PHNOM PENH, Cambodia // We arrived back in Phnom Penh after a nice “vacation from a vacation” in Sihanoukville. We tried to book tickets to Laos, but the only bus company that does this trip said that it depends on if the driver wants to make the trip or not, and this is decided the day before. We haven't spent any time in a major Asian city yet, so this was a different landscape which took us some time to get used to.
There are people everywhere that try to sell you stuff and tuk tuk drivers on every corner asking you if you want a ride. This got annoying pretty fast. Luckily our hotel was right across the street from the night market so both evenings we went and got a chicken noodle bowl with fresh squeezed sugar cane juice for dinner. It was primarily all local Cambodian people with a handful of backpackers and tourists.
The next day we went to S-21, the Tuol Sleng Prison // Genocide Museum. This was one of the most moving and depressing places we have ever been. It used to be a former high school that was converted into a top secret torture center and prison by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 through 1979. This was just one of over two hundred prisons set up across the country by Pol Pot. Civilians were arrested for unknown reasons, tortured until they admitted to being part of the CIA or other foreign spies, and giving long lists of others who they worked with. One Australian sailor who was captured on his boat and brought to S-21 admitted to working for Colonel Sanders of the Kentucky Fry division. This highlights the paranoia within the Khmer Rouge. By the end, top Khmer Rouge officials and their families were tortured along with torturers themselves becoming prisoners. Once they admitted guilt and signed a full confession, they were allowed to be executed. Everything was meticulously documented as proof of the "success" the regime was having. We couldn't stop staring at the floors we were walking on as we proceeded through the rooms. Real people, men, women and children were killed on the very floors we were walking. Not only was this a museum showing the genocide, but it was being in the physical place where it actually happened that emotionally disturbed us both.
Over 20,000 people were executed here and there were only 7 survivors, each who had a talent such as artist to draw Pol Pot portraits, or engineer who could fix typewriters that kept them alive. In the courtyard we met one of the survivors selling his memoir book of his time in the prison. We were speechless. There are no words to capture what we want to convey to him. We bought his book and left the area feeling empty inside. His wife was killed here and he lived in hell for 4 years behind these barbed wire walls and now he chooses to sit in the very place synonymous with horror that he probably longed for escape from so many years ago.
We arrived back at the bus station to buy our tickets to Laos tomorrow, then went to the Empire theatre to watch the movie “Killing Fields” about the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh. The theatre was great, and we got food and drinks brought to us in the air conditioned theatre. Once again, the movie which is based on a true story, was tough to watch. At the end of the day we just sat in the room and discussed everything we had witnessed today and how fortunate and grateful we are to have family and each other. This day although very depressing, has been very informational and eye opening. It makes us realize how lucky we were to grow up the way we did, and the types of opportunities we had compared to a lot of other people in this world.