Killing Fields and the S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, and now I really HATE Pol Pot!
23.06.2010 - 25.06.2010 80 °F
Who needs a wake up call when you have construction outside of your hotel window? Today is June 24th, 2010 and it is going to be a hard day. Lisa and I have hired a tuk tuk to take us to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (killing fields of Phnom Penh, Cambodia) and then to the Genocide Museum (S-21 prison that used to be a high school) that was used from 1975-1979 to hold the people and interrogate them before sending them on buses to the area killing fields to be beaten, killed and buried in mass grave sites. I learned a bit about this entire barbarous cruel crime committed by the Ultra Communist Khmer Rouge Regime from Lisa and also several travelers along the way. I must admit, I didn’t really know anything and then when I found realized the years this was going on I couldn’t help but feel for this people (I was living a happy 1 year old life in the US as other 1 year olds were being slammed against trees to their innocent deaths).
The 2 places were very sad and sickening really. They brought a sense of “wow! This really happened?” As we walked through the killing fields and read posted signs, saw bones and walked over teeth on the ground, well, it all became very real. For some group of people, heck 1 individual, to start this whole regime is just wrong. He went by the name of Pol Pot (Sa lut Sor) and I feel he showed no signs of remorse as he paid no consequences for his actions. I am glad he is dead now but that is only because he was sick, old and died at home in 1998. I only wish he could have been tortured and felt part of the pain he put an entire country through. That is my own personal opinion on the matter and sorry if that offends anyone.
Our first stop was at the killing fields and we did see a 17 tier “stupa” which in Buddhism is a sacred structure with remains of the deceased. They were arranged in order of ages and sex. Along with that, we saw many mass grave sites, the killing tree (used to kill babies by holding their feet and smashing them against it), and even a tree with a loud speaker in it. The sign said it was used to play loud noises to cover the sounds of agony the people would scream out as they were being killed. It was brought to my attention that Cambodia was liberated from the Khmer Rouge rule on 1/7/79 and soon after the fields were discovered. 129 mass graves were found, 86 excavated. In those, 8.985 corpses were removed.
The second stop of the day was the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the former security office 21 and created by the heartless Pol Pot on April 17, 1975 and on January 7, 1979 was no longer used for such inhuman torture. They opened the Museum on August 19, 1979. We were able to walk through many of the old classrooms which were turned into interrogation rooms and divided into tiny prison cells. They had many original torture tools for us to see, along with blood stains on the floors and old photographs of the victims. Many rooms had photographs of all the prisoners. Lisa and I noticed some of them had smiles on their faces and must have been nervous or unsure of what they were about to face. I couldn’t help but think of all the pain people endured on the very steps I would take as I walked through the halls of this torturous place. We watched a documentary but it wasn’t the best and didn’t really make it any more clear for us.
I discovered that the research into the prison records of S-21 showed over an estimated 20,000 prisoners, all of which were killed but 7 remained when they shut it down. They ranged from age 39-79. What an experience. I am glad Lisa made me see such a place even though it was so hard to stomach.
We had a long hard day and we got back to the hotel in time for a bit of a break. I walked around the Royal Palace but it was closed so just took a look from outside. Then, enjoyed a river run as I watched the local kids play ball made from bamboo and even saw a baby taking a nap on the cement. This is NOT the US that is fore sure. I find running allows me to take in and witness a lot of the every day life of the local people. I always get the looks as if I am doing something crazy but no one knows me and if I can amuse them that is quite alright.
As I ran I decided I must try once more to find an orphanage. I took down a few emails and names on a poster, tried to get the hotel to call one for me and the tuk tuk driver to bring me to one but I had no luck. I just want to give some time, see the children and bring them rice. If I could not get any answers by morning then I would head to Battambang and begin a new search. In the meantime, happy hour called and Lisa and I enjoyed a few beverages and some grub before she retired for the night and I emailed and did some orphanage research. I planted the seeds and now I must wait. Little did I know that the wait would be only 7 hours later with a wake up call at 7am from one of the guys from an orphanage-type place just 1 hour in the countryside. I am still unsure as to how he got my room number but I told him to meet me at noon. Is it a sign or a bit weird to have gotten suck a response and for him to say he would send a car to get me?
It’s 6/25/10 and I have decided to check out. Lisa moved to a single room and if the orphanage thing sounds good, I will go but if not, I am off to Battambang. I managed to do a run around some temples to clear my head and back to shower before speaking with the man on the school/orphanage. I felt a good vibe and decided on going with him and even wrote Lisa a note so someone would know my location. I ran into her though and she seemed it was alright. The next 45 minutes changed it all. I thought it was a private car but now we were taking a public taxi the size of a corolla and after myself and Samnon got in the car we waited for more. Next, a red eyed guy got in so that makes 3 guys to the 1 and not sure if I could take them all. Call me crazy or too cautious but once he said we were getting 4 more guys in this car because that is how they fill taxis in this country, well, I asked to be brought back to the hotel. I told him if I stay in town and find my own way down then I would help out. That or get a friend to join me. Looking back I was probably being too safe and jumping the gun a bit but the last thing I would want to happen is for my parents to get a call that I am lost and I was just trying to help the children.
Battambang here I come! I bought a bus ticket for the unknown and was set to leave in 1 hours time. I knew the couple from OZ that I met on night 1 were also going there and it was a stopping point in route to Siem Reap. I was in the middle of writing another letter to Lisa to update her as I found her again. I said a final goodbye as she headed for a blind massage and I for the bus stop. Wow! I am back to solo travel after a month’s time with a fellow traveler. It’s always scary and sad to leave new friends but the memories will last forever and saying goodbye isn’t always the case anymore. I see far too often how paths cross again and maybe we will meet again. One thing is for certain, it was a great time having a travel companion and taking on this part of the journey with another person. Thank you for that Lisa!
It’s 130pm and time for a 5 hour bus trip. I played the “sleeping” game with my leg on the other seat so I could get 2 seats to myself. This was the first bus trip that I can say I was the only traveler with all locals on the bus. I kept dozing off here and there and then woke as we made a pit stop for food. This was the place in which I will always remember because today, June 25, 2010 is when I was introduced to a new love of my life…BBQ BANANAS! Who knew 4 tiny bananas could taste so good with a bit of crispy brown on the outside and a nice warm center. Watch out chips and salsa because this girl as another favorite food!!!
Upon my arrival to Battambang I was attacked by tuk tuk drivers of course. I managed to snag a free one and he brought me to several hotels before I had to settle on one with no wifi in the room. I know, I am getting so spoiled in Cambodia that I need it in the room so I can be in bed on the internet. I forget so much that I am in a 3rd world country as wifi, cell phones and cable TV are all around. Life is good. Just as I set out for the market across the street, I decided to look at the Royal Hotel. Good thing I did because I was able to go back, get my things and check into this hotel with wifi in the room and less money. In the middle of my change who do you think I ran into in the lobby?? The guy from the couple in OZ! We chatted a bit and he told me to see the killing caves and do the bamboo train. They were heading to Siem Reap in the morning and I bet I will run into them again.
What better way to end my day of travel and celebrate my first night in Battambang than with 3 corns on the cob from the market! Yummy! I took in some westerner TV on the cable TV and called it a night. Tomorrow I will arrange a tuk tuk to take me to the killing caves and the bamboo train. After that, check out area orphanages and find a jogging route. I know my life just appears so difficult right now, doesn’t it?
The Dish is out…