I didn't know too much about it before I went to Cambodia, I read up a little on it, but nothing can quite prepare you for the true extent of the horrors that went on in Cambodia just forty years ago. I won't go too far into the details as it's very long and complicated, but basically Pol Pot was the communist leader of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia from 1975, and he believed that anyone who could read or write should be executed. Anyone who lived in the city was moved to the countryside to work on farms and labour camps.
Pol Pot claimed he only needed 1-2million people to start his new country, so he ordered the execution of anyone who was deemed intellectual or of a minority. Religion was banned, and over 25,000 Buddhist Monks were killed. During the four years of terror in Cambodia, it's estimated that 25% of the population were killed. I know you should never reference Wikipedia blah blah blah, but honestly read this page about Pol Pot, and it'll just give you a good overview of the horror of his regime.
We arrived at the Killing Fields, and after paying the $8USD fee (Cambodia use USD), picked up our audio tours and then began the tour. The tour lasted around an hour, and it takes you past the memorial filled with some of the victims' remains, and past the fields where they used to kill them. The Khmer Rouge used to kill people by beating them with objects (tools, branches etc) or burying them in mass graves, because bullets cost too much money.
Even today the fields are pretty horrific, the genocide was only forty years ago, and bones and items of clothing still rise to the surface after heavy rains. We saw numerous bones and rags of clothing sticking out of the ground, which we found really upsetting. Unfortunately because there are so many still in the ground, the workers just don't have the capacity to remove them all.
Towards the end you walk past the Killing Tree, which is where they killed children and babies. This was probably the most harrowing part of the Killing Fields. They used to swing babies and small children against the tree as hard as possible to smash their skulls and kill them.
You finish the tour back at the memorial, where you can go inside if you wish. It's completely filled with skulls and bones of the victims. I just couldn't bring myself to go inside.
After visiting the Killing Fields our driver was waiting for us and he then drove us back into Phnom Penh to visit the S21 detention centre ($8) which is now a museum.
There are certain places where I step inside a room and feel instantly sick. I can't really explain it, but I think there are certain places you visit, and your soul just knows that something terrible happened there. It's happened to me in historical places where I didn't even know anything bad had happened there until I researched it after feeling so ill. The Chapel in Ham House, the cinema room at Hack Green, random castles and palaces. Ever since I was a kid I've felt an overwhelming wave of nausea and faintness come over me in certain rooms of these places.
When I was really young I couldn't control it and I would be violently sick (apologies to any visitors at Hampton Court Palace in the 90's who witnessed me vomming all over the stairs). I always assumed it was the smell of the musty old tapestries, but as I've gotten older I still get effected by it, even when there are no tapestries, but I'm just able to control the nausea now and just step outside for fresh air.
The problem was, at S-21, everywhere I went I had this overwhelming feeling of nausea and like I was about to faint. Every room I walked into I had to steady myself and fight the feeling of throwing up. I spent most of my time there sat on the benches outside listening to the audio tour and sipping on water. I just couldn't stomach being in those rooms. It's without a doubt the most harrowing place I have ever been to, which to be honest, surprised me as I thought the Killing Fields would effect me far more as so many more people died there.
The worst thing about S-21 is that it used to be a high school. The thought of such a happy place being turned into a place of such suffering is just horrific. It's definitely not for the faint hearted or people like me who are overly sensitive and overly empathetic.
After learning about the terrible history of Cambodia, we then went to the National Museum ($5) for some lighter history. The museum itself is a little boring, but the building and gardens are absolutely stunning!
We met a super sweet monk from Thailand named Konsal, who is studying an MA in Psychology of Society. We had a lovely chat with him, but his companion didn't look too impressed - Konsal apologised to us and said he wasn't supposed to be talking to us, but he loves learning about life in different countries! He told us about how someone once asked him if Buddhism is enough for him, and he responded with "Buddhism is enough, it's the world that's changed".
We then went round the corner to the Grand Palace ($14), but unfortunately the main part of it was closed due to the Vietnam Prime Minister visiting on a state visit. Sadly we still had to pay the full price (and they didn't tell us the main palace was closed until after we'd bought the ticket). They also made me buy a t-shirt because despite wearing a maxi skirt, my shawl/scarf wasn't good enough for covering my shoulders.
This made me super angry because every other place of worship allows women to cover their shoulders with a scarf. It's literally just a money making scheme for them to sell their branded t-shirts. I felt so scammed, but because I'd already paid for my ticket before they told me I wouldn't be allowed in without buying a t-shirt, I had to buy a freaking t-shirt. It was hideous so even with the t-shirt on I still wrapped my scarf around my shoulders to hide their advertising.
We went back to the hotel and chilled out by the pool for a bit, then got showered and changed and got a tuk-tuk to Bassac Lane, which is a tiny little lane in Phnom Penh full of tiny little themed bars. The bars are SO cool, and so cheap! The bars don't serve food, so we had an amazing Ramen dinner at Masamune which is just around the corner, and then walked round to Bassac Lane for drinks. We went to Hangar 44 first, which is a motorcycle themed bar, and had a really amazing (and huuuuge) $6 cocktail.
I'm really annoyed because I took a load of photos on my proper camera, but for some reason they've disappeared :'( so I'm afraid you'll have to make do with phone snaps. Anyway, after Hangar 44 we went next door to Harry's, which is a sort of old school American Preppy/Country Club themed bar. The upstairs of Harry's was super cool, with a gorgeous rooftop area with twinkling lights. The cocktails were so delicious, and only $5 - such a bargain!!
After cocktails we got a tuk-tuk back to the hotel, and set our alarms for our early start the next morning!
Find me: Twitter | Youtube | Bloglovin | Instagram