When we arrived in Phnom Penh after a six hour coach journey… there were loads of pestering tuk tuk drivers directly outside the coach door… We had to pretty much shove them out the way! Anyway, we chose our favourite and made our way to the hotel. When we arrived, the driver was desperately keen to persuade us to decide where we were going the next day…we had been travelling for hours, we weren’t in the mood and I think that came across in our response! It was pretty disappointing… But I’ll leave the details to the next Hostel/Hostile…
We headed out into the abyss, picked a direction and prayed that there were restaurants as we hadn’t really eaten all day (it was about 9pm and we had only really had some crisps!). We found one, wolfed down our food and went back to the hotel to sleep.
The next day we decided to visit The Killing Fields and S21 (the school-turned-torture prison) both of which were sites of unimaginable genocide during the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the late seventies. Neither of us had any idea of the horrors that happened so recently in world history.
On the way there, our tuk tuk driver took us down THE bumpiest, most dilapidated, pothole-filled, congested road that we have ever experienced…seriously… we were nearly bumped out!
Our first stop was The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, they provided a free audio guide, which was really interesting, though extremely harrowing as you can imagine. A lot of the buildings that once stood around the site are no longer there but instead, wooden signs explain what was there. As you walk around, there are mass graves and glass boxes containing bone fragments and clothes that have come to the surface after heavy rainfall. At the end of the tour, you come to the Memorial Stupa, where the remains of the Choeung Ek victims are reverently preserved.
After visiting the museum, we made our way in the tuk tuk of danger to S21.
We decided to walk around on our own rather than doing a tour. As it used to be a school, it is formed of several buildings and comprises of classrooms, as you’d expect…What you don’t expect to see upon entering the grounds is 14 coffins, which contain the bodies of the last 14 victims at S21, who were so badly disfigured when they were found that they are unidentifiable.
The first building, A, contains rooms to torture victims, which is where the last 14 were found.
Every room was the same, except with varying weapons…
Outside the building there were gallows…
The next building had barbed wire over the front to prevent people escaping and contained hundreds of tiny cramped cells.
The cell in the photo below belonged to one of the few survivors…
Each room of the building was full of the cells.
Upstairs, the cells were even smaller and made from wood.
The final building we went into had larger rooms which contained photos of all the victims that were taken when they were brought to the prison. It’s only when you see how many there were that you properly understand that this was real…
There were also various examples of the torture weapons used and skulls in the final rooms.
When we were walking out, we saw an elderly gentleman sitting by a book stall and were introduced to him. He was the survivor whose room I’d seen earlier.