The Killing Fields and a Killer Dinner

Monday, January 5, 2015

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

After a breakfast of eggs and pancakes (for Jonno), fresh baguettes, homemade jams and fruit, we met up with Davy, our tourism assistant for the day who we had booked based on recommendations on Trip Advisor.

She suggested that we visit the Killing fields and the Toul Sleng Museum - S-21 which would give us a dramatic insight into the impact of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot.

We stopped at the Killing Fields first and Davy started to tell us of her first hand experience under the Pol Pot regime. She was just 12 years old when they entered Phnom Penh and forced all the city residents to leave the city. She left with her mother, brother and sister with just one change of clothes and was forced to walk south towards the Vietnam border where they were to establish a life for themselves. Money no longer existed and they had no belongings, no home, nothing except a little jewellery and only the gold was considered of value. A gold necklace could buy 5 kgs of rice, but a diamond necklace only 2kg.

They were forced to live in a village and scrounge for food. Davy's brother and sister worked 11 hour days, whilst Davy stayed with her mother and collected fallen rice and scrounged vegetables from the road side. After some time, the villagers were required to eat together and they given some land to farm. It was about the size of an Olympic swimming pool, and as a 13 year old she had to build a house for her mother who was too sick to help. The land was covered in bamboo and she had to work out how to clear it. Manual labour was too hard so she burnt it, which had the added benefit of fertiliser for the soil. Over our time in the Killing Fields, Davy told us many such stories of her life which made the experience very real.

The Killing Fields was a sombre, moving memorial with a central stupa holding almost 9,000 skulls and the bones and clothing of over 17,000 people who were executed there by the Khmer Rouge.

There were 130 mass graves of which 80 had been excavated. The biggest grave had over 450 bodies in it.

The people would be tortured in the prison S-21 (Security Office 21) and forced to confess to crimes that they had not committed against the ANKER (the Khmer Rouge). They would be trucked at night and then executed shortly after and their bodies thrown in pits and covered in DDT to hide the stench and kill anyone buried alive.

Unfortunately, part way through this Georgia started to feel unwell. We gave her a cool drink and let her rest, and then let her lie down in the air conditioned bus we had arrived in. She soon started to feel better.

She recovered enough to have lunch where we had a selection of Khmer dishes, including a particularly nice salad and a soup that was thick enough to be a curry.

Our afternoon stop was the Toul Sleng Museum, S-21 where we saw the cells that the people had been kept in and tortured in.

S-21 was formerly a high school, and a good one in Phnom Penh. Davy had visited the school before it became a prison, with her brother who was involved in drama and making action movies at the school.

It was a moving experience to read the stories of the survivors and see the harrowing photos of the people who had been tortured there.

To follow up with something more cheerful, we detoured via the Olympic stadium at Jonno's request and stopped off at the central market for the kids to do some souvenir shopping.

After a rest at the hotel, we set out in search of the BBQ restaurants that we had spotted the previous evening. We found one full of Cambodian families and tried their BBQ'd chicken and beef together with some seafood noodles and stir fried veggies. The BBQ was done hot coals at our table, together with a range of veggies including fresh capsicum. We ate plenty and downed a few Cambodian beers for the grand sum of 20 USD.

We then had to go in search of water for our trip tomorrow, so we ventured into the AEON mall nearby. Grandma Crowle would have loved it - it was just like Macquarie with an ice rink, multiple levels and a huge range of shops. We found a large supermarket and had a lovely time exploring the aisles to find water, nuts and ice creams.

All in all a very interesting day.

We are meeting Davy again tomorrow for an early start and a day in the countryside.