OH MY GOSH………….what a nightmare getting into Cambodia. After a 3 hour journey from my hostel to the border we handed in our passports to get our visa’s and they call me to one side and tell me that South Africa is not on the list of countries allowed into Cambodia and i cannot enter!!!!! I’m totally freaking out!!! Cambodia is the one place on my list that i wanted to visit the most and so i saved it for last. I kept my cool though and told the guy that what he is saying is impossible as i know plenty of South African’s who have been to Cambodia. The truth is i couldn’t think of any who had been to Cambodia on a South African passport but he didn’t need to know that.
So he goes off again with my passport and i am terrified. I still have time on my Vietnam visa so i could just go back to Vietnam but i really wanted to see Cambodia. I ask the bus company i’m travelling with if they will wait for me until my visa is sorted and the lady says unfortunately they are on a time schedule and if it takes much longer they will have to take my bags off of the bus!!!! I’m totally stressing out at this point but keeping calm, luckily some British boys who are on my bus say that they will make sure that the bus does not leave without me.
20 min later the man returns with my passport, i’m holding my breath expecting the worst……BUT….he gives me back my passport and says i can enter Cambodia……YAY THANK YOU!!!!!!!
After another uneventful 6 hours i arrive in Phnom Penh where i will be couch surfing again. This time i am staying with a Dutch guy named Ramon, he owns a movie house above his house and there is another British girl couch surfing with him as well. Again another great couch surfing experience. I had my own room and was told to help myself to whatever I wanted. The movie room was ice cold so after days of sight seeing and markets it was the best place to relax and cool down!!!
I was contacted on couch surfing by a British guy living in Phnom Penh, his friend from the Philippians was going to be in town and he wanted to know if i would like to do the touristy things with her. So the lovely Karen and i hired a tuk-tuk for the day and headed off see The Killing Fields and S-21.
The Killing Fields I found quite an emotional experience, this is where prisoners were shipped for execution during the Pol Pot regime. We had audio guides and were left to wonder around on our own so that we could learn the history of the Killing fields, an interesting yet heartbreaking part of history. To hear personal stories of the awful things that happened, whilst walking the sites where it took place was quite horrific.
Before I go into it anymore i will explain what the killing fields are a little: Pol Pot headed the democratic, Khemer Rouge regime in 1975 which brought genocide upon the Cambodian people killing over 2.5 million people over 3 years, about 40% of the population. Women, children, babies and men, no one was spared. Here’s some of the stories I heard on my way round……….
Anonymous: “I was raped and left for dead in a field. There was nothing left of me. I couldn’t go back. I was just left there like an animal”
A quote from Pol Pot, supporting his desicions to wipe out entire families: ” Better to kill an innocent than to let an enemy walk free…You need to start at the roots and dig up. If you kill the whole family no one can come back to take revenge on you”.
A Life for 2 Bananas: A woman was found to have 2 bananas on her persons which a guard discovered. When asked where she got them from, she told the truth and said a guard gave them to her before she left the prison. He didn’t believe her and decided to make an example of her to the others for theft. He beat her with a metal pole around the neck until she collapsed to her knees with blood pouring from her wounds. He then picked up a pole from the sewers and beat her again in her wounds until she convulsed on the floor and died.
Bullets were seen as expensive so instead they used machettes and axes. They were even more resourceful at times and used the leaves of sugar tree plants to slice the necks of the innocent.
Anonymous – “I am damaged not physically anymore but mentally. I am like broken glass yet I am the only one who can pick it up”.
A young boy at the age of 14 was in prison for stealing his pregnant sister some food. At night time they would be forced to make up/tell stories of their sins so that they could be beaten and forgiven for them. The boy ran out of stories and an elderly man begged each day not to take the young boy. To this day the young boy feels guilty that he cannot remember the name of the man that was executed for his freedom.
Days after Vietnam invaded Cambodia and overthrew Pol Pot a man was scavenging in the fields for food. He found two potatoes. Then he found blood and brain matter on the bark of a tree. Then he found the naked bodies of women buried with their dead babies in a mass grave.
The S-21 Museum (Tuol Slong prison) is a former school turned into a prison and torture site by the Khmer Rouge. S-21 housed anyone who dared speak out against the regime. The schools class rooms once used for positive reasons were turned into torture chambers and prison cells. Prison cells, about 3 feet by 8 feet, were built inside the classrooms and prisoners were shackled here all day without being able to even whisper to one another. Other rooms were used to line prisoners, laying down, along the class room floor. All were shackled together and not aloud to speak to one another, there were about 60 prisoners in each room.
The prison cells were still intact and some beds in various rooms were still there from when people were tortured. Torture varied from electric shock, the pulling of finger nails to being hung upside down until they became unconscious and then held under water that was used for fertilizing fields to wake them up! In one part of the school you could see the photos of people who had been processed into the prison and photos taken of the victims that had been beaten to death! from the 20,000 people that went to the prison only 7 survived!
Prisoners were blindfolded and taken by truck at night with the promise that they were being taken to another housing! Each prisoner’s name was called and they were led to a mass grave and told to kneel with their hands tied behind their backs. As the Khemer Rouge did not waste bullets!! these people were smashed in the back of the head first, with a metal bar or what ever was handy, and then had their throats slit, after which they were thrown into the pit to die! if they didn’t die after this, the Khmer Rouge covered the pit with a chemical that would not only kill the remaining people but also disguise the smell of rotting flesh later on! those who didn’t die were buried alive! The story gets even worse as women were torn away from their babies, sometimes raped, and had to endure witnessing their babies being smashed against trees until they were dead!! after which they were murdered too.
You can stand and look at the mass graves that were uncovered, you can even see clothes and bones that are still coming up through the earth due to the rainy season washing dirt away. Words really cant express what you feel when you go to a place like that and S-21 Prison. It makes you wonder what kind of a brain/mind/person would do that to someone!! it’s reported that 2 million people died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.
My trip to the killing fields was really moving and I was glad to be able to really understand and explore some deep, dark history and it also shocked me how it really wasn’t that long ago and there are still a few men to this day on trial for it.
After seeing the Killing fields and S-21 i didn’t really feel like there was anything more that i wanted to see in Phnom Penh. I did the markets and it just wasn’t really a city i wanted to stay in. So i decided to move on to Siem Reap and finally the time was getting closer for me to go to my retreat and see Angkor Wat 😉