Phnom Penh and the Killing Fields

I figured I’ll just do my trip entries with story photos so you can share the experience.

From Saigon our group took a 8 hour bus ride to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The border crossing was so unorganized. There were no lines, no control, and no proper instructions. We gave our passports to a guard, then stood with a sea of people waiting for our names to be called, squashed our way to get our passports stamped, then walked through a very long hallway leading across the border.

From the border to Phnom Penh, the highways looked a lot like the Philippines, complete with farmland, peddlers and random food stops along the way.  Upon arrival in Phnom Penh, we checked in to a cute guest house with no elevator. We roommate and I were assigned to the 5th floor and the narrow stairs on the way up were harsh! So glad I packed my light.  My roomie, on the other hand, packed her whole closet and hyperventilated as she carried her things up.

That afternoon, we checked out the King’s monument park.  This is a park right next to the Royal Place where locals often play and hang out after work. Caught awesome lighting at dusk too!

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Meet my new friends, Sharni, Kate and Rachael, 3 out of the 11 others in my tour group. We’re being silly wearing table napkins as hats.  (Fun fact: majority of the tourists here are Australian that the locals speak and sound just like them).

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The next day, we took a short bus ride to the famous Killing Fields where the Cambodian dictator Pol Pot orchestrated mass killings and genocide during his regime.  Because he wanted complete control over the country, he ordered all educated persons killed.  Or anyone against him actually.

Below is a mass grave, basically a plot where 400 people were burned and their ashes still remain.  There are about 10-20 of these scattered across the killing fields.

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Though the genocide was in the 1970s, bone fragments and clothing are still evident on the ground. I felt the fragility of life as the pieces crunched with my footsteps and these bone fragments and clothing begged for attention.

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This is a stupa of skulls of the victims, arranged in order as women, children and men.

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After the Killing Fields, we went to the Cheoung Ek Museum, a former school that was used as a concentration camp during the Pol Pot regime. Each classroom was converted into prison cells, divided by bricks with no bathrooms and no windows. The school offices were interrogation rooms where officers beat up prisoners who they assumed knew intelligence against Pol Pot.

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This is a gallow where prisoners were hung and their heads were dunked into jars filled with feces and foul water until they confessed or admitted what the prison guards wanted.

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There were only 7 that survived this concentration camp, among them is the man I met below. He had quite a compelling story.  He was a mechanic jailed by the regime because they taught he was affiliated with the CIA. The poor man didn’t even know who or what the CIA was, he was simply a smart mechanic to liked to fix things.  The prison guards didn’t believe his story, so the beat and imprisoned him for “lying.”  After a year or so, the guards had trouble with their typewriter so they tested the mechanic and had him fix it. If he could fix it, they promised him his freedom. It was an easy fix, and here he is many years later sharing his story.  Such a humble, friendly and inspiring man!

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This was one of those experiences that reminded me of my fortunate freedom and respect for history, well worth the trip here.

 

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