After our energetic day around Angkor Wat, we relaxed for the rest of our stay in Siem Reap. The following day we ate three cakes, drank lots of beer and did nothing more active than looking around the old market, where we purchased some trousers more suited to the Cambodian climate.
This was the first day that I started feeling truly shitty, with some kind of stomach ailment that would last the entire rest of the month. Some might speculate that it was caused by my tendency to eat thrice the foods of a normal man. Those people I would punch in the knee…then claim their breakfast as my own, by right of conquest!
In any case, the time had come to leave Siem Reap and, given our lack of time in the country, we turned away from the coast and headed inland to the capital city, Phnom Penh. To get there, we bought tickets on an overnight bus, which turned out to be in the form of bizarre flatbeds stacked on each other. Naturally, these were not of Western proportions and I spent most the night spilling out of mine.
Although we arrived in Phnom Penh early in the morning, we went to bed almost immediately and stayed there until mid-afternoon. At that point, we went out for lunch and spent the evening drinking beer and watching a movie about the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia (still one of the most horrific pieces of human history).
The next day, we visited the Killing Fields outside Phnom Penh. Here, my friends, I am afraid my heart betrays me and I cannot write about our experiences. Indeed, it would feel wrong to attempt to summarise the suffering that took place at that sight over the brief and bloody reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
All I shall say is this: when the Khmer Rouge forced themselves to power in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, they caused the deaths of up to 2.5 million people, out of a total population of just 8 million. Around 1.4 million of these victims were hauled out to sites now referred to as Killing Fields, where they were butchered with hammers and pick axes, then dumped into mass graves. One account refers to the way in which they would take babies and dash their skulls against a tree, before tossing them into their own mass graves.
Nowadays, when it rains heavily, bits of bone and cloth still surface around the Killing Fields, serving as a very stark reminder of just how real and recent this horror was.
That is all I shall say on the subject, apart from to mention that the next day we visited S-21; a school that the Khmer Rouge converted into a torture chamber and prison for those they deemed traitors. Here, we saw evidence even more horrific than at the killing fields, including the tiny cells, torture equipment and photos of the victims themselves, both before and after being interrogated.
All in all, it was 48 hours that I will never forget – and nor should anybody.
Photo credit for much of this to Vikki!