*Warning! This post is going to be a bit on the heavy side given that most of it talks about the Cambodian genocide*
Hey all, I’m writing you from the bus on my way to Battambang. I’m just gonna mention real quick that Cambodian buses (and the buses in Vietnam did this too) will just stop and pick up random people on the side of the road. Along one road just now we stopped at least 4-5 different times, though we only picked up one person. Anyways, I’ve spent the past few days in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. I’ve done quite a few things since I’ve been here but since I got a cold my first day and I’m still recovering from my motorbike mishap (see Kampong Cham post) I’ve been taking it a bit easier then I normally would.
The first day I arrived in the afternoon and decided to go check out the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, more commonly known as the S21 museum. A little bit of context, between 1975-1979 Pol Pot was the leader of the Khmer Rouge party, who had control of Cambodia. He along with his subordinates that were a part of Angkor (literally translated to the organization) were attempting to completely start over and set up a communist society. As with most communist societies the leaders were extremely suspicious of anyone who was educated, involved in the arts or skilled in pretty much anything besides farming. Ironically most of the leaders were extremely well educated, many of them having gone all the way to France for their studies. This museum is located in the S21 prison, which for those of you unfamiliar with the Cambodian genocide (which I would assume would be most since I had zero idea about it until I got here) was one of the main prisons where prisoners were taken to be tortured until they confessed to their “crimes” against Angkor. These were all innocent people that were wrongfully arrested, tortured and eventually killed (in the killing fields but we’ll get to that later) once they had made “full confessions” (basically when the Khmer Rouge was satisfied with the confessions). I did an audio tour which was narrated by a survivor, so it was extremely moving. The pain and suffering that these people went through is absolutely awful. The worst part is that the rest of the world had no idea this was happening and major governments (including the US) still recognized the Khmer Rouge as the leaders of Cambodia well into the 90’s.
The next day I went with a guy from my hostel to the killing fields at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center. This was one of hundreds of locations where innocent Cambodians were murdered and put into mass graves. Did I mention that 1 in 4 people were murdered during the four years the Khmer Rouge were in power? It’s an awful part of history that the Cambodian people have vowed never to forget and that the world should really learn from (definitely make sure to do some research on the Cambodian genocide if you don’t know anything about it).
Ok as important as all that is, I don’t want this post to be completely depressing. After the killing fields we decided to check out the Russian Market for lunch and then I took the rest of the day to just relax and recover.
The next day I walked over to the royal palace to go walk around the grounds. Now a big thing in Asia is for museums and things to close for a long lunch, we’re talking 3-4 hours. So naturally I thought that the palace close at noon for lunch but it actually stopped selling tickets at 10:30 and closed at 11 until 2pm, so unfortunately I didn’t get to go inside. It did look quite nice from the outside though. I spent most of the rest of my day wandering around. I walked around the national museum (which I’d been told was not worth entering), checked out a temple and then walked to the Orussey Market, which was pretty similar to the Russian Market but much larger and I was definitely the only tourist there. I got lunch there, wandered around the market a bit and then returned to the hostel to rest some more. I ended my day with a yoga class and a yummy pumpkin curry.