Today was a heavy and emotional, but historically interesting day. We got a Tuk Tuk driver organised through our Guest House, Fancy Guest House in Phnom Penh. First he drove us out to the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) through the insane morning rush hour traffic, complete with VIP convoy passing where police frantically moved all the traffic to the side and stopped all intersections.
At the Killing fields there is a monument to remember the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in the 70’s. When we entered we paid the admission fee of US$5 and received the audio guide, which will guide us through the small area, which is the actual mass grave of several hundred innocent people executed by the Khmer Rouge.
The audio guide is excellent and manages to connect visitors to the chilling past of this place. The gruesome detail in which some survivors describe their story, the matter of fact process the Khmer Rouge employed in killing these innocent people and the sights of the actual graves, where teeth, bones and clothing can still be seen emerging from the ground.
This is no easy place to visit, however we were thanked by the museum staff for coming to visit as it is important to remember such horrible events to prevent it in the future. The most confronting section was the Killing Tree, where women, children and infants were ruthlessly killed. One grave contained over 180 headless corpses, which were Khmer Rouge soldiers that did not follow orders.
From Choeung Ek we got driven straight to S-21 Prison (Tuol Sleng). This was a former school which the Khmer Rouge converted into a prison and the museum today is placed in this same building. Five buildings facing each other with a school playground in the center, each three floors tall. After we paid the US$2 admission fee, we didn’t know what to really expect and entered the first building.
There are several rooms containing nothing more than a steel frame bed, a school table and a chair facing the bed. This is where the Khmer Rouge conducted its inhumane interrogation and torture of innocent people. In January 1979 two Vietnamese photojournalists found the last victims here when they discovered S-21. One of the victims was female and the corpses were all bloated and decomposing. Pictures of these victims are hung on the walls of their respective rooms. If you look closely, you can still see blood on the walls and the floor of certain rooms.
On some floors, the walls were all knocked out to connect the individual class rooms. This is where they built the single cells, which are tiny, some separated with rushed brick walls, others are built out of wood.
Other rooms were filled with the photographs of the victims of S-21. Each prisoner was photographed and all these innocent people, sometimes very young children, now stare back at you from these eerie photographs. Further rooms contain confessions of former Khmer Rouge soldiers and child soldiers, recollections of the war from other survivors and the biographies of the seven survivors of S-21 Prison.