Ok this is morbid but I’m not going to leave it out because it is important not to forget…
POL POT AND THE KHMER ROUGE
Between 1975 – 1979 the Khmer Rouge orchestrated a mass execution of Cambodia’s people. I find this incredulous as clearly the human race didn’t seem to learn anything from the Holocaust in the 1940’s. And that is why although, I believe ignorance is bliss it’s more important to see and remember Cambodia’s dark history so it doesn’t repeat itself yet again.
After much investigation I decided to do a full day private tour starting at S21 and then traveling out to Choeung Ek.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21 = Security Prison 21. 21 of approximately 150) was originally Tuol Svay Pray High School turned detention centre during the Khmer Rouge. Notorious for the barbaric torture and savagery you can still see the actual torture beds and weapons used at this execution centre. Every “prisoner” (aka Lon Nol regime soldiers, government officials, academics, doctors, teachers, students, factory workers, monks, engineers etc) were tortured and coerced into naming others who in turn were arrested, tortured and killed. Upon arrival prisoners were photographed, required to give autobiographies, stripped to their underwear, possessions confiscated and then shackled in cells. Throughout the prison there are large boards displaying prisoner photos. There are children, men, woman and foreigners (including a Kiwi who was intercepted by Khmer boats as his sail boat had drifted into Cambodian territory). Out of 20,000 imprisoned at S21 there were only twelve known survivors (7 adults and 5 children).
Next we headed to Choeung Ek which is located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. It doesn’t look like much when you arrive and to be honest there’s not much there anymore as most of the buildings were knocked down.
Stunned into silence I follow the audio tour to each significant site and although I’m staring at an empty grass field I can imagine the horror that took place here. There is indication that over 1 million people are buried here in mass grave sites. As I follow the loosely marked paths I notice the signs saying be careful where you step. On closer inspection I notice there are bones and teeth peeking from the soil which reminds me how recent this devastating regime took place. It happened within 3 years of my lifetime.
The last site I come to is a large memorial Buddhist Stupa.
The stupa is filled with more than 5,000 victim skulls which all show head trauma. I learn that the Khmer Rouge didn’t want to “waste bullets” on their victims so their murders were also horrendously barbaric. Adult and children victims were killed by trauma to the head in the form of an axe, machette or a rod hammered into their skull. Babies were simply beaten against a tree.
So, could you really ignore this on a trip to Cambodia?
The more I recap my trip to Cambodia the more I think it is one of the best places I’ve been to. I can’t put into words or photos how amazing Angkor is. You just have to go. By the way when I refer to Angkor I’m referring to the whole complex not just Angkor Wat. The construction of all the temples is un-believable. The stones are huge … how did they construct these in the 12th century? The carvings on the stones are detailed and they are everywhere!
Where did they find the time? How was this place forgotten – ever? How are there full grown trees growing on top of Ta Promh? This place is seriously a marvel. You could spend days at Angkor and you will need them but if you are to see only three Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Promh are must-dos.
Now, I can see how Angkor Wat (the temple) is a favourite as watching the outline of the lotus-like towers back lit at dawn is like seeing a secret revealed and then watching it fade at sunset is like midnight at the ball in the fairytale Cinderella but, my favourite was Bayon.
I could have stayed here forever. Those faces were breathtaking. That’s all I can say and these photos will never let you see or feel how incredible Bayon is.
The disrepair is what I found attractive about Ta Promh. The atmosphere is unbelievable … eerie ruins overrun by a tangle of trees (which I hope they never remove) shows exactly what the jungle is capable of. This is a real life enchanted forest and it’s not to be missed.
Cambodia through the eyes of Cat Parker (09 522 3414, firstname.lastname@example.org)