuff!
After partaking in a cocktail with my feet in the cool pool, I headed off to bed for another day of travelling, this time we were headed for the beach!