You can’t come to Cambodia and not see the killing fields. This is what we told ourselves, as we had heard awful things about Pnom Penh and we were worried about safety. One of the girls we met at the Laos border crossing had said she was attacked by a group of street kids that wanted to rob her of her purse. She also nearly got her phone snatched her by from thieves on a motorbike. We had heard several of these kind of stories, and looking back at the place, I dare say its true, but luckily nothing happened to us. We deliberately avoided the tourist strip and instead headed into the local area which seemed nice enough and safe, although you can tell the difference between cambodia and the other south east asian countries. It came very close to India, in the state of disrepair that it was in, there was rubbish everywhere and there was more apparent poverty.
We had a trip booked for the next day where a tuk tuk driver would take four of us to S21 no the killing fields. I don’t know anything about history (even as recent as this) so we decided that we would watch a documentary before going. (I had gone through the whole of Vietnam without having a clue about what happened in the war and felt a bit ignorant doing so.). I’m so glad we learnt a bit about it as this hammered it home to me. The suffering that these people had been through. When people were first moved out of their homes in Pnom Penh, they were told it was for their own safety as there was going to be a bombing. They could come back in a few days. But this was not true. They were to be killed if they were any of these things – educated, spoke a foreign language, were from another country, had soft hands, wore glasses, practised religion, were an artists or musicians, lived an urban life and had no agricultural skills.
The documentary I watched made a really good point. I knew the Khmer Rouge regime was recent (1975-1979). But what I didn’t realise was that, this meant that anyone over 38 would have been alive then. This is crazy. The person selling you street food, your tuk tuk driver, the old lady walking down the street, all lived this nightmare. So the next day when we got in our tuk tuk, the first thing I noticed was that our driver was late forties so would have seen it.
We went to the killing fields first and we took the audio tour. If anyone does this you NEED to take the audio tour – you learn so much from this. So you walk round the area and hear the stories from survivors, whilst seeing the places that the events took place. There was the truck stop, where the truck pulled up full of people, confused and scared, who had been told they were being sent to a new home. Some of them maybe believed it, and stepped off the truck with some hope of a new life. This hope would soon be dashed as they were packed into windowless buildings until the night fell. At the night time there was a big tree in the centre, to which a large music system was hung. They played music loudly through the night to cover up the screams of the people being killed. Bullets were too expensive so they were beaten in the head, or had their throats cut with sharp tree leaves. There was a special tree for babies and children. Babies were killed by being held by the foot and their head smashed into the tree. The Khmer Rouge didn’t want any survivers from a family coming back years later to avenge their family so they killed everyone. Their motto was “when pulling our weeds, remove them roots and all”.
We then went to S21, which I thought wouldn’t be as bad however it was worse. I dint take any pictures here other than this one.
In side the cells were horrendous – there were pictures of how the cells were when they were discovered. The Khmer Rouge had killed the last prisoners in a hurry and their pictures of them still strapped to the beds, were on the walls. The rooms were barren with only a metal bed which they were tied to and torture equipment was brought in. Other rooms were the size of a wardrobe which could house two prisoners. Some prisoners shared rooms and were attached by a long metal pole which forced them to lie down, they couldn’t sit up, talk, or change position. They tortured the prisoners in horrific ways. They dunked them under water, hung them from their arms and put living centipedes up women’s vaginas to make them confess to crimes they didn’t do.
On the audio tour for the killing fields I was so angry to discover that the Khmer Rouge still held onto their UN seat until 1993. Why didn’t the rest of the world know what was happening? Why did Pol Pot get to live a happy life til his death fairly recently? It really makes me wonder if this is going on somewhere in the world now and we are all blithely unaware, watching the kardashians dominate our “news” instead.