Tag: Phnom Penh

Why You Need To Visit The Killing Fields

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Recently, I visited the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I knew very little about Cambodian history before I visited. But part of travelling is about learning, right?

The Killing Fields

The Choeung Ek Killing Fields, near Phnom Penh, are often more simply known as ‘The Killing Fields’. Choeung Ek is one of thousands of such sites around Cambodia, where 1 in 5 Cambodians is estimated to have died during the Khmer Rouge’s brutal regime in the 1970’s.

Tourists can visit the site, where prisoners from the S21 prison were brought to be murdered. There is an audio tour which includes stories from survivors and is truly heartbreaking to listen to.

There are many mass graves, many of which are fenced off and adorned with bracelets, left behind by tourists. I’m not sure why bracelets are left – solidarity? Remembrance?

In the rainy season, it’s common for pieces of clothing and human bones and teeth to make their way to the surface. A stark reminder of the horrors that occurred in these now peaceful fields.

killing fields mass graves bracelets AlexExplorestheWorld I walked around the Killing Fields alone, even though I was with a group. Most visitors do the same. It’s shocking that a genocide of this scale happened a mere 30 years after the end of the Second World War.  

 One of the most shocking parts is the Killing Tree, now adorned with bracelets, with a sign simply saying, “Killing Tree against which executioners beat children.” 

killing fields tree phnom penh AlexExplorestheWorld

The final stop of the audio tour is the stupa, a lasting memorial to victims of the Khmer Rouge. Inside is a number of human skulls, categorised into age groups and how they died. It’s shocking to see because every single skull was once a Cambodian person, who died a brutal death. 

killing fields skulls phnom penh cambodia AlexExplorestheWorld

The narrator of the audio tour asks all listeners to remember what they’ve seen at Choeung Ek, in the hope that we can prevent similar atrocities occurring in the future.

“It is important for me that the new generation of Cambodians and Cambodian Americans become active and tell the world what happened to them and their families … I want them never to forget the faces of their relatives and friends who were killed during that time. The dead are crying out for justice.” – Dith Pran, from his compilation “Chldren of Cambodia’s Killing Fields: Memoirs by Survivors”

S21 Prison – Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

S21 is a former high school which became a prison under the Khmer Rouge. The site was kept top secret until liberated in 1979. Up to 20,000 prisoners were kept here. Only 7 made it out alive.

The tour takes you through the different cell blocks. Some were used to hold prisoners in extremely small cells. Some were used as torture rooms. When the prison was liberated, bodies of prisoners were left tied to beds on which they’d been tortured. A Vietnamese journalist documented this and the pictures can be seen on the walls of some of the cells.

Many of the former cells contain photographs of the former prisoners, many of whom tragically remain unidentified to this day. There were also descriptions of the brutalities faced by the prisoners, including waterboarding and other torture techniques.

s21 tuol sleng genocide museum AlexExplorestheWorld

After

By the end of the day, I felt I’d learned a lot about the brutality of the Khmer Rouge. It was awful to hear about the atrocities that happened, but I believe it’s important that people continue to learn and remember.

I still had some questions which I felt hadn’t been answered:

  • How much did the international community know about what was happening in Cambodia at the time?
  • Why did it take so long to bring the former leaders of the Khmer Rouge to justice?

It’s insane to think that this happened only 30 years after the end of the Second World War when the Allied forces were horrified to find concentration camps in Germany and surrounding Nazi-held countries. What’s worse, is that genocides have happened since, and continue to happen in the present day. Perhaps one day we can stop history repeating itself. 

 I experienced so much kindness from the Khmer people. It’s heartbreaking that anyone over the age of 40 lived through these horrors. 

For more information about the Killing Fields, please see the official website for the museums.

If anyone can answer my questions, please let me know!

 

 

 

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5 Things To Do For First Time Visitors In Phnom Penh

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“Phnom Penh isn’t that good. You’ll want to be in and out as quickly as possible. ” – What every traveller said to me when I told them I was going to Cambodia. I’ll be honest, I was slightly nervous to visit Phnom Penh, simply because it seems to have a bad reputation amongst backpackers. In actual fact, I was pleasantly surprised by Phnom Penh (although that could be that I was pleased to not be crammed into the back of a minibus, and I enjoyed what the city had to offer.

Here are a few sights to help you make the most of your trip to Phnom Penh:

1.The Killing Fields and S21

Killing Fields Phnom Penh AlexExplorestheWorld

Most tourists will visit The Killing Fields and S21 when in Phnom Penh. It’s awful to see what Cambodia went through a mere 40 years ago. I think it’s important for all people to remember the terrible parts of history so we can hopefully stop repeating them.

Entry to The Killing Fields and S21 is $6 each and includes an audio guide. Hiring a tuk-tuk for the day costs $18 and 4 people can fit in one tuk-tuk. I booked through the hostel I was staying in.

2. The Royal Palace

Cambodian Royal Palace Phnom Penh AlexExplorestheWorld

The Cambodian Royal Palace may not be as beautiful as the Thai Grand Palace, but it has a fraction of the visitors! The Cambodian Royal Palace is very beautiful and it’s easy to walk around. At no point are you trapped in a crowd, unlike the Grand Palace in Bangkok. It’s $6 entry to the palace and Silver Pagoda, which includes a map.

3. Markets

 Coconut Ice Cream Phnom Penh AlexExplorestheWorld

There’s plenty of markets to visit in Phnom Penh for keen shoppers. I went to the Weekend Night Market which was a great way to experience Cambodian food, as the market is mostly visited by local people. There’s also the Russian Market and the Central Market which are both popular.

4. Charities

Lunch Daughters of Cambodia Phnom Penh AlexExplorestheWorld

Cambodia lags behind the rest of South East Asia when it comes to development. 1 in 40 girls will be trafficked in this country. Really think about that number, and how high it is. A charity which I think does a great job is Daughters of Cambodia. DoC helps victims of trafficking by training them in a different industry and giving them an alternate way to make money other than in the sex trade. DoC has 9 different FairTrade businesses in Cambodia. I went to the Sugar ‘n Spice Cafe which had delicious food available to order (pictured above).

5. Sunset Cruise on the Mekong

Unfortunately for me, almost every day was cloudy in Cambodia, making a sunset cruise a little pointless. However, if you happen to be visiting when the weather is good, a sunset cruise would be ideal! The hostel I stayed in offered a sunset cruise for $10.

Do you have any other suggestions? Let me know in the comments below!

5 things to do in phnom penh 1

 

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