Phnom Penh, CambodiaFebruary 20, 2017 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C
To get to Cambodia's capital from Vietnam, we took a bus across the border. The border crossing was quite the experience as we waited in a large open warehouse building that looked like it was decorated for Halloween with the amount of spider webs hanging from the ceiling. The only system that existed was to push your way past the cluster of people and hand your documents with some money inside to the immigration official in order to quickly get a stamp to cross the border. We paid our bus representative $2 each for this "expedite" service as did all the other passengers on the bus however I think he pocketed all the money or didn't pay enough since our group was the last through but not the last to arrive. Once that experience was done, we got back on the bus for a few more hours of driving. It was evident that the countryside of Cambodia was quite a bit different from anything we saw in Vietnam, almost reminding us a bit of India. The poverty was visible where as in Vietnam it wasn't noticeable even in the rural parts; maybe a clear difference between a socialist community and a democratic one.
Once we arrived to the city, we were aggressively harassed by every tuk tuk driver for a ride, more so than any other country we've been to, so we refused out of principle and sat down at happy hour for a few beers at 75 cents each and then walked off the beer on our way to our hotel.
The following day we visited S-21 and the killing fields which are now educational sites capturing the genocide of the Khmer Rouge. In less than 5 years during the late 1970's, this political party led by Pol Pot was responsible for around 2 million deaths in a country with only 8 million people. The Khmer Rouge wanted to reset their society to what they called "year 0", free of modern influences and back to the old ways of farming instead of city life, so entire cities were relocated to rural areas where high production rates were demanded with harsh living conditions. A monetary system was no longer used and any intellectuals were considered threats to their vision, so anyone with glasses or a doctor or lawyer or other threat was detained, interrogated, and tortured in places like S-21 which was an old school turned into a prison. Once the prisoners admitted to usually a false accusation, they would be sent to the killing fields to be killed.
The killing fields captured the reality of the crimes since they have built a mausoleum that houses the piles of bones and skulls collected on site. Nearly every skull in the monument had a missing chunk of bone since the victims were generally killed by blunt force to the head. Bullets or other means were not used since that would be too expensive and loud.
All around the site there were craters in the ground which were the mass graves found that still unearth remains from the victims today. The Khmer Rouge would kill an entire family that was a threat, with one of their slogans being "to dig up the grass you must remove even the roots", which led to probably the saddest part of the tour, the killing tree. This was a tree where babies would be killed by being struck against the trunk of the tree, which is now dedicated in memory to the youngest victims.
Both sites were disturbing but preserved with pictures and artifacts to allow us to learn about this horrific time in Cambodia's history. The most shocking part to us was how little this is talked about in the US and how recent this atrocity occurred. The fact that a quarter of a nation's population was killed less than a decade before we were born in an era with modern communication is still a bit unreal. We're glad we were able to learn more about this and hopefully pass on the awareness to those reading our posts!Read more