Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia. It’s such an ugly city! lol It doesn’t have the feel of the capital city at all. There’s not much to see here. There’s the Royal Palace, the Independence Monument and a couple of markets. The river front, with all the restaurants and cafes, is the saving grace of the city.

The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace, as seen from the river front

 

The river front
The river front

Having said that, it’s a must visit on any trip to Cambodia for the Killing Fields just outside the city. I hadn’t heard about the Killing fields and the Khmer Rouge until 2 weeks before I was to come to Cambodia. And from what I’ve noticed not many travelers knew about it until they decided to visit this country.

Khmer rouge was the name given to the followers of the communist party of Cambodia, led by then Prime Minister Pol Pot, who ruled “Democratic Kampuchea” for 4yrs from 1975 to 1979. In these years, in the name of ‘equality for all’ and ‘self sufficiency’, the regime orchestrated a genocide against it’s own people and introduced ‘social engineering’ policies that resulted in deaths from famine and wide spread disease It is believed that in these 4years, roughly around 2 million people (from a population of only 8 million!) had died. Of this 2 million, around 1.4million are estimated to have been executed in over 20,000 killing fields spread across Cambodia, one of which is found around Phnom Penh. Even after the Khmer rouge were defeated and ousted from the country they continued to rule remotely for another 20years while the west still recognized them as the rightful leader of Cambodia. It is shocking to know that such a thing happened, just a few years before I was born. It was so recent but still it isn’t something that people have been made aware of.

To see mass graves, the Killing Tree where children and infants were killed by being smashed against it (because their parents were accused & killed for make-believe crime and the regime didn’t want the kids growing up and seeking revenge), to see the towering display of skulls of the victims leaves you speechless.

The Killing tree
The Killing tree
The memorial that holds the skulls of the 450 victims from mass graves
The memorial that holds the skulls of the 450 victims from one of the mass graves

There are signs throughout the fields warning people that bones from the graves resurface even to this date and ‘to not step on bones’ which it more real. I don’t think it has sunk in for me yet. We know genocides have happened in the past, we’ve learnt about them or read about them. But something so recent that the world is oblivious to is particularly harsh.

There’s also a museum in the city called Tuol Sleng which is a former school that was turned into a prison and torture center. The stories of victims are terrifying. The testimonies of people who worked for the Khmer Rouge revolting. I read testimonies where those who worked for the regime said that they had no choice but to do as they were told. Not doing so would have meant death for them. I think there’s always a choice. In this case it was a choice between death for yourself Vs a life where you kill and torture thousands of your fellow countrymen. I know what I would have chosen.

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