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Friday, January 10, 2014

10/18: The Killing Fields in Phnom Penh

I know it's been too long since my last post but I've been busy with the hubub of Christmas, planning our next three month adventure in Central and Eastern Europe, Turkey, Israel and Jordan.  In addition, it was unsettling for me writing the last post on the Genocide Museum AND knowing that the subject of this post would be tough slogging as well.  Seeing the pictures again of The Killing Fields brings back distressing memories of visiting the site, the horrors of Cambodia's civil war and man's seemingly never ending inhumanity toward our fellow man.  Having said that though, I know both Steven and I are and were glad we visited Choueng Ek, aka The Killing Fields, so we could understand, if only slightly, what went on in that period of Cambodia's history.

John, our wonderful tuk tuk driver/guide our whole time in Phnom Penh, stopped to buy us surgical face masks on our out to Choueng Ek, aka The Killing Fields, located 15kms SW of the capital.

John told us, while driving on Preah Monivang Blvd., the busiest street in Phnom Penh, to make sure we held onto our backpacks in the tuk tuk and not leave them on the floor as we normally did because they could be grabbed by someone passing by on one of the very present bikes or motorcycles

It was the first time we had needed them in Phnom Penh but it soon became apparent that John had made a good decision as you'll see from the very dusty road below!

Still amazing to me to see what a motorcycle could carry!

Not sure how comfortable these people were in the back of the trucks!

Choueng Ek was chosen as a Killing Field by Pol Pot's regime because it had been used as a graveyard by the Chinese and was away from the capital.  You can see part of the longan orchard that had been on this ground.  Some of Pol Pots's slogans: "Better to kill an innocent by mistake than to spare an enemy by mistake."  "To kill you is no gain; to lose you is no loss."

Between 1975 and 1978 about 20,000 men, women, children and infants who had been detained and tortured at S-21 were transported to the extermination camp of Choueng Ek.  There were more than 200 other killing fields throughout Cambodia.  Many of them are not accessible because they are deep in the jungle and/or surrounded still by landmines.

Beauty in the middle of such horror.

The sign on the Memorial Stupa below.

More than 8000 skulls, arranged by sex and age, are visible behind the clear glass panels of the 17 level high Memorial Stupa, which was erected in 1988 by the Cambodian government. The first 10 levels were used for skulls alone and levels 11-17 were used for the larger bones: arms, jaws and legs.

The numbers above and below in many of the pictures refer to the audio guides we used.

The edges of the palm leaves above were so sharp they were used to cut prisoners' throats.  The prisoners were beaten and hacked to death with whatever was readily available: machetes, axes, car axels, hoes, etc but not bullets because they were too expensive.  There are few of the tools still visible because the locals needed them and the wood from the physical structures after the war for their own homes.

After heavy flooding, fragments of bones, teeth and articles of clothing still to this day come up to the surface.


The Killing Tree:  Babies' legs were held and their bodies were swung against this tree; their blood and brain matter were found on the bark.

The last sounds prisoners heard were those of the generators, political songs and political slogans.

A final view of the Memorial Stupa with the national flag.  One of the last signs we saw reminded us that "tragically it can happen again so remember your past as you look to the future."

Back in Phnom Penh: common to see stray dogs everywhere throughout the country but this was the first time we'd seen dalmatians.

Dinner in what came to be our favorite restaurant in Phnom Penh.

The lobby of the Silver River Hotel where we stayed in Phnom Penh: a decided step up from our normal hostel stay!

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