Phnom Penh, Cambodia (February 12, 2012)
So, I only gave myself one day in Phnom Penh, and I could have stayed a few more.. but Siem Reap is definitely where Cambodian heaven was for me. I covered pretty much all of the main tourist destinations in Phnom Penh in less than 24 hours... you could do it too!
First up: The depressing part of the day...
First, I hired a tuktuk driver to haul me around in the morning.. he got paid a hefty $12, which is apparently the norm.. but compared to the prices for them in Siem Reap and how long you actually have them for there, it was quite expensive. I went to S21 Prison (also called, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum).. and wow, so very emotional! This prison was once an old high school in the center of Phnom Penh.. when the Khmer Rouge shoo-ed everyone out of the city and sent them to work on rice fields and digging ditches in the far reaches of Cambodia.. they would send (normally) officials who were suspected of spying or going against the leadership of the KR to the prison. Here, they would be tortured, beaten, starved, and sometimes they would die... but if they were planning on killing them.. they sent them to the Killing Fields from the prison.
The prison is now a museum, where there are huuuunnndddrreeeeddssss of pictures of the people that had been imprisoned there. The Khmer Rouge documented EVERYTHING they did... they took pictures of every prisoner, had their names and information written down on lists, they would triple check their identity before killing them and then document their death (to ensure that no one had escaped). Because they did this, the new Cambodian government were able to have documentation of all of the war crimes and arrest the leaders (many years later.. unfortunately.. and they're STILL on trial.. or dead.. or have alzheimers). The museum also showed the methods of torture, the cells were still in tact, and some of them were so tiny.. it's unimaginable.. the chains were still bolted to the floor that kept the prisoners in their cells and everything (as well as dried blood on the old metal beds).
There is a small cemetery in the first courtyard of the prison and it contains 13 tombs... these were from 13 bodies (1 woman) that had been found once the Khmer Rouge were overtaken.. they were found dead in the prison after the guards had fled. It is a very eerie site, yet there are beautiful trees and flowers growing around it which gives it a very calming effect.
Movie: Inside S-21
Movie: Outside of S-21Next up on my morning of depression.. were the Killing Fields (also called, Choeung Ek). For $5 I was given an entrance ticket and an audio tour, which was actually very informative and nice.. oh, and did I mention, depressing?!
When you first walk into the Killing Fields, you notice how beautiful the place is.. literally.. when you think of the words "Killing Fields".. beautiful is not a word that comes to mind. Then the audio tour starts, and you don't think about the word beautiful any more!!! There is a huge pagoda that houses about 10,000 skulls/bones .. which you see .. all of them .. it is probably one of the craziest things I've ever seen in my life. These people were probably all innocent, they probably lived great lives until the last few years of their lives which were killed with torture and famine and pain. I can't even imagine what the people Cambodian people I have walked past or bought food from or bought water from remember from their childhood or 20s/30s... to think that all of this just happened in this lifetime is unimaginable. After the pagoda, you see the burial holes where thousands of people were killed one at a time, marked off the list and left to decay.. teeth and pieces of clothing can still be found as you walk around because of the rains.
There is a tree in the very middle, dubbed "The Magic Tree" by the Buddhist monks who used to live in the area.. however, this tree lost all of its magic I believe. The Khmer used to hang a loud speaker onto it (they chose this tree because it echoed the sound very well) and play music in order to drown out the screams of the people dying. One thing that I didn't mention... is that they didn't shoot their victims (that would be wasting money.. on bullets) they would hit them over the head with something (sometimes they found holes in their skulls because they would use axe picks) or they would slice their throats using the jagged bark part of a certain palm tree. This didn't always kill them, so they would throw them into the hole and then cover them with DEET (< maybe not DEET.. I forget though, some sort of bug killer or something) to decompose the bodies quicker so they wouldn't smell so bad.
Some memorable quotes from the audio tour:
A Pol Pot Slogan:
"Better to kill an innocent by mistake, than to spare an enemy by mistake."
"I never lost hope, and I never dreamt of dying under the Khmer Rouge."
"I will never forget his (her infant) death, even if I try to."
"You'll see bones and teeth on the surface, it's as if the spirits of the victims will not lie still."
The little bird house looking things that you see around Cambodia are homes to the spirits who have no where to go.