Phnom Penh & The Killing Fields


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Asia » Cambodia » South » Phnom Penh
January 7th 2020
Published: January 9th 2020
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We head off in the morning for Phnom Penh - another 4-5hr drive. I've calculated that by the time we reach Ho Chi Min (Saigon), we will have been driving for 28hrs all up, just on this leg of the trip. That's not including time getting to the hotel or specific locations etc.

When we're on our way to Phnom Penh, going along a main road, we're constantly hitting pot holes, some of the road isn't even tarmac, it's literally dirt. We're flying around the van and falling off our seats.

Vanny explains that a lot of the roads aren't built by Cambodians, they're actually built by other countries. The Chinese & Korean roads are really cheap, they need to be totally redone every few years. The American, Japanese, French roads are much thicker and don't need to be done as frequently.

We get to our hotel to drop our bags off. My rooms on the 5th floor.. I'm so glad I bought a bag with straps.
I go and check out the National Museum quickly, then go and get an average massage for $13.

We then take Tuk Tuks and go on a sight seeing tour around town. Why we decided to do so during rush hour is completely bewildering. Every fucker is stuck in heavy traffic and driving like a mad man to avoid it. In Cambodia, the side of the road is meant to be the right hand side, but if there's a space on the other side of the road or along the footpath or a small gap between the road and the footpath, you take it. This seems to work mostly, until you get peak hour traffic and you get buses driving at you on the wrong side of the road (I say this as our bus overtakes cars forcing smaller vehicles on the correct side of the road to ride along the shoulder).



The next morning we go to the Genocide Museum. Our tour guide "Amom" for short, is in her 20s and lost her grandma during the US bombing of Cambodia (trying to get Vietcong) and had an uncle killed by the Khmer Rouge.



Here's a quick synopsis about what happened in Cambodia for those who don't know:

The Khmer Rouge was the name given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (Cambodia) and which the CPK ruled in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

Pol Pot (born Saloth Sâr) was the leader of this 1976 - 1979. With help from the Viet Cong, CPK took control of Cambodia in 1975. They renamed Cambodia "Kampuchea Democratic."

When they managed to take over Phnom Penh (capital city of Cambodia), they killed between 700 and 800 senior government, military, and police figures - basically because they didn't trust them.

They then asked the citizens of Phnom Penh (2.5 million people) to evacuate the city with very little notice; under the guise they wanted them to escape further US Bombing and that they could come back in a few days. Some of the people were sick or in hospital; if they didn't or couldn't leave, they killed them.
It was like the hottest month of the year and circa 20,000 people died while 'evacuating.' This was all so they could take power of the city.

The Khmer Rouge became extremely paranoid, thinking their a lot of their own people were CIA agents because of the Vietnam War (or American War as the Vietnamese call it). They started setting up prisons like S21 (Security Office 21 - The Genocide Museum I went to), in places like schools etc. In there, they started questioning people and torturing them.
There's a set of rules everyone had to abide by in the prisons, if you didn't follow them, they'd torture you further.



Here are the rules (from Wiki-translated in bad English as in S21):

1. You must answer accordingly to my question. Don't turn them away. ]

2. Don't try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that, you are strictly prohibited to contest me.

3. Don't be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.

4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.

5. Don't tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.

6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.

7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting.

8. Don't make pretext about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your secret or traitor.

9. If you don't follow all the above rules, you shall get many lashes of electric wire.

10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.



They'd shackle people to a bed to be questioned. They had to pee in a bottle and shit in a can. If they knocked that over accidentally, they'd have to clean it up - sometimes by eating it.
They'd ask the people if they were CIA. A lot of people were unsure of what they were talking about, so they'd get tortured. The torture ranged from beatings, waterboarding, dorwning, electrocution, removing toe/finger nails, pulling teeth, lashings, rape, slashing, cutting their stomachs open, etc. This wasn't exclusive to men, they'd also do this to women and children - infants. There's a story of a KR soldier throwing an infant out one of the windows, the mother being so distraught she jumped out afterwards to her death.
A few more people tried to commit suicide that way, so they installed barbed wire along the building to prevent that.

People were kept on 3 different levels in the school. Depending on what level they gave you, would depend on how you were kept. The lower level had 12 people in a room, victims were regularly lashed and humiliated.
They took photos of people to document what they were doing.
Amom had to stop and nearly burst into tears describing parts of this.



After this we went to The Killing Fields or Choeung Ek, as there were more than one. This was just the place where they found the most bodies circa 9,000 after excavations.
I kind of expected that figure to be higher, but our guide explained, that was only what came back from excavation - bones still continue to wash up and surface after the rainy season.
Walking around, you can see bits of teeth, bone, clothing etc that are further coming to surface due to weathering. She showed us a bit of bone that was green - this indicated the person had been poisoned - probably with DDT.

There were different ways they killed people, from hitting people with clubs and spades, slitting their throats with sugar palm leaves, poisoning, spears through their heads etc. The soldiers would mock and make fun of them while doing so. Strangely, there weren't many/any found that had been shot. was for a couple of reasons: 1. Bullets cost money, money was important for the war & 2. they didn't think bullets should be wasted on them - they didn't want them to have a quick death. They even forced a lot of prisoners were forced to dig their own graves.

The solider's often took the opportunity to rape and humiliate the female prisoners. There's a mass grave of where only females were found, all of them without clothes on.

Then came The Killing Tree.

The Killing Tree was where they would grab children by their legs and smash their heads against the tree to kill them - often in front of their mothers. The rationale was to "stop them growing up and taking revenge for their parents' deaths."



The reason I've mentioned these gruesome things is sometimes it's important to remind yourself what people are capable of; not only that, but it's important to know what extent the regime went to, I guess in honour to the survivors and the people who had families go through it. I got a photo with the survivor Chum Mey and briefly said a few words to him (via a translator).

So yeah. Watching your guide nearly cry, people in your group in tears and having to leave because it got too much, was a pretty intense.



Phnom Penh itself was an incredibly busy city with lots of traffic and people. Personally, I didn't really like it.

After the Killing Fields, we came back, had lunch at Friends the Restaurant - which gives under privileged kids the chance to learn how to cook etc. They make all the meals - which were delicious might I add. Just $50 - will provide one kid a month's worth of schooling, so basically by having lunch their with our group, we covered 1-2 kids for the next month.

I then head off to The Royal Palace - which whilst it was impressive, wasn't anywhere near as epic as the Grand Palace I saw in Bangkok. In a round about way, I kinda wish I'd seen that first.

After that I had a 1.5hr massage booked at a fancy pants place. A few of the girls from my trip recommended it, saying it was really good. I asked them to give me the person who pushed the hardest and specially indicated the areas I wanted addressed - back, shoulders legs, etc - I told them not to fuck about with doing my feet, hands or head. They always kinda gloss over that and you feel like they ripped you off worse than Magic Mike's tearaways. I paid $44 USD - it was pretty good, 7/10 but probably not worth the price tag.



That'll to for Today. Tomorrow - we're off to Vietnam. Toodles!

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