Sad to be saying farewell to Vietnam but excited to be experiencing a new country, we crossed the border into Vietnam. It was crazy to see the drastic change from lush rice paddies to much drier farmlands. In Vietnam and Thailand we hadn’t seen any beggars or much obvious poverty but in Cambodia there was so much litter everywhere and many beggars and obvious poverty. On our first full day in the capital city Phnom Penh we gained a greater understanding of the context of the country and why it is poorer than its neighbouring countries.
We spent the first day we visited the S21 Genocide museum and the Ek Choueng killing fields. These two sites provided the most incredible insight into a piece of history that I didn’t know (and which quite frankly swept under the carpet or ignored by most of the Western world): the Cambodian Genocide. On 17 April 1975 ,after experiencing the spill over of bombs from the war going on in Vietnam, a new communist revolution known as the Khmer Rouge swept through Phnom Penh and other major cities. The leader Polpot gave orders that everyone would return to the farmlands and contribute to the working of the land for Cambodia’s food production. Anyone who was educated such as doctors, engineers or teachers were seen as a threat and hauled off with their families to high security prisons. Here they were brutally tortured (babies being removed from their parents and murdered) and forced to confess any information they had. We learnt all this at the Tuong sleng which was a primary school since converted to one of the most high security prisons. Of the 20 000 prisoners that went in, only 12 survived. Walking through the blood stained cells and hearing the stories of torture was so so so awful and once again I was blown away at the atrocities human beings are capable of.
Once they had been extracted of all the information needed, they were taken in truckloads to the killing fields to be executed. Remembering that their sole crime was that they had an education! This was our next stop. Here they were murdered with hammers, bamboo sticks and crowbars to the head as gunshots would make too much noise. Communist propaganda was played over loud speakers to drown out the screams. There was a tree were babies would be swung and smashed against to kill before being dumped in mass graves. This lasted three years, during which time one in every four Cambodians were murdered: 3 million people. Absolutely awful!!!
Needless to say we were incredibly emotionally drained after our first day in Phnom Penh. In the evening we walked along the promenade lining the Mekong River, towards the night market. The town is really laid back with a wonderful chilled atmosphere. We browsed the clothing stalls and then grabbed some yummy food to enjoy on the communal straw mats. There was also some delicious coconut ice cream!
The next day Luke was arriving in the afternoon. Nic and I went for a walk around the town admiring the beautiful architecture of the Royal Palace, National Museum and Wat Phnom. It was 32 degrees and we absolutely cooked as we walked around. But we loved exploring this beautiful city.
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