Phnom Penh is the current capital of Cambodia after it was moved there after the fall of Angkor, the old capital.It lay witness to the continued struggle of the country being pawn to its powerful neighbors ----Thailand and Vietnam.
It is important to note that Thailand (Ayuthaya) was responsible for the fall of Angkor and Vietnam's communist struggle also affected Cambodia in a big way.Khmer Rouge, the notorious communist group lead by Pol Pot was a result of the victory of communist North Vietnam (which by the way was also responsible for the defeat of the group later on).The civil war of 1969-1975 eventually lead to the victory of the repressive regime (helped by communist North Vietnam) which orchestrated the Cambodian Genocide.
One should not miss The KILLING FIELDS in Choeung Ek when visiting Phnom Penh. This is one of the most popular mass graves where victims of the Communist Regime of Pol Pot were dumped.
The killing fields is located 15km southwest of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.To get here, one can hire a tuktuk (remork) for $10 or less. We hired one for $15 which included a half-day tour of the city.
Entrance fee is $2 per pax. One can opt for an audio guide (which I regret of not taking) for an extra charge of $3. Comes in different languages.
The audio guide is very helpful because the killing field itself is nothing but grass,trees,ponds and a few excavations.The area is marked by numbers where you can stop and listen to what happened in that particular spot.I was disappointed because not all the spots have storyboards.I guess its their way to encourage (or shall I say,force people) to pay for the audio guide.What we did was imagine that the whole area was once where the intellectuals, capitalists, professionals and whoever the communist regime thought of as a "threat" to the communist ideals of Khmer Rouge.
It is very depressing to imagine how people were killed and dumped here.
Around 2 million Cambodians died and/or vanished during 4 years of Khmer Rouge rule.This goes down to history as CAMBODIAN GENOCIDE masterminded by Pol Pot..Such a brutal killing machine this organization was.Whole families were killed.Yes,even kids.One account is in one of the trees that is still standing in the area is where the kids are being smashed.
Khmer Rogue members would grab the feet of kids and swing their head towards the big tree.Brutal is too moderate a word to describe their atrocities.The mantra of Khmer Rouge is that "why would you leave a family member (kids) who will revenge against you in the future". That's the reason why the whole family had to be killed.This place is dark.
We were on the tour with Katsu. Our new Japanese buddy.He availed of the audio guide and my wife said to me the he saw him cry at some point "depressing" ---Katsu remarked to her.
For us without the audio guide,it was not just imagining all throughout.As a living testament of those whore were killed in the place, a stupa was erected and there, the skulls of the victims were on display.This was the final stop of the tour of The Killing fields.Five levels full of human skull---men and women alike.
Living proof of how vile humans can be.It is a reminder of the dark contemporary history of Cambodia.A testament of the struggle of Cambodians in search for their place under the sun.
PS: To learn more of the place, there is a museum at one corner of the site.There on display are pictures of people being killed, the weapons used to kill them and the goons who caused all of this suffering.
We were supposed to head next to Toul Sleng (also known as S-21) where victims of the regime were jailed, questioned and tortured before they were disposed in The Killing Fields (or sometimes killed on site) but we thought it was too much of an emotional torture for a day.
We directed our tuktuk driver to bring us back downtown to the Grand Palace where we continued our city tour.It was another 30 minutes going back to the center of Phnom Penh.
That and more on my next posts.