Published: December 9th 2009December 6th 2009
A visit to the beautiful National Museum, the brutal Killing Fields, and the devastating S21 Prison
Arriving mid afternoon on the Thursday we decided to make the most of our time and first went to the guest house to drop off our bags then straight to the outstandingly built National Museum. Before even getting near the doors you are blown away by the beautiful gardens and the pure size of this unreal building. Inside was even more amazing when you look at the age of some of these sculptures. Blown away by the Buddhas and the Ganeshes that cover every wall, I trekked my way through time and history of a little country called Cambodia. They had tools, rings and other articles used ages ago. An amazing Museum really. After we decided upon just touring about the city and seeing what it had to offer. First we came across the stunning Grand Palace and although we caught some glaces of this fantastic building unfortunately we could not enter due to our shorts and tee shirt attire. We did get some unreal shots of it was the sun started to set though, next we set out to see the Independence Monument which was again beautiful especially with the twilight background provided by the sky! Then it was an early night, as we had a lot ahead of us the next day.
Again planning on leaving mid afternoon the next day we got up bright and early to head off to the Killing Fields then Tuol Sleng otherwise known as the S21 Prison from the Khmer Rouge. On advice of Adrian we decided to start with the killing fields. When you pull up it looks like a normal place with a Stupa (shrine sort of thing) it is only once you get in and start walking around that you see the full of it. First we went to the Stupa, which looks the same as any until you realize that there is a glass case the full height filled with skulls and clothes excavated from the mass graves there. Then you continue to walk around the area, full of craters from all the mass graves that have been dug up, reading about the heinous crimes the Khmer Rouge committed here. The one that stuck with me the most was "The Killing Tree" which the soldiers used to beat babies and young children to death on, right beside was a mass grave filled with naked women and children. The biggest mass grave excavated had nearly 500 peoples remains in it. After taking in all one person can bear, we were off for another sad history lesson.
Upon our arrival at Tuol Sleng it wasn't the old white painted brick school turned prison or the barbwire on the fences and rails that made me realize how devastating this place was but it was the several beggars outside missing limbs and such who must of had to endure it that made me realize. It is said that the Khmer Rouge killed around a quarter of the Khmer population starting with the smart ones, doctors, educated people, and anyone with glasses. This might put in perspective how huge of an impact it had on Cambodia as a nation. One Khmer told us that you would be hard pressed to find someone who wasn't directly affected by the Khmer Rouge, either losing a sibling, parent or another family member. Walking in each room, seeing the "interrogation" rooms, the cells (which weren't bigger than my closet), and some of the tools of torture didn't even come close to preparing me for the last building we saw. It was dedicated to those who died and the whole bottom floor is the 1000's of pictures of people who were kept there, some of them just children. Upstairs you read stories written from people who lost someone, may have survived, or were actually forced to take part in the Khmer Rouge. All in all very intense day. Grateful for a long 6 hour bus ride to Siem Reap to reflect on it all.