Phnom Penh and the Killing fields

I woke up this morning at 6:30 am for some reason and could not fall back asleep. That being the case, I got out my Bill Bryson book and read for a while, before going down to the café at the bottom of the guesthouse and ordering breakfast. Cambodia is not as cheap as Laos, but it is pretty close. It is cheaper living, but the food is a little more expensive. Still half the price of Thailand though, so I am loving it.I met up with the guy who was going to be taking me around on the back of his motorcycle, and we got going. We drove about 15-20 kilometers out of the city to the Killing Fields. This area is where Pol Pot and his regime killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

The place was unassuming, and simply another field, but it was transformed in to a place of torture, and is full of mass graves. The have exhumed many of them (over 100) but left many still intact. To remember the atrocities committed, the people of Cambodia have erected a giant, 8-story tall pagoda in the center, and filled it with over 8000 of the recovered skulls. It is a truly stunning sight. If you have never seen a human skull before, besides in a museum where is it out of context, the effect is disturbing. When there are 8000 of them piled on top of each other, looking out at you from glass shelves, and laying at your feet, open to the air and just a few inches from you, the effect is devastating. There are no words spoken in the pagoda, just silent reverence.

The rest of the site looks like a bomb field because of the dug up graves. There are pits everywhere, some of them marked with how many people were recovered, others left to the imagination. A grave that holds 200 people is much smaller than I thought it would be, but there were so many of them.

After the Killing fields, I got back on the bike and we went to S-21. S-21 is the detentions center where Pol Pot and his troops kept people before they went to the Killing Fields. However, up to 100 people died here a day. It was originally a high school, before it was turned into a death center. The rooms had been converted into cells, torture chambers, and holding areas. The outside playground was turned into a gallows and interrogation tool. The same bars used for exercise were turned into hanging posts and racking systems.

The center has been turned into a museum, with photos of those killed, taken by Pol Pot’s troops for unearthly reasons, displayed in long lines in the rooms. It is an emotional scene. The crimes committed here were in every why as bad, if not worse than those committed by the Nazis in Germany so many years ago. This took place in the 70’s.

The rest of the day was lighter, as I went to the Grand Palace, but they wanted to much money to go in, so I skipped it and took pictures through the gate. I came back to the guest house, ate some food, and read the rest of my book. Tomorrow I am on an early morning bus to Siam Reap, the home of Angkor Wat, the largest Khmer temple constructed. I should be spending two or three days there before making my way south to the beach before I go to Vietnam.

Skulls in the 8000 skull tower

Holding chamber in S-21
Torture Cell (The picture on the wall is of a man dead on this bed)

Cells in S-21