Phnom Penh – the Killing Fields

Aside from one day alone in Singapore, I had spent three weeks with Amanda. But after our time in Brunei, it was time for her to fly home and for me to fly to Cambodia. I needed a little down time, so I literally did not leave the hostel my first day there. I spent the day in the hostel’s restaurant enjoying the wifi and catching up on my blog, emails, reading other people’s blogs, sorting pictures. (By the way, I stayed at the Mad Monkey, and they have the nicest staff ever!)

My plan for the next day was the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, not exactly a barrel of laughs, but two places so important to Cambodia’s not so distant past. I won’t go into great detail about the history, but if you don’t know much about it and want to read more, please click here for more information.

Killing Fields Phnom Penh

Killing Fields – Phnom Penh

One of the tuk-tuk drivers who works for the hostel drove me out to the Killing Fields late in the morning. It’s a little ways outside of the city and the roads are pretty bad, usually just dirt, so I had to cover my nose and mouth with my sarong to lessen the amount of dirt and dust I inhaled. When we finally arrived, he told me where he’d be waiting, and I walked through the gate to pay my entrance fee, not really knowing what to expect. I was given a headset that told me all about the Killing Fields and the details of what happened there in the late 1970s.

Killing Fields – Phnom Penh

One of the first things you see when you walk past the entrance is a tall building with glass walls. It’s a monument to those who died there, and it contains skulls and other bones sorted by age and gender. It’s rather disturbing but I understand that having something so graphic to look at makes it that much more real. You can read about the horrible killings, but actually seeing the skulls, many not fully intact, is a shock and really tugs at your emotions.

After that, the recording directed me around what looked like a pleasant, pretty park on the surface. But I was led to mass graves, trees that children were beaten against, and bits of victims’ clothing still sticking up from under the dirt. It was incredibly difficult to listen to all the horrible things that happened, and to think about how someone could’ve possibly thought he was creating a perfect society by enslaving and torturing people.

Almost a third of Cambodia’s citizens were tortured and killed, all because Pol Pot thought that a society based entirely on agriculture was ideal, and that anyone with any amount of education (doctors, teachers, lawyers, even people who wore glasses) needed to be killed. And all of this happened just a few years before I was born. Travel isn’t always about having fun, sometimes it’s about learning about a country’s painful past. Sights like this are important so that we never forget the horrors that took place, and so that hopefully nothing like this will ever happen again.