I left Saigon on a bus bound for Phnom Penh, Cambodia, which included two stops at the border to get my 30 day visa and then to get my passport stamped into Cambodia. It was a rainy drive and we (my new travel buddies and I) were all extremely glad when we made it to our hostel for the next two nights, Mad Monkey hostel. We knew upon arrival that we would have a great time meeting people here, as well as partake in some of the toughest and maybe even the most emotional sightseeing of our journey.
On our first night, we headed to the hostel bar, where there was free beer for an hour. We brought our playing cards and had some fun that evening before our big day of sightseeing the following day.
We had one full day to see the sights of Phnom Penh, which would involve a trip to the Killing Fields and S21, a school-turned- prison. The day would be a solemn and rather depressing one, learning all about the tragic history of genocide in Cambodia, which occurred in the 1970’s. The Khmer Rouge regime carried out orders from Pol Pot, to kill anyone in the country who was deemed “educated” or “smart”. This even meant that if someone wore glasses, they could be taken from their homes and forced to relocate to an unknown area and wait to be killed. This mass genocide took the lives of somewhere around 2 million people, or one quarter of the population of Cambodia.
Disclaimer: This is by no means a blog where one comes to learn history lessons, so a brief Google search would help inform anyone reading this who is unaware or wants to know more about the devastating history of Cambodia.
We headed out in tuk-tuks to the Killing Fields, which are located outside of the city, about a 30 minute drive. We arrived, paid the entry fee, and were given audio guides and headphones to wear throughout touring the fields. It was an extremely quiet and solemn tour, everyone moving at their own pace, going from station to station, learning the history of each stop. We heard survivor stories which were completely sickening and so incredibly sad.
We then headed straight to S21. This is the name of the secret prison used by the regime, who took a school and turned it into a horrific place to torture and imprison the people of Cambodia. S21 (also called Tuol Sleng) was the secret center of a network of nearly 200 prisons where people were tortured by the Khmer Rouge. Up to 20,000 people could have been imprisoned here and there are only 12 confirmed survivors.
Here, we also had a headset and audio guide, where we learned about the sick forms of torture used here. We walked through the prison cells, some still bloody. We saw school equipment that was used for torture and shackles used to keep the prisoners from moving about. No picture taking is allowed inside S21, so this is all I’ve got to show the outside of the prison.
There was gloomy weather on the day we went to both places, which added to the depressing atmosphere. We all were rather quiet for a few hours after the touring.
It’s sickening to learn the history of this devastating genocide, but I am also so grateful to be here having these types of travel experiences as well. Much love to Cambodia!
Up next, a remote island with no cellular service or wifi! Ready to relax and unwind for a bit.