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The Killing Fields

Phnom Penh, Cambodia


Today I held a human skull in my hands.

The killing Fields are really something to behold. The site itself is nothing special. Just a small monument in a Field full of holes, but what it lacks in scope it makes up in impact. The monument itself is essentially a giant glass display case. 10 shelves, 20 feet by 20 feet, each stacked three high with piles of skulls that they have been digging up in the immediate vicinity. 8000 in all.

Walking among the mass graves, it took a while to register the scraps of cloth sticking out of the ground. This is Southeast Asia so you get used to trash everywhere. But eventually it sunk in that these were people’s clothes working their way out of the ground after the fall rains. Scratch the surface and you’ll find bones inside them. Visitors collect them in little shrines along with teeth and bits of clothing. The sign says there are 2000 more bodies that they plan to leave buried there. As I said, it’s a pretty powerful experience.


permalink written by  Jason Kester on December 10, 2005 from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Southeast Asia Again 2006
tagged KillingFields

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Sunset in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh, Cambodia


I guess we've been in Cambodia for a week now. We spent the first night and two following days, exploring the ""pearl of Asia" as the city was known before the Khmer Rouge revolution that started on April 17, 1975. We actually missed this horrifying anniversary by only one day arriving on the 18th.
The first night that we got to the city we tried to check out the Riverfront and around the Royal Palace area. We were famished after the river trek, so we ate a pizza, then had a drink at the foreign corresspondents club, tragically immortalized in the movie the Killing Fields.
The next morning we wanted to switch to a hotel closer to the city center. The place our tuk-tuk driver recommended, the Her Royal Highness hotel, was a bit dodgy,but was nice because of the short distance to the Royal Palace.
After we got settled, we took off in the morning to find a city without basic sanitation services. Trash was littered everywhere and worst of all, composting on the sidewalks. At first we weren't that impressed, but once we reached the Royal Palace we couldn't get over how majestic the palace was. Best of all, there were huge cumulonimbus clouds over the palace, making it look like a piece from the game, Candyland.
Unfortunately, the palace takes a ciesta from 11:30-2 so we just missed going into the Royal palace. We got something to eat and went to an internet cafe down the street to pass the time.
Traditional Khmer architecture differentiates itself from other Southeast Asian architecture with ornate spires and a unique decoration that looks like a stick and juts from the corners of the buildings. The weather started clouding up but the weather held. There were stone monuments were almost as impressive as the palace itself.

2nd Day

The 2nd day took a turn for the worse since any part of a trip to Phnom Penh now makes a stop to the Killing Fields and S-21, a prison that could be compared to Auschwitz in the amount of mass killings that happened at the prison.
We made it to the Killing Fields which was a couple of km out of town. We ended up getting an English speaking guide to show us around. The first sight, is a monument with a glass area to show skulls of victims killed on the site. Next, we walked around the mass graves and were shown sugar cane plants that the Khmer Rouge used to decapitate their victims.
S-21 prison, was similarly gruesome. It was originally used as a high-school. The classrooms were converted into prison cells. The Khmer Rouge would execute prisoners, simply to make room for the new ones. Part of the museum was dedicated to first hand experiences told by Cambodians. Here people talked about reasons they joined the Khmer Rouge. It was interesting to read that some Cambodians didn't feel that the individual soldiers should be punished for the genocide.
Right now a trial is taken place to punish as many as 5 former Khmer Rouge low level leaders are being judged. We didn't really talk to anyone about the killings. I got the feeling that they wanted to move on from the past. We both tried broaching the subject with our tour guide at the Killing Fields but he seemed aloof and did not want to go into details. It could have been that his English was not very advanced.
The next day we took off and went to Sihoukville on the Southern Coast of Thailand. More to come.

Zack


permalink written by  zachel on April 18, 2009 from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
from the travel blog: Zack and Rachel's Asian Chronicles
tagged KillingFields, Phnompenh and RoyalPalace

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