S-21 and the Killing Fields
12.06.2009 - 15.06.2009 30 °C
From reports from fellow travellers, we knew that the Cambodian capital was not going to be a particularly easy visit. As a city, Phnom Penh is grim. However, it was an important part of our travels through Cambodia, in order for us to truly understand the terrible recent events of the country's history.
We visited Tuol Sleng Museum (also known as S-21 prison), where nearly 17,000 people were detained and tortured during the four year Khmer Rouge campaign. The cells and rooms in the first and third blocks were left exactly as they were found when the Khmer Rouge finally fell. It was pretty traumatic to see the horrific conditions, torture rooms and tiny cells where the prisoners were shackled to the floor. However the most heart-breaking part was seeing the mug-shots of the prisoners, some of which were only children and babies.
We spent over three hours in this place, completely engrossed in the testimony and photographs that are exhibited in some of the rooms. We learnt so much about the Khmer Rouge campaign and the prison, and we both left S-21 feeling emotionally drained and angry about the stupidity and insanity of this brutal and unnecessary regime.
After this we visited the Killing Fields, where tens of thousands of people from all over the country (including prisoners from S-21) were taken to be killed. Seeing the memorial and walking through the mass graves that are still there was incredibly difficult, especially where clothes and remains could be seen in the dirt.
Reflecting back on our visit, we are still really moved and upset by what we saw. Writing this blog was really difficult and we hope it isn't too uncomfortable to read. This aspect of Cambodian history is so terrible, yet so painfully recent that nobody seems to be ready to talk about it. However, it also made us realise how far the country has come in a relatively short period of time.