First Stop in Cambodia


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Asia » Cambodia » South » Phnom Penh
December 16th 2005
Published: February 5th 2006
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PHNOMH PENH (PP)
15 DEC 05- 16 DEC 05
As we only have one day to do the sights of PP, the three of us are going on a tuk-tuk tour to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) and the Killing Fields at Choueng Ek, followed by the Russian Market.

During Pol Pots regime, the Khmer Rouge turned Toul Sleng Prey Secondary School into a primitive prison and interrogation centre. Classrooms were divided into individual cells, or housed rows of prisoners secured by shackles. Between 1975 and 1979, an estimated 20,000 victims were imprisoned here. Teachers, students, doctors, monks ad peasants suspected of anti-revolutionary behaviour were brought here, often with their spouses and children. They were subjected to horrific tortures, and then killed, or taken to extermination camps (such as Choueng Ek). S-21 has been left exactly as it was found by the liberating Vietnames forces- the 14 victims found in the cells have been buried in the school playground.

It's a throughly depressing place- the Cambodians suffered so heavily under the Khmer Rouge regime, and the photos of the victims (men, women and children alike had their photo taken upon entry to the prison, and some also have 'after' photos documenting their suffering under torture), torture instruments and blood stains on the walls make it very real to you.

After stopping for lunch (don't really feel like eating), we ride the 15km southwest of PP to Choueng Ek. In 1980, the bodies of 8925 poeple. victims of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge comrades were found in 86 mass graves. A further 43 graves have been left untouched. Many of those buried here had suffered horrendously at S-21 before being transported here for execution.

As you enter the site, a tall white stupa stands as a memorial to all those that died here between 1975 and 1979. Inside, thousands of unearthed skulls, laid out demographically are displayed on glass shelves. Underneath lies a pile of their ragged clothes. A walk around the site reveals the various mass graves where men, women and children were found. It's a sobering and desperately sad experience.

After a quick visit to the Russian Market (and handing out my bananas to begging women with children) we go for a quick drink at Friends restaurant, an organisation training orphans in cooking, hospitality and numerous other skills (profits go back into the organisation to help more children). We then head back to the GH and chill out. A Finnish guy, Vil, tells us about his travels- he's a journalist going to extremes for a story; he's been eating spiders, grasshoppers, roasted guinea pigs and duck foetus on various world stops. Gross.

As we only had time for one day in PP, the next day means more travellng. Our bus for Siem Reap leaves at 7.30am-ish. We strike it lucky- Luke and I have the 2 front seats at the top of the bus, and although Johnny has a seat further back, he makes himself comfortable up front with us (we have LOADS of room in front of us). It's a great view from up here too, and although the state of Cambodia's roads is supposed to be notoriously awful, this route is perfectly fine! It's only on a petrol stop when a girl selling fruit, who also has HUGE spiders sitting on her, comes up to me that I feel a bit uncomfortale!!

So, Siem Reap (and Angkor), here we come!

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