Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Cambodia, Khmer Rouge, long term travel, Phnom Penh, Southeast Asia, Travel

A Whirlwind Tour of Phnom Penh

I had read about a one day tour from the hostel that hit all the main sites in Phnom Penh, so I decided to try to get on it, but found out the next morning that it wasn’t going, but the guesthouse organized a rickshaw for the day that was going to take me to all of the main sites for $ 12. Even better, I could take as much time as I wanted at each place, and I had a private tour guide.

I hit up the ATM before the day began, and was surprised when dollars were dispensed. How nice to not have to do the currency translation? I knew what I was working with here. My tuk tuk driver was waiting for me as I finished breakfast , and he asked me where I was from when I jumped in the back seat, and I said “England.” His response: “lovely jubbly.” I knew we were going to get along.

The city of Phnom Penh is seething with traffic and dust and it’s crazy and disorderly, but I actually enjoyed my short stay there. It was another part of my journey where I learned a lot about the Cambodian people and the not so distant struggles that have shaped who they are today.

My first stop was at the Choeng Ek Genocidal Center, which is about 15k from the city center. This is the site of just one of the killing fields used during Pol Pot’s regime. There were rumored to be upwards of 183 killing fields all over Cambodia where people were taken to await their death.

Pol Pot’s mission was to return Cambodia to an agrarian society, so he set out to rid Cambodia of everyone who threatened his mission (outwardly or not). Any educated person, teacher, son or daughter of a teacher or government official, a college educated person, even people who wore glasses were viewed as a threat to the Khmer Rouge and what they intended to do. Between 1975 and 1979, 20,000 people were taken to Choeng Ek to be executed, and most passed through S21 prison in Phnom Penh before being taken to the killing field, where they were being promised a new life.

It’s hard to believe that something like this happened so recently, but what is even more disturbing is that Pol Pot died under house arrest and was never properly tried for these crimes. People worked under him out of fear of their own lives, and only one man has come forward and told the truth about his work at the killing fields. Many members of the Khmer Rouge are still alive and have yet to go to trial for these murderous crimes. To this day, many of those people are still involved in political parties and government issues, which is another reason why a fair trial has not taken place.

What is also sad is to see how much of the country’s history and heritage was destroyed during this time. Temples and Wats were ruined, because Pol Pot believed practicing religion was a form ofeducation. The damage that was done was irreparable and has left the country far less advanced than its surrounding neighbors. Still the spirit of the people is high, and they are willing to talk about their personal experiences during this time, which is important in ensuring something like this never happens again.

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