Saturday, March 22, 2008

February 06-07, 2008: Phnom Penh

We left from Nha Trang and flew to Phnom Penh, the capitol of Cambodia. I was really excited to see this country because it has such an intense, violent and interesting history. We got in late, found a place, and woke up the next day ready to see the sites before I had to leave (which was on the 10th). We took a tuk tuk out to the "killing fields" of Cheung Ek, some kilo's out of town. Around the time of the Vietnam War, Cambodia found itself ruled by a violent Khmer Rouge, led by the maniac Pol Pot, which 'ethnically cleansed' the population of almost a third of the country's people. The killing fields was a secret location out of town, hidden from the citizens, where systematic killing of men, women and children took place. Now it's a quiet, heavy, and somewhat stuffy memorial site where you walk the grounds where thousands of Cambodians were killed; being amongst the emptied mass graves, the dry earth littered here and there with clothing and human bones -- to say the least, was intense. The huge temple-looking building in the center is filled with human skulls found at the site. It was a solemn time of reflection and thinking.

After Cheung Ek, we went back to our guest house and from there I was able to walk along the crowded, small and huge city streets to an old school that was converted into a prison for those who were interrogated before being taken to the killing fields. Toul Sleng looks like a prison. Barbed and razor wire is spread all over, across the balconies of each floor of the building; this kept prisoners from escaping the torture and horrors of Toul Sleng by throwing themselves from the balconies. Walking into the many rooms, converted into torture chambers and mass detention rooms, looking at the pictures found of all the prisoners held, the pictures of the torture victims found when the prisoners were liberated, all of this was very intense. I felt like it was the Holocaust that we never were told about. From Toul Sleng there were only, if I remember correctly, seven survivors out of the thousands that were held, at the time of liberation. Much like the Holocaust survivors, the Cambodians sadly didn't see Pol Pot come to justice for his crimes, before he died in '98. I encourage everyone reading this to take some time to look into the vast information on the internet about Cambodia's past.

Children's clothing in a mass grave..

Click here to view the Phnom Penh slideshow.

Photos & Copyright: Jeremy Hohengarten 2008
For editorial use only.

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