Monday, August 13, 2007

The One about the Khmer Rouge

We left Siem Reap gnashing our teeth at the perfect weather which would have been amazing the previous two days, and head on to Pnomh Penh the country's capital.

We are met off the bus by hordes of people pushing their hotels and head towards the lake (which had recently been the scene of riots and protests due to the governments announcement that they will be evicting all the people in order to do building development).

With this in mind we drink in the view of the lake side hostel. Its so peaceful here, and the area is a real backpacker haven. Little bars and Internet Cafes line the small windy streets, while above a nest of electrical wires are precariously positioned on poles and walls! It seems such a shame that this may soon all be gone.

We head straight out on our site seeing tour and go to the the Royal Palace. We only have an hour until it closes, and it seems that the whole of Cambodia has had the same idea as us. The Palace is packed with people but hardly any foreigners like us!
Sam's flip flop decides that this would be a good time to break so he walks around the palace looking like something out of the ministry of silly walks, and the tarmac is too hot for him to walk barefoot. The other visitors don't hide their mirth behind their hands, and soon Sam is followed by groups pointing staring and laughing at his misfortune!!

The Palace is beautiful, and we head with some anticipation to the Silver Pagoda, which is listed in my Rough Guide as the number one thing to see in SE Asia.
We both find it rather disappointing however. It is called the Silver Pagoda after its Silver Tiled floor - most of which is covered, and the bits which aren't are patched with sellotape, and have tarnished, - so not the gleaming silver floor I had envisaged.

The following morning, with a bright blue sky, it seemed odd that we were heading to the scenes of one of the most horrific scenes in recent history - the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge.
Before I came to Cambodia I only knew a little of what had gone on. Through reading the history in the front of my guide book, and then through visiting these places I have become aware of the grim reality of life in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.
Having visited Auschwitz, one can't help but make comparisons, and to be honest I found what I saw today even more chilling in some respects, not least because this only ended a few years before I was born, and because Pol Pot died under house arrest during my life time.
The Killing Fields were where thousands of people met their end. A pagoda here contains nearly 8000 skulls which have been disinterred at the site, and there are still 42 mass graves which have been left untouched.
Most disturbing for me was a tree which was called the beating tree. The sign said that children were beaten against the tree. I thought that this meant that the children were tied against the tree and beaten, which is bad enough, but later saw a photo that the children were held by their legs and beaten AGAINST the tree.
From here we headed to S21 - Tuol Sleng - the former torture chamber and Prison of the Khmer Rouge, which previously had been a secondary school.
Some classrooms had been transformed into prisons with tiny cells made of wood or brick, whilst some larger classrooms were torture chambers, containing a bed frame and instruments of torture.
When the Prison was liberated 14 bodies were found in the classrooms - and pictures of these corpses adorn the relevant walls. One image will stay for me forever. The women is barely recognisable as female, and her legs are facing the wrong way. Horrific... and unbelievable that not only can people do this to each other, or that no one stepped in to help, but that Pol Pot ended his days without making it to trial.

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