Phnom Penh and the Killing Fields

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After our six hour coach journey from Siem Reap, courtesy of Giant Ibis Buses who incidentally I would thoroughly recommend excellent service, we arrived in Phnom Penh. My first impressions were that it was in no way as nice as Siem Reap, it seemed much more run down and litter strewn in a in a lot of places. As I had emailed ahead to our hotel when we arrived at the bus terminal our Tuk Tuk drivers were duly waiting as arranged. So another mad journey ensued to our hotel but we arrived safely and in one peice. My first impressions of our hotel were not very favourable, it was not in a particularly nice part of town and it looked a bit rough around the edges, but it was clean and the staff were very friendly and helpful and made us most welcome, also we were only staying for two nights so it was fine. The reason we decided to visit Phnom Penh was not only to break up our long journey across Cambodia and to see the city, but the main reason was to visit the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng prison or locally known as S21. Now although many tourists visit the site it is hardly what I call a tourist attraction. Now without insulting anyone intelligence I will just explain a little of what happened here. During the period between 1975 and 1979 it is estimated that the total number of deaths resulting from Pol Pot regime and the Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation, range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a 1975 population of just over 8 million, with an estimated 9000 men, woman and children being killed at Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields). There are many other sites across Cambodia were these atrocities took place but the one just outside Phnom Penh is the most infamous. On entry you are given an audio guide of the site which if you go do not turn down, it is part of your admission, and it is excellent, not only does talk in detail about the various points of the site as you walk around but their is various options along your way of listening to some harrowing accounts of survivors and family members who have lived through the Pol Pot era, very moving stuff indeed. In fact our Tuk Tuk driver that I mentioned in my previous post, his father was a victim of the Khmer Rouge. The army rounded up anyone who was educated and took them to the detention centre Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh, which was a former school, they were then beaten and tortured and made to sign forced confessions of crimes against the state.They were then taken by the lorry full to the Killing Fields to be executed. Most of the victim’s were bludgeoned to death as the Khmer Rouge did not want to waste precious bullets. Women were raped, children were killed in front of their mother’s before the mother’s were killed themselves and all buried in a mass grave. Whilst we were at the site there were many other tourists taking photographs, now as anyone who knows me will know I am a very keen photographer, but before we arrived at the site I decided that I would not take any pictures as a mark of respect which I stuck to except for one, and my reason for taking this image is firstly it moved me to tears, but more importantly I hope and pray it will never happen on this scale again. The tree that you see in the photo is the one they used to smash the heads of babies and small children against to kill them, often in front of there mother’s before putting them in a mass grave. In fact when the site was found and examined they found bone and tissue fragments embedded in the bark and if anyone is wondering what the bracelets are hanging on the bark, they are friendship bracelets which people hang on the tree as a mark of respect.
“Let Them Rest In Peace”.
Our last stop of the morning was at Choeung ek, the notorious detention and torture centre of the Khmer Rouge which was also know like I said as S21. Now considering this was a former school and was once filled with happy smiling children who had there whole life ahead of them, then to end up a place where all these atrocities were carried out, and where possibly some of its former occupants teachers and pupils were killed or tortured is difficult to comprehend. There is former classroom after classroom with a solitary iron framed bed in the middle with chains and the implements used for torture lying on them, its an image which will live with me forever a very sad and emotionally draining experience and one I shall never forget “Rest In Peace” all of them.
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One last picture to lighten up a pretty dark post. It was taken outside the shop where we bought our water from, a family run concern, in the pictute was Mum two daughters, and grandson my dear wife (glasses) and our dear friend Jackie. Its time to leave Phnom Penh now and move on to Ho Chi Minh formally Saigon which in my opinion sounds more romantic. So as allways stay safe keep well and keep following.
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