Mike and Jess continue their Long Drive Home with a stop off in Cambodia, where they learn of the atrocities at the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields, enjoy a spot of tomb raiding at the Angkor Wat Temple, and sit down for a quick coffee with Justin Bieber.[Not a valid template]
We arrived in the Cambodian capital – Phnom Penh – in the late evening and decided on an early night before we headed out to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, famously known as the Cambodian Killing Fields.
For those who don’t yet know, during the late 1970s Cambodia was ruled by Pol Pot and his Communist Party, The Khmer Rouge. Pot’s communist ideals were so bent out of shape that he felt both professionals and intellectuals would only work to serve themselves and not the state. Therefore he ordered the arrest of almost everyone suspected as a professional and/or intellectual, based – now infamously – on whether they wore spectacles. His twisted, narcissistic orders weren’t just reserved for those unlucky enough to require correctional lenses either. He also put away anyone linked with previous or foreign governments, distant family members included.
In the three years that the Killing Fields were in operation, it is estimated that at least 1.5 million people were killed, and their bodies dumped unceremoniously in only 20,000 shallow mass graves scattered all over Cambodia. Today the Killing Fields stand as a memorial site for those who died, the centre of which is marked by a Buddhist stupa. The stupa has acrylic glass sides and is filled with more than 5,000 human skulls. Many have been shattered or smashed in – due to the savagery of their deaths – so many of the people are unknown.
Despite the horrendous history, the centre has been converted very respectfully into a place of remembrance. You can walk around the entire compound freely, with an audio guide talking you through the various different parts and areas. But to this day you can still see bones and skull fragments lying on the floor, remnants of the 8,895 bodies that have so far been found. The rains are unearthing new pieces all the time. It wasn’t until the Cambodian-Vietnamese war that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge fled, and the killing fields and the atrocities hidden within were discovered. A dark morning to endure, but an absolute essential when you are in Phnom Penh.
We made our way back to the hostel via Tuk Tuk, stopping off en-route at a café that had been recommended by our driver. We had a few hours to kill, so on the recommendation of the lovely Aussie Lizzie, whom we befriended at our hostel, we went to get a quick massage. A massage from a blind guy. After a very relaxing 60 minutes we set off for a look around the Phnom Penh Central market, which is massive but not nearly as chaotic as some of the markets we had been too. Regardless, it had been a mentally exhausting day.