Our sleeper bus got us to Phnom Penh by midnight. Lukily our AirBnb host agreed to wait up for us to let us in the apartment whenever we got there. We stayed near the area called The Russian Market.
I knew nothing about Cambodia before we got here, only that it was not in South America. Known to the Khmer people as Kampuchea, Cambodia was a protectorate of France for almost 10 years. 15 years after gaining independence from France, Cambodia suffered greatly from US bombing during the Vietnam War, as Vietnamese communists were using Cambodia as a sanctuary, as well as resource supply lines.
It gets a lot more complicated and twisty, but basically this group of communists that were called the Khmer Rouge (Red Cambodians) led by this crazy guy Pol Pot who ruled the country from 1975-1979. He forced people out of the cities, and then killed over 2 million Cambodians (maybe more, at least a quarter of the population) for really no good reason, he was just super paranoid. The genocide lasted a little more than 3 years, and this is where The Killing Fields came into history. Not only did he kill innocent people, he tortured them first. At secret torture places like Tuol Sleng. He would say things like “Better to kill an innocent than let a traitor go free” or “To keep you is no gain, to lose you is no loss”.
We visited both a killing field and Tuol Sleng. The pictures speak for themselves. People were tortured at Tuol Sleng, which used to be a high school, and then sent to a killing field when they had little left in them. So much of it was in secret. The would play loud music while killing people so that no one outside the complex knew what was really going on. And they did not use guns to kill at the killing fields…that would be too loud and bullets were expensive.
By far the saddest most sobering day of the trip. One of the craziest things is that someone opened a gun range near the killing fields and it is offered as part of the tour. Literally the last thing you would think anyone would want to do after seeing this history!
Anyway, it is worh noting that we were extremely impressed with how the city of Phnom Penh has bounced back from this tragedy only 40 years prior. It’s a testament to the spirit of the Cambodian people. The city seems to be thriving and there is a lot of new construction!