I was planning to take a boat trip from Saigon to Phnom Penh but most travel agencies were still closed when I arrived. So I just bought a bus ticket and did the usual overland crossing. I was expecting it to be another long ride but it just took me five hours to reach the capital city of Cambodia.
I wasn’t expecting a lot of modern infrastructures in Phnom Penh since I knew that the country is still recovering from the genocide a couple of years ago. Although I have to say that there’s a lot already, maybe because the country is building more facilities for tourist who are en route to Angkor Wat.
As soon as I got off the bus, motorcycle drivers did their usual “offer frenzy” and I made a deal with one of them for a $1 ride in exchange of me staying in the hostel that he recommended. The hostel was pretty basic but not bad for a $3 a night. The cool part was their open air patio facing the lake. It was breezy and relaxing.
I rented a motorcycle the following day and went to the usual sights in Phnom Penh. I’ve heard and read a lot about the Killing Fields but not S21. The only time that I’ve heard about S21 was when I was in Laos. One of the guys that were staying in the same hostel as I did told me some stories about S21. So, basically, I knew what to expect, but of course I was wrong again.
Some facts about the Killing Fields from Wikipedia
“The Killing Fields were a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979, immediately after the end of the Vietnam War. At least 200,000 people were executed by the Khmer Rouge (while estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies, including disease and starvation, range from 1.4 to 2.2 million out of a population of around 7 million). In 1979, Vietnam invaded and toppled the Khmer Rouge regime, which was officially called Democratic Kampuchea.”
I went there and spent some time looking around and imagining what could have been like during those times. It was horrifying and I felt bad with what happened with them and at the same time felt good that it didn’t happen in the Philippines.
After the Killing Fields tour, I went straight to S21.
Some facts about the S21 or the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum from Wikipedia.
“The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a museum in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The site is a former high school which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime from its rise to power in 1975 to its fall in 1979. Tuol Sleng in Khmer means Hill of the Poisonous Trees or Strychnine Hill.”
This was the place were they imprisoned and tortured the poor people of Cambodia. I was walking around, one room at a time looking at the pictures of the dead prisoners. Some were mothers, fathers, children, women and old people. I looked at the pictures of kids, paintings of torture and I even went to the torture rooms.
As I was walking along, I felt that my cheeks were getting wet. I didn’t notice that I was crying already. And so I stopped, went out and lit a cigarette. And then I couldn’t help it, I cried.
I started asking myself. How could we be so cruel to our fellow man? How could we chain them and lock them in small cells? What motivates someone to do such cruel acts?
Murray (the old man who mentioned S21 to me in Laos) was right when he said that I shouldn’t miss this museum.
I realized S21 is not just a Cambodian museum.
It’s not just about Khmer Rouge.
It’s not just about Phnom Penh and its history.
It’s about mankind. It’s a reminder of choices that we have made. It’s about letting something like this happen. It’s about learning from this one and trying our best to not let this cruelty happen again.
Not to another Cambodian.
Not to a Filipino.
Not to any other citizen of this world.
More pictures of Killing Fields
More pictures of S21 (Everyone in the pictures were all victims of the genocide.)