Phnom Penh

February 10, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Posted in Cambodia | 1 Comment

we stopped in cambodia’s capital city for a couple of nights en route to the coast. The city doesn’t have a great reputation but it was worth checking out, mostly because of the killing fields.

our bus on the way to phnom penh. notice the smashed windshield from a previous accident that has been repaired using tape.

roadtrip scenery.

the riverfront is supposedly the nicest area in phnom penh with a lot of restaurants and bars. It was full of rubbish and stunk pretty bad, not a good place to relax… yet lots of locals were around, some even fishing in the filfthy water.

night food market with nice little picnic area. the other part of the market was pretty weak, especially after the ones in siem reap.

cambodia has been through some shitty times (1975-1979), with pol pot’s brutal regime accounting for over a million lives. we visited tuol sleng genecide museum – this place used to be a school, but during those 4 years was turned into a prison and torture centre. class rooms were divided up and turned into cells, some rooms still containing chalkboards. bars once used as a jungly gym for the children were used as gallows and water tortures.

the rooms still had the beds in and some pretty gruesome pictures, a really creepy place.

the museum had an exhibit by a swedish guy who had visited the country in 1978 (one of the few foreigners to do so). he explained his two contrasting feelings, at the time of his visit and in restrospect: at the time he felt cambodia was a country with no real problems, but his present day feelings are of regret for supporting an abominal regime. during his visit he was subjected to mass propaganda and his group didn’t even have their own translator which meant that much of the cruelty and horror was hidden from the foreigners’ eyes.

after the people had been subjected to torture and made to admit (falsley) to whatever the khmer rouge wanted them to, they were taken to the killing fields and executed.  

we visited these killing fields and walking around them was like a punch in the face. below is the stupa, or religious memorial, to all who were killed. housed inside this magestic white tower are over 5000 human skulls, as well as other bones and a heap of raggedy clothes, all dug up from the mass graves when the khmer rouge were defeated. in all, there were close to 20,000 executions.

seeing so many skulls was crazy. although they are in the stupa, the unceromonious way they are heaped on top of each other emphasizes how death in this number makes everyone anonymous.

not only were there still bones and bits of clothes in the dug-up graves, there were actually bones and rags sticking up from the ground as we walked around. the experience was surreal. i’m not sure why the entire site wasn’t fully excavated and cleared of human remains, but the result is almost creepier than seeing all of those skulls. it’s as if the fields were seen as some kind of sicko human landfill, where bodies were carelessy flung about.

i don’t want to get into all of the horrors, but were are a few horrible things that stuck with me: children and babies were killed by smashing them against trees; the khmer rouge sprayed chemicals on the bodies to help with the stench as well as to kill any survivors who were mixed in with the dead.


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  1. The pictures of the skulls are hard to see and I’m sure being there is surreal as well as horrible. I had read about the killing fields, but how did actually being there affect you all?

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