Tuol Sleng

Phnom Penh Travel Blog

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The pictures of those held at S-21

First stop today was the S-21 Tuol Sleng Museum, and we all took a deep breath.  Tuol Sleng had originally been a school, but in 1975 it was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and turned into what they termed 'Security Prison 21.'  It was here, over the course of the next 4 years, that approx. 17,000 people were imprisoned, tortured and then taken to nearby Choeung Ek (one of the many killing fields).  At the height of its activities in 1977, it was claiming about 100 victims a day.

It is an eerily quiet place to visit, with its cold cement walls, barbed wire, and the ghosts of its atrocities still hanging in the air.  The original classrooms had been turned into prison cells and torture chambers, and were now acting as a museum with photographs and information on the walls.

At the Royal palace
  There were gruesome photographs of the last 14 victims, tortured to death as the Vietnamese closed in on the city in 1979.  Everyone who was taken to the prison, had their photograph taken and their details documented.  There are rows upon rows of these photographs in the museum, of men, women and children.  Perhaps the starkest image of our visit, was the sheer terror in the eyes of these people as we looked at their faces.

We felt very sad, struggling to comprehend how human beings can descend into such evil, savagery and brutality, a world where there is no trust, mercy, compassion or love.

After a sobering morning, we opted for something far more light-hearted, and undertook an afternoon visit to the Royal Palace.  Despite the heat, it was relaxing to wander in the grounds.  We visited the Silver Pagoda, containing the Emerald Buddha, sat high and surrounded by lots of gold, ornate buddhas and stupas.  Along with Angkor Wat, this is one of the few places where Khmer culture and history is still in evidence after the destruction of the Khmer Rouge.

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The pictures of those held at S-21
The pictures of those held at S-21
At the Royal palace
At the Royal palace
One of the torture rooms - that is…
One of the torture rooms - that i…
The photos of torture victims
The photos of torture victims
A cell
A cell
A case of skulls
A case of skulls
Phnom Penh
photo by: terminalfunk