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Killing Fields & S21

CAMBODIA | Wednesday, 5 July 2017 | Views [232]

The main 'tourist attractions' in Phnom Penh are known as the Killing Fields and S21 Prison. No matter how tough you think these places will be, they are worse. It's barely worth me explaining as it won't give you an understanding of the depth of these places. 

But. We arranged a day with a tuk tuk driver, we bartered a price and he drove us to each location and waited for us while we went in. It made things a lot less stressful as we didn't have to battle with the hoards of drivers waiting at every exit point!


When we arrived at the Killing Fields we paid for our tickets and audio guides. I didn't really know what to expect from the audio but it was soon apparent you can't do this tour without one. It is brilliantly done. It's methodical, detailed and void of any propaganda. It's voiced by a man who lived though the time and who lost his family to the Pol Pot Regime. I cried more than once. As I say it's impossible to do this place justice if you haven't experienced it.

The audio takes you from check point to check point, which are all numbered. You can do it in order, you can do it backwards, or randomly. You can skip sections you don't want to listen too or that you don't think you can. You are in control of the whole tour. We listened to everything, even the posts that were additional to the check point information. 


For anyone who is unaware of the killing fields (I hate to admit, I was completely oblivious to them before this trip) they are exactly as they sound. Simply explained, a man named Pol Pot gained control of Cambodia. He claimed he wanted a nation of equals. That everyone would work and labour to provide for the country. He did not agree with people being educated or professionals. In his mission to 'equalise' the country, people were arrested and detained for many reasons. If they were educated to any level, if they worked in the city, if they were teachers, doctors, solicitors etc, if they wore glasses or had soft hands..... yes, if they had soft hands he saw this as proof that they were 'privileged''. These people were rounded up and locked away, no trial, no sentencing, no chance to be heard. While doing this he began to 'evacuate' the cities, telling the people it was due to the threat of bombings by the Americans, they could return in a few days. Everyone was forced into the countryside villages, if you refused you were detained. 

As the makeshift prisons began to fill, people were loaded onto wagons at night, blind folded, and told they were being moved to new houses. This is when they were transferred to the fields. When they arrived they were led from the wagons and put into holding areas or made to kneel on the ground. Here, the guards would use axes, spades, wooden planks, batons, knives, or anything else they could utilise, to kill the prisoners. Their bodies pushed into pre-dug mass graves that they had unknowingly knelt in front of. Working tools were used to beat the prisoners to death as apparently bullets were too expensive and valuable. This often meant that prisoners suffered terribly and for long periods of time. Some are believed to have been buried alive.

This process was carried out over and over again, and thousands of men, women and children lost their lives. The dictator believed that even the children should be murdered to prevent and acts of revenge in the future. One saying is repeated on the audio tape- "to kill the grass, you must also remove the roots."


At the fields, many of the mass graves have been excavated and the remains found have been laid to rest, but due to the scale of the horrific acts, the fields we were visiting had been preserved to an extent. It had been decided that the remaining bones should be allowed to rest where they lay and the site would be used as a place of historical relevance. The remaining mass graves are fenced off and signposted. It's reported that even now, bones, teeth and sometimes rags of clothing are brought to the surface when there is heavy rain and the ground becomes water logged. 


There really are no words. The fields are now incredibly peaceful but harrowing. 


Once we left we were pretty drained. Then the tuk tuk driver took us to S21. Another place you cannot prepare yourself for.


The prison was originally a school, and you can imagine it as one when you stand outside. Until you begin the audio guide, and it points out the fact the windows have been filled in to restrict the rooms air flow and prevent anyone being able to see in or out. You can go inside most of the rooms, that have images on the walls of the rooms as they were found. 


Again, it's a place that needs to be seen.


Briefly, it allows you to wander the buildings, seeing classrooms that had been used as interrogation cells. Rooms that had makeshift brick walls erected that acted as cells. These cells were packed in, they barely looked big enough for a person to stand/lie down. Some rooms exhibit replicas of devices used to torture prisoners for information. Others display images of the prisoners, found in documents recovered after the regime fell. The whole concept is insane and difficult to comprehend. That all of this actually happened. People did this to other people for no reason.


By the end of the day we were truly exhausted. The lovely tuk tuk driver had been amazing, he had offered to take us to all sorts of places, he talked to us about the places we had visited, and the impact of the history on his country. It still amazes me that this all happened in 'recent' history but is not something that isn't spoken about, taught or well known by newer generations. We met so many people who had never heard of these events until they began to travel.

Tags: cruel, culture, eye opening, history, humbling, informative, museums, shocking, tourist attractions

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