Sunday, 13 November 2011

Phnom Penh through to the Killing Fields

After a somewhat smooth ride from Saigon to Phnom Penh, I crossed the border in surprise. At the immigration counter, I was greeted by a rather nasty and sullen faced Cambodian Official. Here, I had to have my finger prints scanned into a computer, have my picture taken and surprisingly had my temperature taken before I could enter the country. After all this hassle, the warmth of Cambodia hits you straight away. The air is more dry, humid and most of all hot! 

Phnom Penh was full of life, arriving during daytime, gave me the opportunity to see the beautiful architecture that surrounded and consisted this whole city. The hustle and bustle of everyday life starts early in Cambodia, with people rising at 5am to start the day. After cruising around guesthouses in our tuk tuk, we opted to stay on the main street close to the city. The guesthouse was not so desirable but more importantly cheap and comfortable. Our first day we ventured around the city, walking along the super chilled riverside and embracing Cambodian culture. In the evening, the food choice was to eat local style and enjoy their customs and ways of eating out in the city. Most people here do tend to eat out, it is cheap enough and the food really is delicious. We opted to go to a place where all along the street 'cattle' of some kind is roasting on a spit, the idea is that everybody buys one big plate of the roast and then you have rice served alongside this with a mixtures of sauces. We then sat surrounded by locals, eating our tasty food and opting for a 'jug' of Angkor Beer...of course to help with the digestion of this feast, no other reason really. 

The next day we awoke to find it was the King's Father's Birthday, so everything was closed for a sort of bank holiday celebration. Therefore, we couldn't venture out to the city palace or museum. Instead, we opted to go and see the S21 Prison, this is the place where the Khmer Rouge held and tortured prisoners, many men, women and children. The place was daunting, the location was an old school prior to the Khmer Rouge takeover, therefore, huge concrete buildings lined the land with huge squared classrooms. The eerie feeling was the old fashioned tiled flooring, I remember when I was in school, the old chequered tiles in the corridor and classrooms. This place was similar in the tiles, however, the stains of old dried blood smeared the innocence of it all. The visit to the prison was interesting and most informative, in a way it prepared me for what I was going to see at the location of the 'Killing Fields'. 

As we hopped back into our tuk tuk, we drove a little out of the city and into a much more rural and open place. Then, after following a long dusty track, we reached our destination. The first thing that captured my attention was how quiet the whole place was. Even though lots of people flock here, there is a sombre ambiance and almost deepened respect in quietness by everyone.  Once we had entered we had our own audio-guide that provided the most intrinsic information and actual biographical stories of survivors of this place. I found one place extremely sad and it was the remembrance shrine that had been built on this location, the whole building was magnificent in architecture, traditional Khmer style. The height of it overpowered the whole land and the pure colours shone as the sun bashed down upon it. However, the upsetting aspect with this shrine, was the objects filled within it. The whole building was filled with some of the skulls found at the Killing Fields. There was hundreds upon hundreds of them, laying next to one another moving from the floor level all the way up to the ceiling. At that moment, I felt emotion take over me, in a sense I wanted to cry but in another I wanted to remain quiet and reflect on what they must have went through during the last few moments of their lives. That is when I decided to say a small prayer for all those people and try in some way to reflect upon their suffering and deepen my awareness and understanding of it all. There was also a tree that is symbolic within the Killing Fields, investigators and scientists have now realised that this 100 year old gigantic tree was used as a 'tool' for killing children and babies. The killers would literally 'fling' the babies heads against the tree until the brain matter came out and then when they are dead or nearly dead they would be slung into the trench graves that had been dug. This was the case for most people murdered at the Killing Fields, as bullets cost money, the Khmer Rouge didn't really have money or weapons to be wasted, so to murder the civilians they would choose instruments of weapons such as axes, hammers, knives and many more. I found this even more painful, as the people who where murdered did not suffer a short quick death, it was most probable painful, aggressive, torture and most of all evil. The worst thing was when reflecting on 'how could this have happened', the USA and England where keen supporters of the Khmer Rouge and often supplied them with aid and much more. 

After our eventful day of exploring, we chose to eat in local restaurant again and booked out bus to head towards South Cambodia. Really looking forward to seeing the coast and what rural Cambodia is truly I do love to be close to the sea and glorious beaches!
Arriving into Phnom Penh

Strolling along the riverfront in the city

Enjoying some 'local' food

Enjoying some 'local' beer

Walking into the cells in the S21 Prison

Stains of blood and bullets remain on the floor and walls all over S21

Walking through the prison which is lined with barbed wire

Reflecting on how those prisoners must have felt

Killing Fields, behind is the trench that was filled with human bodies

Bones and fragments that have surfaced since 1980

Walking through the Killing Fields...quietly

I sat and took this picture when listening to a survivor's story

Art work based at the Killing Fields...what would have happened back then

Human skulls...tragically murdered and buried at the Killing Fields

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