Posted by: Bert and Tania | January 18, 2010

Phnom Penh

12th Jan: After Siem Reap we got a boat to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. The boat was pretty small and we only realised after about three hours that it had an inside bit. By that time our legs were somewhat reddened but it was cool motoring past floating Cambodian villages and seeing life going on on the banks of Thonle Sap. On arrival there were a zillion tuk tuk drivers all waiting for to hound us for their business (see picture). This was a bit stressful.

We had dinner at a really lovely restaurant called ‘Friends’ which had a mini swimming pool. It is in fact run by an NGO and employed ex-street children as staff to give them a new start in life. Fine dining with a conscience. Excellent.

We used Phnom Penh as a base to visit the killing fields of Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng. I didn’t know much more than there had been brutal genocide committed by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia so this helped clarify a lot although I’m still totally astounded and confused by it all. Basically it seems that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge had an idealistic extreme communist vision of a better Cambodia with an agricultural, rural society. This vision involved mass social engineering to remove intellectuals, high society and even some non-conforming members of the Khmer Rouge from the country. One third of the population of Cambodia was killed (over 3m), 20000 of whom were killed at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Phnom Penh was evacuated entirely in three days. We saw the monument built during the 80’s which contains 8,000 human skulls. We saw the killing tree where babies had their heads smashed. We saw mass graves containing women and children, one contained headless bodies. Very moving.

A fortnight before I was born, Pol Pot ordered the conversion of the primary school at Tuol Sleng into a prison which became known as S-21. Here, we saw where prisoners were tortured until they confessed to not following the Khmer Rouge’s ideals and then killed. All the evidence possible has been collected so that we may learn lessons from the past and hold those involved responsible.

Both visits made me feel a bit sick and were incredibly powerful and informative. I had felt like I wanted to know more about all this and I’m glad we went but it was very depressing.

I promise the next entry will be more uplifting…



  1. That is uplifting in a way.
    You cant recognise height til you have seen (& felt) the depth.
    Do you think the nation has recovered?

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