Phnom Penh Cambodia – A Dark Legacy

  • 0

Phnom Penh Cambodia – A Dark Legacy

We travelled to Cambodia by boat from Vietnam, passing up through the Mekong Delta from Chau Doc. When we disembarked, we hopped onto a crowded minibus to take us to our hotel in Phnom Penh.

Our agenda for the following day was a visit to the the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek as well as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

NOTE:
The following article describes the memorials that remain of the Pol Pot years in Cambodia. The narrative and images may be upsetting for some readers.
Buddhist stupa memorial at Cheung Ek - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Buddhist stupa memorial at Cheung Ek – Cambodia

Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh – The Killing Fields

On our first morning in Phnom Penh, we visited Choeung Ek – 15 kilometers south-west of the city.

This is a memorial to the 1.5 to 2 million people, mainly Cambodian civilians, who were systematically arrested, interrogated, photographed and executed by the Khmer Rouge. This took place in the surrounding fields and in many other places throughout the country.

Choeung Ek is one of the nearly 20,000 mass gravesites in Cambodia. Although now filled in and overgrown, these graves were originally open pits – as deep as 5 meters.

Cambodia's Killing Fields, Phnom Penh

Cambodia’s Killing Fields – Remains of the overgrown mass graves

The rank and file Khmer Rouge were no more than children (the average age of the troops who entered Phnom Penh in 1975 was 17). Many of the executions at Cheung Ek were performed by these youths, as young as 12 to 18.

Children and babies were not spared the fate of their parents.

In the midst of the fields is an old oak tree. To save bullets, soldiers bashed the skulls of infants and small children against its huge trunk, before throwing them into the open pits.

The Killing Tree - Choeung Ek

The Killing Tree – Choeung Ek, Cambodia

As we walked around this area, we became aware of half-buried objects – bones, teeth, and clothes that remain as testament to what happened here.

Other items were neatly piled up next to the tree.

The centre piece of the Choeung Ek site is the Buddhist stupa memorial.

This small building contains the remains of roughly 8,000 victims. The skulls are arranged on the lower shelves, the other bones are stacked above.

Inside the Buddhist stupa memorial at Choeung Ek

Inside the Buddhist stupa memorial at Choeung Ek

The skulls are organized according to age and sex. These you can see above were young girls. Most of the victims were clubbed to death to save the bullets.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)

In the afternoon, we travelled 5 kms from Choeung Ek to Tuol Sleng and the location of the infamous S-21 interrogation center.

The morning visit had been harrowing enough, but S-21 reveals the massive scale of death and suffering that the ordinary people of Cambodia endured.

Tuol Sleng (S-21), Phnom Penh - Inside Grounds

Tuol Sleng (S-21) – Inside the grounds

S-21 was a former high school complex, made up of a series of 3-storey buildings separated by large courtyards and open areas.

When we arrived we found a number of English-speaking guides offering their services. You can of course just wander around by yourself – there are a lot of posters and documents on display with explanations in English and French.

However, it is well worth taking a guide for a more in-depth explanation of everything that you are seeing.

Tuol Sleng (S-21) - Lower gallery

Tuol Sleng (S-21) – Lower gallery

A number of the ground-floor rooms were used as cells for the prolonged interrogation and torture of selected individuals. The original steel beds to which they were chained are still there.

Other larger rooms were used to hold dozens of prisoners who were forced to lie on the floor shackled by the feet to a long iron bar. The prison guards routinely beat them with canes if they tried to speak.

Most prisoners were held like this for two to three months before execution.

Tuol Sleng (S-21), Phnom Penh - Torture room

Tuol Sleng (S-21) – Torture room

There are thousands of photographs of prisoners faces in the museum, representing a fraction of the estimated 20,000 people who died here.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

We later learned that many of the guides at S-21 are former prison guards who worked there as teenagers. They were responsible for keeping the inmates chained up at night and maintaining discipline.

They have even made a video in which they re-enact their daily routines for the camera. This was likely a kind of therapy for dealing with the trauma of what happened in their youth.

You can purchase the video at a small shop to help support the staff and the museum, but it is grim viewing.

After a relatively short stay in Phnom Penh, we were heading off to the second-largest city of Cambodia – Siem Riep – to visit the largest religious monument in the world.

Before that though, we would be side-tracked into the countryside to experience one of Cambodia’s unofficial and less conventional tourist attractions.


