My second day in Phnom Penh started off on a very sad note. I am really interested in world history so I was shocked that I had no previous knowledge of the Cambodian Genocide.
Here goes a brief history lesson, from me to you:
The war in Vietnam spread to Cambodia when the United States bombed Cambodia’s borders to try to destroy the North Vietnam bases. The bombing destroyed many villages and killed many people, allowing the bad guys who threw Cambodia into 4 years of unbelievable destruction and mass murder to gain support from the peasant farmers. These guys were called the Khmer Rouge and were led by a Cambodian man called Pol Pot who was educated in France. For the next 4 years, these guys evacuated the cities, chasing everyone to the countryside to force them to do farm work and the like. They killed in the most inhumane ways all the educated people in Cambodia, erasing a whole generation. They also killed the many Vietnamese, Chinese and expatriates. For these years, the Cambodian people who were not killed worked on farms and fields, starved to death, and were trained to kill each other.
It made such an impression on me because it is hardly even history. Members of the Khmer Rouge still live amongst Cambodians today and walk the streets freely. It is only in recent years that efforts have been made to bring to justice the top members of the Khmer Rouge.
I visited the Tuol Sleng S-21 prison where people were held as prisoners of war and tortured for information, and the killing fields where people were murdered in the roughest ways and some buried alive in mass graves.
Children and adults were tortured into admitting they were part of the secret service- something they knew nothing about. Children were also brainwashed and forced to kill other "traitors" of the Khmer Rouge ruling, including their family members. It was a very bloody period in Cambodia and the rest of the world was shut off and prevented from gaining any information about what was happening in Cambodia.
Today, many Cambodians are still trying to heal as they are left orphaned and without family members. They keep asking the question "why" as this genocide makes absolutely no sense. Many of them are left only with the memories of those horrific years where they fought for survival. The Khmer Rouge leadership managed to kill 1.7million Cambodians.
This genocide is the reason why Cambodia today is engulfed in poverty. It was once a prosperous nation.
The graves of 14 bodies found in the S-21 prison when the Vietnamese were finally able to invade Cambodia.
The rules laid out by the Khmer Rouge soldiers
Inside the prison- torture equipment
Pol Pot- The evil man behind it all
A very few of the victims. I think the white man was an Australian journalist and therefore considered a "traitor"
Behind the barbwire to prevent people from jumping to their deaths
Chum Manh- a survivor! He is one of the only two living out of seven survivors of the S-21 prison. He is deaf and partially blind due to electric shock torture. His wife and children were killed infront of him and he misses his family everyday. Yet, he comes back to the prison to sell his magazine and explain his story to tourists. Legend, bless his soul.
I was so priviledged to meet him. Talk about strength of character.
The killing Fields
Bones, Teeth and pieces of skulls we found on the ground- they are constantly washed up by rain. It is hardly history, so weird!
Actual skulls of victims which have been found in the graves and fields
Cambodian flags et moi
Yummiest lunch- frog in ginger
The main street in Phnom Penh
And then to balance a sad morning, the coolest party of my trip so far! We went to watch a Cambodian boxing match! We started off struggling to see the stage from the back of the crowds. Then we were given good seats on the front side and then we were invited to the stage. And THEN, some of us got to go into the rings to present the boxers with their flowers! Check me out in the ring. Talk about hospitality, I LOVE Cambodia!
All pictures of the boxing were taken by Majk, a lovely and talented Swedish guy I made friends with on the trip. My camera refused to play ball. Check out his flickr here.