A Travellerspoint blog


The Killing Fields

The legacy of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh

semi-overcast 30 °C
View Just a big holiday on ClareAndTom's travel map.

Our first views of Cambodia were mixed and not what we’d expected. We ate some watermelon ice cream whilst we wondered at the casinos clustered around the border crossing. We now had two currencies to contend with: riel for small transactions and US dollars for anything costing more than $1.

We drove through dusty towns passing flooded fields, while the coach entertainment played a video of a clothed orang-utan gyrating to pop music. We decided the view out the window was more interesting, and noted how immediately poorer Cambodia felt from Vietnam.

Snails being sold by the tin can – a common unit of measurement

What all the modern women in Cambodia wear on their head – deep fried quails

Most of the houses in the countryside were built on stilts, sitting amongst flooded fields

We thought we’d seen everything being carried on the back of motorbikes in Vietnam, but admittedly we hadn’t seen a sewing machine being transported. Until now

Catching a tuk-tuk through Phnom Penh’s busy streets

Once we found a place to stay that wasn’t too damp, we went for a stroll around the city. We were surprised at how developed the city was, with smart bars (too expensive for our budget) lining the promenade and 4x4s dominating the roads. Yet this contrasted sharply with the acute poverty of the place. We walked through a market where people squatted, selling scraps of food, and scantily clad children skinned frogs.

The bustling and quite cosmopolitan promenade along the Mekong River

The view from the Foreign Correspondents Club – one of many Western-style bars popular with foreign aid workers

Phnom Penh has a pretty horrid past, made all the more shocking by the fact that the horrors of the Khmer Rouge happened only just before we were born. The Khmer Rouge regime lasted from April 1975 until early 1979, during which time it’s estimated that around two million Cambodians died – around a quarter of the population.

Phnom Penh has a number of sites related to the genocide. We hired a tuk-tuk driver for the day to take us to several of these sobering places. Our first stop was Teul Sleng Museum – this was originally a school, which Pol Pot’s security forces turned into a prison known as Security Prison 21 (S-21). This became the largest centre of detention and torture in the country.

It was difficult to imagine the atrocities that were committed here recently, in what is now such a peaceful and ordinary setting

Prison cells with barely enough room to lie down were built in the former classrooms


Our next stop was the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, an extermination camp. Between 1975 and 1978 more than 17,000 people detained at S-21 were taken here. They were often bludgeoned to death to avoid wasting expensive bullets, and then pushed into mass graves.

There are 129 communal graves at Choeung Ek, with most of them remaining untouched

A Memorial Stupa was built to house the remains of nearly 9,000 people exhumed from mass graves


Tom with Chan, our tuk-tuk driver for the day

The next day we were in need of a bit of light relief, so we spent the day visiting Phnom Penh’s palaces, temples and museums.

Gate to the Royal Palace

Outside the Royal Palace complex, a popular place for locals to feed the pigeons

The Royal Palace reminded us of the Grand Palace in Bangkok

Murals on the walls of the palace

Courtyard of the National Museum

Wat Phnom, situated on the only hill in the city

Posted by ClareAndTom 05:47 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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