Straight Depression in Phnom Phen

Trip Start Oct 23, 2006
Trip End ??? ??, 2007

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Monday, January 8, 2007

When the 7th came, Mike and I left Andreanne and Siagon for Phnom Phen, Cambodia. The bus ride over to the border was great since there were only 4 people in the bus, and it only took about 3 hours. Crossing the border was a bit confusing since we had no one to guide us but we found our way to the right spots in good time and got a bite to eat after we crossed. We then got on another bus to go the rest of the way to Phnom Phen. We arrived in the Phnom Phen's backpacker alley, found a place right away and went for dinner. We didn't really do much of anything for the first two days in Phnom Phen but then decided to do all that we wanted to do on the third day. Phnom Phen was really easy to relax in since our guesthouse was right on a beautiful lake and next to a whole mess of restaurants and convenience stores. We did a fair amount of walking in those two days, exploring places and food. One side note, Cambodia is a really poor nation and though I speak of it as a place we relaxed in, I should also mention the sad reality. There is a desperation in the air in Cambodia, though the people are poor, they really view westerners as the solution, making begging a really common thing. Begging is fine and all, however the majority of it is done with little kids around 3 years old and up. It's so hard to say no to a really small child begging you for a dollar or asking you to buy something. The truth of the matter however is that the kids never see the money as it all goes to adults in the end, and there is a bit of a business that has come from it. Thus we made it a point to never buy anything from a kid and that if we felt the need to help we always gave away food. Man it's really hard when a kid comes to you, pulls your pant leg, beggs you for some money, and rubs his stomache saying he's hungry, looking you in the eyes the whole time. Anyways, on with the story.
On day three we decided to go to the Killing Fields and S-21. During the the reign of the Khmer Rough, one of the bloodiest regimes to have ever existed, there was a genocide imposed by Cambodia's government onto it's own people. Pol Pot, the leader of the regime, was just as bloody a dictator as Stalin and Hitler though he was in power for a far shorter time. During the height of the violence, everyday Cambodian people were taken from there lives and brought to prisons like S-21 to be interrogated. Often times they were pried for evidence of involvement with anti-Khmer Rough political entities. Many times they were tortured during the interrogations to give false testimonies and eventually seal their fate. Hardly anyone who entered S-21 left. The thing that made S-21 more notable than any other prison was that if was the blood bath of them all. Before the Khmer Rough, the facility was nothing more than a high school, however it was shortly converted into an industrial facility of torture and death. Thousands would be tortured in those former classrooms, those first targeted were people within the Khmer Rough itself. Eventually common women and children were taken there to be interrogated and tortured. The prison served no real purpose than to extract information from people before they were either killed on site or brought to the killing fields.
The killing fields was a site located about 14km outside Phnom Phen where people were taken from various prisons like S-21 to be murdered in mass. There were many such killing fields, but we happened to visit the busiest one. Millions were brought to this particular site by the truckload, grouped together, then usually killed by getting their throats slit or being bludgeoned with the butt of a rifle to save on bullets. In the end both sites were really depressing but good to have visited. Both facilities are now major tourist hot spots, and also serve to provide the world with evidence of the Khmer Rough's atrocities, which of course they denied. The facility at S-21 was particularly informative with many of the original torture devices left out for viewing. There was also a section of the school that had stories of a few of the victims' friends and relatives explaining what it was like to lose there loved ones in this absolutely crazy and sadistic time. We managed to visit both sites in one day, the effect was pretty heavy and called for some time to reflect. Even though we took a tuk tuk to get out there, we decided to walk back. We encountered one of the people we had met on the bus to Phnom Phen at our guesthouse and went out to dinner with him. We played that night very low key and called it early since we had to catch a bus to Siem Reap the next day to see the bright side of Cambodian history, the amazing Angkor Wat temples built by the ancient Khmer people.
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