If you enjoyed Phnom Penh, Cambodia, take a look at our other Tropical Travel Plans. You may also like:


Tell us what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Search Our Destinations

Malta Penthouse for Sale

Malta Penthouse Apartment For Sale – Seafront Property - Spinola Road St Julians

Getting to Indonesia

Doha Airport Layover
Doha Airport Layover
Our Qatar Airways flight from Rome to Jakarta included a lengthy 10-hour Doha airport layover. There[...]
Jakarta Stopover
Jakarta Stopover
We'd just had a lengthy 10-hour Doha airport layover on our journey to Indonesia from Rome. Getting [...]
Our Karimunjawa Indonesia Travel Plan
Our Karimunjawa Indonesia Travel Plan
Under €1200 all-inclusive for a 3-week trip to a secluded tropical island? Our Karimunjawa Indonesia[...]
Qatar Airways Inflight Experience
Qatar Airways Inflight Experience
With their elitist tv commercials and tip-top rating in the World's Best Airlines, we were expecting[...]
Lion Air Inflight Experience
Lion Air Inflight Experience
Our 3-week trip through Java to Karimunjawa included a short local flight from the Indonesian capita[...]

________________________________________

Save on your hotel - hotelscombined.com

Getting to Karimunjawa

Karimunjawa Fast Boat
Karimunjawa Fast Boat
We traveled to Jepara from Semarang in order to take the Karimunjawa fast boat north to Karimunjawa [...]
Honey, the ATM ate my card
Honey, the ATM ate my card
What was I to do when an Indonesian ATM ate my card? We had just arrived at Semarang airport on a[...]
Jepara ATM woes - down & out in the suburbs
Jepara ATM woes - down & out in the suburbs
This marked the low-point of my trip to Indonesia 🤕. Events had spiraled relentlessly downhill [...]
Backtracking to Semarang City by Minibus
Backtracking to Semarang City by Minibus
Our 3-week Indonesia travel plan had started to unravel on just the 2nd day after our arrival in Jav[...]
Hotel Elim & Minibus to Jepara
Hotel Elim & Minibus to Jepara
Our 3-week Indonesia travel plan included an 11-night stay in the secluded tropical island of Karimu[...]
Hotel Quest Semarang City 🍛 Indonesia
Hotel Quest Semarang City 🍛 Indonesia
Semarang was our second destination in Indonesia, following a short overnight stay in Jakarta. This [...]
Hotel Samudra Jepara Port
Hotel Samudra Jepara Port
The principal destination of our trip to Indonesia was the offshore island of Karimunjawa. To get th[...]

__________________________________________

Subscribe for Updates

Loading

Karimunjawa Islands

Waru Guesthouse Karimunjawa
Waru Guesthouse Karimunjawa
The Waru Guesthouse Karimunjawa was the first of the 4 guesthouses we planned to visit on Karimunjaw[...]
Samsara Guesthouse Karimunjawa
Samsara Guesthouse Karimunjawa
Since we arrived 2 days late on the island, we spent only one night in the first of our selected gue[...]
Getting to Know Karimunjawa Town
Getting to Know Karimunjawa Town
Although it's quite a small place, it is possible to get temporarily lost in the similar-looking str[...]
Karimunjawa Scooter Rental 🛵 Getting Around
Karimunjawa Scooter Rental 🛵 Getting Around
There are 22 kms of ‘road’  between the main port of Karimunjawa and the furthest point north on the[...]
Karimunjawa Eating Out
Karimunjawa Eating Out
Since Karimun town is quite a small place, you can't expect to find a great number or variety of eat[...]
Cocohuts Karimunjawa
Cocohuts Karimunjawa
Following our hit-and-miss fortune with guesthouses in Karimunjawa, at well over 3 times the price o[...]
Karimunjawa Snorkeling Excursions
Karimunjawa Snorkeling Excursions
No trip to these islands would be complete without trying one of the organized Karimunjawa snorkelin[...]
Breve Azurine Karimunjawa
Breve Azurine Karimunjawa
The Breve Azurine Karimunjawa was our last accommodation choice on the island. Due to the cost (IDR [...]
Karimunjawa Island Beaches & Snorkeling
Karimunjawa Island Beaches & Snorkeling
For many travelers, the big attraction of the small tropical islands of Indonesia are the beaches. A[...]
Karimunjawa Guesthouse Options
Karimunjawa Guesthouse Options
For such a small island community, there is a surprising number of Karimunjawa guesthouse options. D[...]
Karimunjawa Island Boat Transfer
Karimunjawa Island Boat Transfer
There are variety of Karimunjawa island boat transfer options. Most boats travel to and from Jepa[...]

Return to Jakarta

Jakarta Train from Semarang
Jakarta Train from Semarang
On our return journey to Jakarta, we knew we would have very little time in Semarang to purchase tic[...]
Jakarta Takes Mansion Hotel
Jakarta Takes Mansion Hotel
For our short return visit to Jakarta, we opted to stay in the Jakarta Takes Mansion hotel, close to[...]
Our Karimunjawa Travel Budget & Impressions
Our Karimunjawa Travel Budget & Impressions
Our 19-day journey through Indonesia started and ended in Jakarta. From there we took our return Qat[...]