A Horrific History

I find myself in Indochina, in Cambodia’s capital of Phnom Penh.

In addition to drifting  streets that are designed for motorbikes and not walking, I decided to check out some sites.

After meandering for a couple of kilometers, I made my way to the Olympic Stadium for a pleasant stroll and alternative view. Then I realized that I’d need to conserve some energy.  I departed the stadium and hopped onto the backseat of a moto or motorcycle with driver who acts as a chauffeur.

After a few turns and kilometers, a couple of roundabouts, a lot of dust, and a one-dollar bill for the fare, I was at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

Tuol Sleng was the Tuol Svay Prey High School until 1975 when the infamous and power-twisted Pol Pot turned it into a torture center. From there the inmates were eventually trucked off to the Killing Fields 15 kilometers or 9.3 miles away.

Some of the high school classrooms were converted into prison cells see pic above.   Now, some of the rooms house photographs of the victims. You can see the look of horror in their faces. There are rooms with torture beds and still other spaces that have paintings of the gruesome intimidation that took place.

After leaving the museum grounds I hopped in a tuk tuk. In Cambodia, a tuk tuk is a passenger cart attached to a motorcycle. It’s a more comfortable and safer alternative to the moto that costs half the price.

I didn’t read the book, nor see the movie, but I was on my way to the Killing Fields.

I didn’t remember when but I had at one point learned about the atrocities that occurred in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

To sum it up, the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot wanted to achieve a purely agrarian state. They managed to slaughter about a quarter of their own population. People with an education, and who were potentially against the barbaric regime were brutally tortured till they confessed and were scheduled to be hauled off to their deaths.

What I wasn’t aware of prior is that the Khmer Rouge also had the families of the elitists or traitors imprisoned, starved and savagely murdered. This included women, children and even infants.  Part of the demented theory was that if the kids weren’t eliminated then they’d grow up and seek vengeance.

I also hadn’t realized that foreigners were terribly treated and killed. This included Americans, Australians and Vietnamese people who happened to live in or be in Cambodia.

The grounds of the Killing Fields are now a tranquil place to walk and relax. There’s a short walking path where you can admire lush marshlands.

You can view a memorial pagoda that houses over 8,000 skulls.

There’s a room that shows an informative 15-minute film.

As painful as it is to be reminded of what happened, two positive things come out of visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.

● Visiting boosts awareness. The more familiar the world is with this genocide, the less chance it has of reoccurring.

● Visitors honor the memory of the sufferers who were forced to spend their last months, weeks and days in an unimaginable living hell.

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The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a $1 to $3 moto or tuk tuk ride from most points in the city.  The drivers know where it is.  Admission is $2.

The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek also cost $2.   However, since it’s 15 kilometers outside of the city,  you’ll have to hire someone to take you.  I hired a tuk tuk driver.  I negotiated the fare down to $10.  As a bonus I threw in lunch.  He waited for me outside the grounds for an hour and a half and then drove me back to my hotel.

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11 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks to everyone for your comments.

    Visiting the two sites has made me think often about the harsh potential of the human race.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Pru on September 9, 2011 at 09:43

    This is so sad. And I so wish I agreed with your first bullet point, but sometimes I think people just plain see what they want to see. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply

    • PRU: Yes sadness can’t even begin to describe this reality that’s stranger than fiction. You’re right, there have been genocides since so war that stems from greed is still unfortunately inevitable. Regardless, awareness can only help the cause.

      Reply

  3. Posted by Lynda on September 8, 2011 at 08:47

    What a horrific story. I work with a woman whose mother carried her as a baby many many miles to freedom. Her mother is still haunted by those days. The pictures where chilling. Thanks for the information.

    Reply

    • LYNDA: Yeah, it’s impossible to realize not just the physical but also the mental trauma that stays with someone after having to deal with a war. When I see anyone over 35 or 40 here in Cambodia I wonder how scarred they are and what they can remember, ntm the family members that they lost to the heinous regime.

      Reply

  4. Wow, just wow. I took a month long trip to Siemp Reip and took a bus over to Phnom Penh. Aside from the children pickpockets I had a great time. I heard the locals talk about the Khmer regime and how they brutalized local Cambodian peasants and moved them into concentration camps, and the ones that tried to escape into Thailand were executed by the Thais. Such a sad history.

    Reply

    • JACK: Yeah, war really messes with people’s minds. It contributes to their insanity. Why anyone would want to kill poor peasants is way beyond me. Killing in general is just plain sickening.
      I’m in Siem Reap now. From what I’ve gathered, things in Cambodia change very quickly as the country continues to grow and improve. I’m now in Siem Reap, I haven’t noticed one child pickpocket. One kid asked me for a dollar. This embarrassed his Mom casusing her to apologize to me. Anyway, Siem Reap is a great place. I love the vibe.

      Reply

  5. It is a Dead Kennedy’s song Holiday in Cambodia

    Such a sad time in history, interesting as always x

    Reply

  6. It’s a holiday in Cambodia where people dress in black What’s that quote from?

    Reply

  7. Posted by Seantonio on September 7, 2011 at 11:48

    Wow! thanks for making me aware of this atrocious piece of history. As a child I can recall hearing about Cambodia often on the news, but as a child in his single digit years I never really paid attention to much news.

    Reply

    • Seantonio: I also know that the US bombed the living hell out of Cambodia during the Vietnam war, or what the Vietnamese call: The American War. Also, there were a lot of refugees too. So who knows what you remember hearing about Cambodia. My guess is that while the genocide was going on it wasn’t necessarily being covered by the media. I don’t recall hearing about Cambodia in the media as a kid either, like you, I actually never paid any attention to it.

      Reply

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