If you have ever seen the movie The Killing Fields, then you will understand most of the destinations we visited today. For those that haven’t, in a 3 year 8 month span the Khmer Rouge “The Red Khmer” killed 3 million or 3/8’s of their population. Originally this targeted the intelligentsia and former government officials however it soon spread to everyone else. Operating under the slogan of “to remove the grass you must pull out the roots”, everyone in a “traitorous” family would be killed.
Our first stop was Tuol Sleng prison also known as S-21. S-21 was originally a Phnom Penh high school but when schools were closed and the cities emptied in 1976 the Khmer Rouge turned it into a place of death.
There was really nothing done in terms of remodeling, instead holes were just created to serve as walkways between rooms and cells were built.
The Prison is often criticized by outside observers because they put very little effort into maintaining it. I read that’s because the entrance fee mostly goes into the museum director’s pocket. The most obvious example of its poor upkeep is the blood that’s still on the floor and how a lot of the rooms provide no information.
Regarding what you can see at the museum, it features four buildings A, B, C, and D along with a courtyard where the executions occurred. Building A was for high-level prisoners i.e. Government officials or high-ranking Cadres. Building B was a group holding cell where 60+ people were crammed into a room and shackled to the floor. Jailers would periodically come by and pull people out for torture in order to extract “confessions”
Building C contained isolation cells that were really small but I believe were just for individuals. The biggest problem was that nothing was really explained and we did not want to hire a tour guide. The final building D was just used as a gallery for artwork inspired by the events that took place here.
Some Sad Facts about the Prison
· Of the thousands of people that came into S-21, only 7 were released. (some reports say others were released)
· None of the Jailers were ever prosecuted, and only Duch who I’d consider an Adolf Eichmann of Cambodia was recently sentenced to just 30 years in prison. The trial for the other leaders including Brother #2 Nuon Chea is currently ongoing.
· Detailed records were kept on every prisoner, so you can read their outlandish confessions they were made to sign
· 9 Foreigners are believed to have been murdered here
Our time at the museum concluded with a movie about a love story that took place at the prison. I found it extremely dull as it did not provide much information about the prison. We had expected to travel straight to the killing fields next, but our Tuk-Tuk got a flat tire so we were forced to wait in a café for 40 minutes and be subjected to the original Fast and Furious Movie. After the Tuk-Tuk was fixed it was off to the Killing Fields.
If a Prisoner had the misfortune of surviving S-21, after about 5-6 months they along with their entire family would be driven about a hour away to a former Chinese Graveyard. People nearby assumed the area was just a Khmer Rouge meeting place, as Revolutionary music would be heard at all hours of the night. This was not to done to develop patriotic spirit, but instead to muffle the screams of victims. Victims were told they were being moved to a new house but instead would be lined up beside a pit. Eventually they would be hacked to death with whatever was available at the time. Even babies were not spared, as there was a certain tree that was used. It was a very powerful place to experience and was very disheartening to see the depths to which humanity can sink. The visit concludes with a visit inside a sepa that contains 10 racks of all the bones that have been collected.
Killing tree for Babies
We next headed to Cambodian Royal Palace. With a steep entry price of 6 dollars, (most are 2-3) we had expected to be in for a treat. While some of the buildings had interesting architecture, it was not worth the money. First of all, half the palace is restricted for some unexplained reason. I could completely understand not being allowed into some buildings but I didn’t understand why I could not walk around the gardens. Secondly, those buildings that you could see pretty much as a whole prohibited photographs. I managed to snap one of the throne room, but everywhere else the security guards freaked out. We finally just gave up and left, as there was no point in spending more than 30 minutes there. Having finished way earlier than expected we decided to walk around the area a little bit. We passed the memorial dedicated to Vietnamese / Cambodia cooperation in ousting the Khmer Rouge, and then decided to check out a Brazilian Steakhouse restaurant. Unfortunately it was not open so we headed back for another amazing dinner at Mad Monkey. Having not really eaten the entire day I indulged in fruit, local food, and even a small pizza and it was all very good.
After dinner we decided to go try and find a place called Flick’s Movie House. We had read on Wikitravel (which is a amazing website) this was something you had to experience in Phnom Penh because you watch a movie spread out on a futon and they bring you popcorn. Safe it say it was a good experience and a very interesting way to experience Sherlock Holmes 2. Tomorrow it’s off to city #5 Siem Reap home of Angkor Wat