Crystal blue sky’s and wooden houses on stilts surrounded by lush green banana tress and rice plantations with signs stating “Be careful of land- mines” we had arrived in Cambodia. Heading on the dusty narrow straight roads towards Phnom Penh small shacks were selling everything edible from snakes on a stick; fried spiders and deep-fried dogs heads which was enough to send a shiver down any westerners spine. Spotting the odd scorpion still didn’t put me off walking around in my flip flops as this was Cambodia and the Cambodians are afraid of nothing. As this is a country that has come through great turmoil and adversity that they endured under the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge regime.
Phnom Pen is a beautiful city that is the gateway to a progressive Cambodia with new shops and buildings on the rise. However it still has its traditional charm and thankfully the Palace and Temple in the heart of the city were spared under the Khmer Rouge as much of the country’s history was destroyed by them. Many of these simple traditions surround the fact that Cambodians will happily consume anything as such it may be seen as slightly offensive to that of Western culture- but it’s the way they live and this should be respected.
The Cambodians are some of the friendliest people you could ever wish to meet which made for a nice surprise after leaving the many people of Vietnam out to make a quick buck. Even more so they refuse to take money for their polite services and with the friendly “hello’s” from every corner they always put a smile on your face. Yet this can not hide the damaging history and the scars left behind from the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge regime.
The Killing Fields and S21
When visiting Phnom Penh one will tend to visit The Killing Fields and the S21 Prison. The scene of one of the most devastating travesties in history an excellent presentation is given via an audiotape as you walk around the fields.
The Khmer Rouge where a Communist Party of which they tried to build a “new country”. This meant everybody was to be equal. Equal as peasants anybody with an education or with wealth were killed. If one person in the family was to be killed everybody in the family was to be killed as the Khmer Rouge believed in “clearing the roots” and this meant babies too. Everybody (and I mean every person in the Country) was moved to the fields to live and work as farmers.
They were taken to The Killing Fields to be killed for not following along and the most disturbing of all- the baby tree where babies were picked up by their feet- and swung into a tree to be killed then thrown into a mass grave. There are many books and stories on these tragedies and the devastation is too vast to go into depth here- but for those in England they make a great read as it is a matter that we barely know about.
S21 is the prison where ex- government officials and prisoners opposing the Khmer Rouge where tortured and interrogated. They had to admit to crimes they did not commit in order to be sent to The Killing Fields. With blood still staining the floors as you walk around it is a disturbing site yet revealing into why cases such as this should never happen again.
The only thing that baffled me the most is how and why the West didn’t intervene and even had The Khmer Rouge Communist Party a seat on the UN!? It took the Communist Vietnamese to liberate Cambodia and save them but it was only in 1997 that they where a free nation.
Because of this the Cambodians appreciate the life they now have but as you see and elderly person wonder the streets you can’t help but wonder what side they where on as the Khmer Rouge soldiers/ army are free men in today’s society.