*Please note that this post contains some disturbing images. We’ve used them only to further explain our experiences and not to intentionally distress anyone.*
One of the driving forces behind our desire to travel was to experience different cultures and learn about the countries that we wanted to visit. As sad and depressing as our day spent at the prison and Killing Fields was, it was completely moving, educational and left us feeling that we understood Cambodia and its history fractionally better.
We began our day with S21, more formally known as Tuel Sueng prison. Originally a school, it was a chilling thought to think that less than forty years ago this was a centre for mass torture and murder.
The buildings, some rooms and even furniture have been preserved in the state that the Khmer Rouge left them in in 1979. Other rooms are filled with first hand stories and photographs – faces of those held here, and pictures of the dead. The playground had been turned into a place for torture, and the rules displayed here were shocking.
We could have stayed and wondered around for as long as we liked, but after only half an hour we both began to feel sick and had seen enough.
The killing fields were much more beautiful than we anticipated, and it was very hard for us to imagine it as a place of so much terror. We were given audio guides, and were free to wander and listen to the stories of what happened in each numbered area of the site. Perhaps the most difficult to listen to was the explanation of how the Khmer Rouge used what was available in the fields; sharp leaves and hard tree trunks, to kill victims.
The landscape is cratered and pot holed, and bracelet lined fences mark off some of the larger mass graves. Bones, teeth and victims’ clothing are still surfacing, and visitors are warned to leave anything they see lying on the ground.
At the end of the audio tour, we were guided back to the centre of the fields to the stupa, which has been built to house the bones and skulls of victims, arranged by gender and age. It’s a soul destroying sight, and one that has stayed with us.
Although deeply haunting, the prison and the Killing Fields are both must-sees for any traveller wishing to learn about the country’s past (and present) and become more aware of what happened here.
The centres and museums are honest and shocking to educate visitors on the horrors of genocide and to prevent it from happening again.
Charlotte & Sarah x