S-21 & Killing Fields

he two main reasons we’d come to Phnom Penh were to go to the Killing Fields and to check out S-21. Not exactly the most fun of all the trips we’d planned on doing, but we were interested in it and thought we should learn a little about all the atrocities that occured under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

Waking up really early as it was simply too hot too sleep, Al and I got up and had breakfast before sorting out a tuk tuk for the day. We had no idea how hot it was but i can tell you, it was ridiculously hot.. hotter than any day we’ve had so far. Having arranged a price with our driver we headed through the crazy streets of Phnom Penh towards S-21.

S-21also known as Tuol Sleng was once a high school which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21by the Khmer Rouge. This place was eerie. Considering how busy and noisy Phnom Penh is, S-21 had a strange quietness surrounding it. Walking through the main entrance it looked just like a high school. Three large 3 story buildings with lots of windows in and a grassy area in front of the buildings. It wasn’t long before i started noticing the differences though. The wall surrounding the school was topped in barbed wire, and there was a mass grave in the gardens at the front.

Entering the first building, where the Khmer Rouge would hold people for interrogation was probably the worst. You walked into what was once a class room. In the middle of the room was a metal bed, with various instruments of torture on and hung on the wall was a black and white photo of a person laying on that bed in that room beaten and bloody from a vicious interrogation. In some of the photo’s the people weren’t even recognisable as people, they looked horrible. Moving through that building and seeing all those photos was pretty terrible.

The second building had barbed wire all around it, which was once electrified to stop people from escaping. It amazes me that people would even have tried to escape, i’d have just given up. The Khmer Rouge were quite clearly animals who seemed to take pleasure in killing people. On the inside the classrooms had been divided into lots of incredibly small cells made of brick and wood most of which you barely had room to turn around in. Life in there would have been pretty awfull.

The third building was more of a museum, it had lots of photographs of the people who had been in S-21 and we were told that not a one had ever made it out alive. It was like a room full of ghosts staring back at you.. pretty horrible stuff.

Leaving there we got back in the tuk tuk and headed for the killing fields which is also known as Choeung Ek. This is where the Khmer Rouge regime executed about 17,000 people between 75 and 79. In the middle of the killing fields there is a commemerative stupa filled from floor to ceiling with over 5000 skulls found at the killing fields. Walking around the mass graves you could see just giant holes in the ground. Also whilst wandering about we noticed lots of fabric on the floor. At first this didn’t seem unusual as there is a lot of litter in Cambodia but it suddenly dawned on us that it wasn’t rubbish at all. It was the clothes of the victims, looking around we noticed that they were everywhere. shirts and trousers all coming out of the ground, it was wierd. The place was also littered with human bones and although it was extremely peacefull it was really strange to be walking over clothes of the victims.

Back in the tuk tuk and heading back to the guest house, Al and I started talking. We’d barely said a word to each other all morning. Our tuk tuk driver asked us if we wanted to go to the nearby shooting range (obviously on commision) but we thought it a little inappropriate and so declined. Once back at the guest house we noticed a thermometer… it was 40 degrees. No wonder we’d been hot!

Sat on the deck enjoying a cold beer, the boys on the boats came over and started trying to flog us a ride on their boats. Giving in we jumped in one each and chilled out as the sun set over the lake. my boat was leaking but the boy seemed to have no worries about it as he just had a plastic bowl to bail out with. haha.

The rest of that night was spent chilling out with the Australian girls we’d met the day before.

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