Toul Sleng Genocide Museum

Phnom Penh Travel Blog

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5:45am was when we had to get up for the bloody bus to Phnom Penh, and I was in no mood for the stupid films (or whatever they were) and awful music being played far too loud for anyone’s liking.  Still sulking, I stuck on the iPod and stopped in Matthew land for the rest of the trip.


We stayed in the popular lakeside district when we got to Phnom Penh, probably in the birth place of Satan, but at least it was very cheap and fair to say I got what I paid for. 


We’d agreed to Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S21 – Security Office 21).  This was where all the Khmer people were held and tortured before being transferred to the Killing Fields.  This was initially used as a school.  What a transition that is!


It’s just another harsh reminder of what this unfortunate country has faced in her recent history.  The first buildings we came across were labelled A and B and were in an L shape, separated by gallows in the adjoining corning.  A solid wall encloses the complex and this is covered with probably a fraction of the original barbed wire used to prevent escape. 


Block A shows the larger rooms, each containing an extremely uncomfortable metal bed, shackles, and a waste bucket.  There is also a single, telling photo in each room depicting the atrocities that occurred within the complex. 


The gallows tell another horror story.  These were used to torture the prisoners by stretching them from an upside down position, repeatedly until the lost consciousness.  They were then immediately awoken by being dunk into sewage water and the interrogation continued mercilessly.  There are 14 graves here as well, and these are occupied by the last found deceased on the site.  They are all unidentified. 


Block B contains smaller, individual cells within a larger room.  Conditions are horribly cramped with hardly enough room for a single bed.  I thought that was bad enough, until I followed the route around to see the shear enormity of the whole grounds and discover the same sized buildings C and D just around the corner!  Block B is actually covered all over the front with barbed wire to indicate how the fronts of the building actually appeared whilst in their use.

  This wasn’t actually primarily to prevent escape, but to prevent prisoners from committing suicide!


Block C shows row after row of photos of the deceased, often women and children!  There are also sobering photos of prisoners in their cells appearing badly malnourished and horribly depressed.


Block D is more informative and open plan.  This tells us the more of the background information.  The communist Kampuchea, led by Pol Pot, made a four year plan.  This was far too optimistic (and I suppose similar to the impossible targets set by Stalin for communist Russia under his control) and involved people to evacuate the cities to work almost as slaves in the rice fields.  The idea was to grow (an impossible) amount of rice to feed the people; sell to socialist countries (e.g. China); use as seed for future crops; and to store.  In reality, it was the people who starved to death as they were of the lowest priority when the targets inevitably failed to be achieved. 


On April 17th 1975, the Khmer Rouge evacuated Phnom Penh by announcing it was to be bombed by the US.  Capitalisation was literally eradicated and replaced by communism overnight.  Everyone was sent to work in the fields.


The Khmer Rouge’s downfall finally came on January 1979 when the Vietnamese finally ousted them.  By this point, almost one quarter of the population had died!  Pol Pot’s ultimate mistake in attacking Vietnam isn’t fully understood.  It’s possibly territorial or simply delusional grandeur for the leader.


That was a heavy day, and so we went back to the hotel after that, skipping the Palace and Independence Monument.  We were all a bit physically and mentally worn out.  Steph had broken her camera as well, and so wasn’t too happy.  Instead, we found a place to eat a tradition British Sunday roast.  A little taste of home for me and Wayne (and I suppose for Steph as well after living in the UK for a year).  With that timely reminder of home, I began to start emailing work contacts in the UK.  It was time to start getting organised to make sure I could have plenty of work to go back too in the UK, so as not to holt future travel plans.

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Phnom Penh
photo by: terminalfunk