And now the darker side of town

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Flag of Cambodia  , Krŏng Phnum Pénh,
Thursday, November 24, 2005

The next stop was also quite extraordinary - the Killing Fields memorial at Choeung Ek.

Choeung Ek was an extermination camp during the era of the Khmer Rouge (1975-79) where 17,000 men, women and children were executed after being brutally tortured. Nine Europeans and an Australian even ended up as victims here.

A little over half of these were exhumed from the mass graves surrounding the area in 1980 and their skulls have been arranged in a large glass panelled stupa as a memorial to the horrors of that time. Now all that's left is the dignified memorial, some marked exhumed graves and pockmarked rolling green fields where the ground has revealed its grisly secrets.

The other half still lay in their mass graves and it is quite creepy to walk around the site as you can actually see remains of disinterred clothing and bone scattered around the pits at some points in the pathway. Disconcerting piles of worn femurs sit atop of wooden buckets underneath trees here and there.

The Toul Svay Prey High School, or Security Prison 21 (S-21) as it was know after being taken over by the Khmer Rouge, was where the tortures took place. Four large and very ordinary looking three story buildings sit on the site, most of which were used to imprison. Building A was used for interrogations and torture.

Like the Nazis, detailed records were kept of every person that came through its doors and most of these are now on display, along with the instruments of their torture. Rows and rows of photographs line many of the rooms in a haunting display of the depravity humanity can sometimes sustain. Even the torturers ended up as victims, as one generation of executioners would be replaced by the next in the party purges that took place from 1977 onwards. Only seven prisoners were found alive by the liberating Vietnamese forces in early 1979, whilst the decomposing corpses of the final fourteen unfortunates were found still manacled to the beds they died upon. Gruesome photographs of these victims are also display.

A visit here is a profoundly depressing experience, certainly not for children or the faint-hearted. However visitors to Cambodia and Phnom Pehn should visit both the Killing Fields and the S-21 Museum as it shows the depths human nature can plumb and illustrates how destructive and remorseless a government can be, anywhere in the world and potentially at any time in the future. I hope such brutality is never experienced by any nation again, but I'm not too optimistic in this regard.

The rest of my time in Phnom Pehn was spent resting from implications of this tragedy and the nightmare that was bus ride in (see two entries prior). I won't cry over that spilt milk but would like to say that although it has been difficult getting here and somewhat difficult coming to terms with some of the attractions Cambodia contains, it has been very rewarding stop in my journeys. I'd do it all again in a second and that doesn't even include Angkor Wat, the main purpose of my visit and what should be a very memorable four days that's just around the corner. Should be some good entries there too.

Finally, one odd thing I've noticed about Cambodia en route and around town was the total flatness of the place. Very unlike Thailand, Myanmar or Laos, Cambodia is mile after mile of flat jungle covered land which gradually turns into mile after mile of palm lined rice paddies. No hills anywhere, just flat and arable land compliments of the Tonle Sap Lake upstream and the Mekong Delta further down the river's path.

It's a shame that this country has had such a horrific recent past - it could have been a very prosperous nation by now if able to utilise these resources and its inherent enterprising spirit. Still, despite the scars of civil war this nation, with its forthright people, is coming into its own and I am hopeful for its future. Maybe this entry will inspire someone to visit and see the same picture. I hope so.

Next entry -> the biggest temples around: Angkor!

Technotrekker Travel Technologies - part 3: Security

I've introduced the computing power and the cameras used to put this blog together and get it to you in somewhat of a timely manner. Some of you may be thinking at this stage, when carrying around a few grand worth of technology, how the hell does he keep all this gadgetry secure when hanging out in hostels and guesthouses, exposed to a group more untrustworthy than poor locals - other backpackers!

Introducing my bodyguards, the Pacsafe Daypack and the humble Kensington Lock.

The Packsafe Daypack is a slash-proof mesh-lined 25L backpack designed to ward off unorganised villains and petty pilferers. The top of the mesh inner lining pulls tightly closed and can be wrapped around solid objects and then padlocked locked closed, keeping everything inside (cameras, wallet, passport, computer etc) relatively safe. It won't withstand attack from a serious felon with boltcutters, but they are few and far between around here so the security is reassuring when you have to leave the secured bag in your room or sleep on a public transport.

The Kensington Lock is standard issue security gear that adds another layer of security for the computer only. Attach this to a separate sturdy object and lock the computer inside the bag and you have a seriously immovable laptop.

These items add a bit of weight to the total I have to carry but the added piece of mind is well worth the extra sweat.
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