Thursday, February 7, 2013

Phnom Phen - The Killing Fields and a Tuk Tuk Ride

Monday 4 February

This morning we had an optional tour of the Genocide museum followed by a visit to the Killing Fields memorial. The Genocide Museum is devoted to explaining the practices of the Khmer Rouge during the period 1975 – 1979, and also to the memory of many of those killed. The museum is now a UNESCO site and is housed in a former high school which was a major camp used by Pol Pot’s regime to torture and kill many thousands of Cambodians. Standard treatment for all prisoners was to be chained by the ankles to a central metal rod while also being blindfolded. Torture was common to force people to inform, but those who did comply with the regime were murdered anyway.Phnom Penh became a virtual ghost town as its residents suffered forcible removal to the countryside, except for those with higher levels of education who were murdered. Those in power could quickly turn into victims depending on the whim of Pol Pot’s henchmen.
Primitive holding cells

One of the cell blocks complete with barbed wire
The Killing Fields Memorial recognises the mass murders which were perpetrated in over 200 locations throughout Cambodia. It is a sombre place with a magnificent memorial dominating the landscape. Like many families our guide lost 4 of the 10 people in his family to killing field atrocities. However the risk in modern Cambodia is that so few people remain in the older generation that those born after 1979 have difficulty believing the atrocities, and have little understanding of the events. Also, it has proven impossible for international courts to bring perpetrators to justice, and many still hold positions of power and influence in the current Cambodian government.

The journey from central Phnom Penh to the Memorial on the outskirts typified the contrasts in wealth and lifestyle evident in modern Cambodia. Many city dwellers are working in the city to support the old and the very young living in rural communities around the nation. Although there is obvious wealth shown in mansion style houses and expensive cars, the disparity between rich and poor is enormous, and by international standards Cambodia is a very poor country.

The afternoon provided more entertainment for our group of seven. Tony organised 2 tuk tuks to take us to have lunch, and then give us a bit of a tour around the city, trying to avoid road blocks where possible. This proved to be exciting, illuminating and quite a bit of fun. The sights, sounds and smells of city life surrounded us, and we now understand why so many wear surgical masks. The skill of the drivers in manoeuvring their tuk tuks into the smallest of spaces, without any fear of much larger vehicles was astounding. Our driver also took us into one of the large pagodas decorated extensively with gold – quite a beautifully proportioned building. We were also able to visit one of the temples complete with a statue of a large reclining Buddha. It was a very satisfying way to conclude our time in Phnom Penh before being transferred to Siem Reap.
Pagoda in Phnom Penh

Inside Buddhist temple, Phnom Penh

Di, Jim, Jenny and Tony in their tuk tuk

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