Learning About Cambodia's Terrible Past

Phnom Penh Travel Blog

 › entry 11 of 43 › view all entries
S-21

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was the first place we visited. The site used to be a high school and it was turned into a secret prison during Pol Pot's regime and referred to as "S-21". Many parts of the site have been left more or less the way they were in the 1970s. The somber atmosphere will probably always linger there no matter how many years pass.

There is a room full of hundreds of pictures of people who were members of the Khmer Rouge and victims of the Khmer Rouge. A sign has been translated in to English and French to show you the rules the prisoners had to follow. The building where prisoners were held is surrounded by barbed wire which was put there to prevent them from committing suicide. They put the prisoners into tiny individual cells to prevent them from communicating with each other.
Rules at S-21
In another building there are voices of the former members of the Khmer Rouge, many of them were just kids at the time. They have pictures of them past and present and they tell their stories of how they brainwashed or forced into being part of it.

We split up to see everything at our own pace and walking around by myself was chilling. As I exited Tuol Sleng, beggars ran up to me and I gasped. The first one who came up to me had a badly burned and disfigured face and the others were missing limbs. I didn't know what to do so I got back on the bus completely dejected.

The Killing Fields

At the Killing Fields we first went into the stupa where there are skulls and clothing of 8,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge. Around the site, it goes step by step through what people went through when they were brought there.
Members of the Khmer Rouge.
The signs are written very bluntly, I guess either because of the translation or perhaps to give you a real idea of how horrible it was there. Here you can do a self guided tour which leads you around to the mass graves, many which have been excavated. When I was walking around, I heard what sounded like kids playing. I went over to the fence and right next to the site was a school. The Killing Fields and Toul Sleng are important places to go to in Cambodia to learn about its history and to try to understand the horrible impact of war and torture.

Wat Phnom, the Grand Palace and the Russian Market

We passed through Wat Phnom either before or after we headed to lunch. This is an interesting temple on a hill and there are a lot of fiesty monkeys there. People feed them and I saw one man go to great lengths to try to give some food to a monkey in a tree.
Victims of the Khmer Rouge.
Some monkeys have gotten so big that they can barely swing from tree to tree.

After Wat Phnom and lunch at Romdeng, we split up. Some headed to a museum and the rest of us headed to the Grand Palace. It was nice enough, but to be honest, after the grandeur of Bangkok's Grand Palace it was hard to be impressed by it. We tuk tuked over to the Russian Market from there. It's a pretty big market with a lot of stuff being sold but for me as a scarf fanatic, all of the silk scarves were the main attraction. I barely bought anything there because I felt like it was too early in my trip. Carrying all of your stuff on your back does wonders to curb shopping habits. Later on we met up with some others in our group and had dinner at Friends.
Join TravBuddy to leave comments, meet new friends and share travel tips!
Rules at S-21
Rules at S-21
Members of the Khmer Rouge.
Members of the Khmer Rouge.
Victims of the Khmer Rouge.
Victims of the Khmer Rouge.
Child soldiers
Child soldiers
Barbed wire to prevent prisoners f…
Barbed wire to prevent prisoners …
A jail cell
A jail cell
Prisoners were kept in tiny indivi…
Prisoners were kept in tiny indiv…
Stupa at the Killing Fields
Stupa at the Killing Fields
Inside the stupa at the Killing Fi…
Inside the stupa at the Killing F…
Mass graves
Mass graves
Tree at the Killing Fields
Tree at the Killing Fields
Wat Phnom
Wat Phnom
Photos and stories of members of t…
Photos and stories of members of …
Monkey eating at Wat Phnom
Monkey eating at Wat Phnom
What they recommend for the Roya…
What they "recommend" for the Roy…
Orchids at the entrance to the Gra…
Orchids at the entrance to the Gr…
Along the way to the Grand Palace …
Along the way to the Grand Palace…
Grand Palace
Grand Palace
Phnom Penh Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
"A non-profit restaurant run by former street youths in training"
This is the most popular and I think the original of all the non-profit restaurants in Phnom Penh. We tried to go there for lunch, but it was already … read entire review
Phnom Penh Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
Great food, great cause
This is a restaurant that is part of an NGO called "Mith Samlanh Friends" which runs a number of non profit restaurants and businesses to train street… read entire review
Phnom Penh
photo by: terminalfunk