Spent a few days in the capital, Phnom Penh. Mixed feelings about the city, it was really overwhelming, definitely the biggest city I’ve been in for awhile, Laos cities aren’t so hectic.
We got used to it though and went to see the S 21 Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. Trying to explain how intense that experience was in words is very difficult. S 21 was a high school turned into a prison/torture camp by the Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields is where the prisoners were killed and buried in mass graves.
Walking through the hallways and classrooms in S 21 is a strange experience. There are hundreds of photographs of past prisoners, including some photos of the dead bodies that were still found in the prison when it was liberated, photos of dead bodies placed in the rooms that they were found in. The floor still has what looks like drops of old blood everywhere, then makeshift cell walls constructed of brick and wood are still intact in one building where prisoners were kept separately instead of in large groups.
At the Killing Fields, the first thing you see is a huge tower built to preserve thousands of skulls that are stacked up as high as the eye can see. After that, walking around the mass graves that are now large holes in the ground would have been hard enough without the scraps of clothes and piles of bones that are still sticking half up from the ground.
Luckily after a day like that we had a nice guesthouse lounge that we went to every night at #11 Happy Guesthouse to meet new people and have a few drinks although it all seemed a little surreal after seeing what we saw. It was hard to look the bar tender in the face knowing what his family probably went through. With such a young history, there isn’t a face on the street that isn’t marked by what happened. While people in the west were celebrating peace, love and happiness and focusing on stopping the Vietnam war, it seems that almost nobody was really aware that right next door to Vietnam this huge genocide was going on. America’s war wasn’t even confined to Vietnam, US bombs were dropped in Cambodia too which gave the Khmer Rouge fuel to drive the paranoia and force everyone out of the cities into the country to essentially work as slaves. It’s intense stuff that deserves a lot more publicity than it gets, so look it up and read about it if you have time.
After that we moved to Sihanoukville where I am now. It’s a sleeping beach town and will be a nice place to relax. Then back into Thailand to see some of my favourite Londoners and party on the islands before we all head up to Chang Mai for Songkran!
And happy birthday to my dad who celebrated another year of life yesterday. It is really hard to keep track of dates out here, but at least I got that one right. 🙂