Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Phnom Penh - Horrible histories & a day/night at the cinema

Ok so before I start this post I have something to admit. I (Cat) am a sick weirdo. I love stories of torture and I love prisons (I went to Alcatraz on honeymoon). I don't know why but I have a morbid fascination with them (actually, it might be because of my Dad, he used to tell me torture stories & take me to prison museums), I can't be the only one though or Alcatraz, Auswitch and The Killing Fields wouldn't be massive tourist attractions. If you have no interest in this and/or have a weak stomach I would scroll down to the bit about the cinema, cos you won't enjoy this at all.
We weren't going to bother going to Phnom Penh - we were going to head straight down south to the beaches until I started reading up on the Khmer Rouge & their leader Pol Pot. I can't tell you everything they did cos that would take forever but I'll let you know the gruesome things we learned that day. Man, those guys were some cruel ba*tards! In Phnom Penh you can visit The Killing Fields and S21 which was a high school until the Khmer Rouge turned it into a prison. 

Pol Pot's vision was a completely self sufficient Cambodia where they wouldn't even need money. To do this he "needed" to exterminate all the educated people as it was the farmers & labourers who would help him achieve his vision. They took people who could speak a foreign language (Pol Pot himself could speak French), people who wore glasses, even people who had smooth hands were brutally murdered.

Pol Pot
This only happened in 1975 - 1979, the rest of the world didn't know it was going on as the Khmer Rouge closed all the borders with land mines. It is unbelievable that this only happened 30 odd years ago. The thing is - you can tell! You don't see many old people here at all, not compared to other countries. Estimates are between 1.7 - 2.5 million people died out of a population of roughly 8 million.

So first up on our morbid tour was The Killing Fields. This is where prisoners were brought to be executed. The mass graves were still there, and lots of skulls of people who were murdered there. They were all brought in by bus at night, blind folded and were supposed to be killed immediately, after a while they were receiving over 300 people a day and couldn't keep up so some people were detained there for a short time. The entrance fee was $6 and included an audio tour which was really informative & had real life accounts from survivors.

The memorial & me listening intently to the audio tour
There is a nice memorial building as soon as you walk in & there are lots of broken skulls in there and tools that were used to murder the innocents.

The worst part for me, and probably everyone, was the killing tree. This is where soldiers would hold babies by their feet, hit them against the tree, killing them instantly & then tossed them into a mass grave over their shoulders, they did it this way so as not to waste bullets!. There were at least 2 mass graves full of children, babies & women.

The location of the killing fields was chosen as it was kind of in the middle of nowhere so nobody suspected the atrocities, even so, just to make sure the smell didn't get out they used to throw a chemical over the bodies. This also helped kill off any remaining victims that were still alive in the mass graves.

The journey there was pleasant due to it's location, lots of lush green hills & countryside.

Next our tuk tuk driver took us to S21 also knows as Tuol  
Sleng Genocide Museum. This was a school originally but under the Khmer Rouge education was not necessary so schools were turned into prisons. Over 20,000 people were murdered here after being forced to sign confessions of made up crimes. Inside there were cells and also photos of the poor people taken there, mostly for crimes they didn't commit. Not only did they take these people who were guilty of a "crime" they also took their whole families too. 

Pictures of dead inmates.
There was some gallows which were used for exercise when the building was a school - this was now used as a torture tool where they would hang people upside down and submerge them in water & once they passed out they put their heads in excrement to wake them up. This usually lead to very quickly signed confessions & then execution. There were lots of other torture methods used including pulling out fingernails while pouring alcohol on them & women were raped. However, rape was against the policy of the Khmer Rouge so rapists were executed aswell.

Torture cell - the normal cells were much smaller

The gallows
The barbed wire prevented suicides
There were 14 bodies found when the prison was shut down (1 was female) and they are now buried there and there were 12 survivors - 3 of whom are believed to be alive today.

The graves of the bodies found at S21
We ended the day on a happier note. Russell had found a cinema called Flicks where you pay $3.50 for a day pass which includes 3 movies. We love the cinema and the 1st film on that day was Nebraska (great film - watch it), then a French film called The Artist & The Model. Russell loved this film. For art & not for all of the nakedness of course. The last film was The Killing Fields. Made in 1984 documenting the real life story of an American journalist & his Cambodian translator/assistant/best friend, who were caught up in the afore mentioned horrific times. So we got our tuk tuk driver to drop us off at Flicks. It was a really cool cinema where you laid down & you ordered food & drink that was delivered to you. Proper food & drink too not just crappy nachos, we had burritos & a veggie burger. Oh, and popcorn of course. We were the only people to watch all 3 films. Proper movie geeks.

We didn't see much in Phnom Penh apart from the above, we arrived in the evening but that night we went to the riverside which, although dark, looked quite beautiful. A nice palm tree lined promenade littered with bars & restaurants. We only spent 2 nights there so just had 1 full day but we both really liked it. The restaurants by the riverside sell pitchers of beer for £1.20 - that probably helped us like it a bit more :)

The first thing we saw on arrival was a statue of a gun in the middle of a round-a-bout, we were both a bit perplexed but after we took a picture & zoomed in we saw the gun had a knot in it so it must be a peace symbol - hopefully this is Cambodia's future.

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