From Royalty To The Killing Fields In Phnom Penh

by | Jun 16, 2010 | Cambodia, Epiphanies on the Road, Summer 2010: Southeast Asia & India | 3 comments


The horrors are in the stories. The stories are in the pictures. We started the day with the glorious Royal Palace, and ended it with the crimes of the Khmer Rouge: the S-21 Tuol Sleng Prison/Genocide Museum and the infamous Killing Fields.

Let’s start with the not so sad stuff…







That’s it for the fluffy stuff.

And now to the not so fluffy…



A former Phnom Penh High School, it was converted to the infamous S-21 Tuol Sleng Prision: out of the 20,000 incarcerated, only 4 survived.



We found the torture room on the 1st floor. Hundreds died here.

The picture below was where many prisoners were waterboarded before being executed. To know that so many people were strapped onto this is chilling.

A jail cell




Annah had commented in her post that she didn’t know why I stuck around here for so long: I guess I stayed here awhile because I wanted to understand what it would feel like to be held against your will and wait for death. As I stood in those cells for a period of time I challenged myself to comprehend the limits of the human condition, especially in times of despair.  What was hope for them? Was there anything to hope for?

Some say the prison is haunted. I don’t blame them for thinking that.

We then headed to the infamous Killing Fields, the location of over 800 mass graves of an estimated 1.3 million victims; so far only 8,500 corpses have been accounted for from the site.






I cannot describe in words how difficult it was for me to grasp the magnitude of what the Khmer Rouge committed against its own people. Standing in the prison cells, torture rooms, or on the killing fields, I searched for answers to questions I didn’t know how to ask. On the killing fields, lush green lawns revealed little of the carnage you’d find written about in textbooks. Laughter of children from the adjacent schoolyard made it difficult to comprehend the tragedy that took place 6 feet under; has time changed everything? How have we become desensitized?

But then I realized: this is how we heal. For the Cambodian people to retain their eager smiles and unquenchable vitality after one of modern history’s worst genocide — only a generation before — has been remarkable to behold. It perturbs me to see what evil humankind is capable of after today, but it also bewilders me to see how capable we are of descending into hell and back. This has been the undying spirit of modern-day Cambodia, and I am grateful for bearing witness to its courage.

Scores of more disturbing images of the Khmer Rouge atrocities: just click here.



- At time of posting in Phnom-Penh, it was 30 °C - Humidity: 62% | Wind Speed: 14km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds


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