Cambodia & Khmer Rouge: Phnom Penh and the killing fields
Even before setting foot on Cambodian terrain, I’ve heard some truely wonderful and also horrifying stories about Cambodia. People that have visited are full of awe of the beauty of the country and mainly the kindness of the people there, eventhough it is one of the poorest countries in South-East Asia. What I heard was that you can shoot with all kinds of artillery there, ranging from handguns, M16, riffles and even throwing grenades and firing a bazooka. Everything is possible as long as you have the cash. People telling me the taxi drivers show you some sort of menu of what is available. Besides the choice of weapon, you can apparently choose what you want to shoot/destroy. This ranging from chickens, goats, cows and from one traveler I’ve even heard a child… Now, in reality I’ve never been offered to shoot some guns or even seen a “menu” like that. I highly doubt the part with shooting a kid would be true, but there’s a lot of strange things in this world and I wouldn’t be suprised if there’s actually such a possibility.However, Cambodia is a country with a sad history. The Khmer Rouge regime has only been eradicated until a few decades ago and everywhere in the country you can still see the remniments from that time. If you want to know more about the Khmer Rouge I suggest you read up on it a bit here.
The capital of Cambodia itself wasn’t all that spectacular in itself. Most people pass by the city to visit the Killing fields and the former S-21 prison. That’s also exactly the reason I visited Phnom Penh.The last time I got goosebumps from visiting a historical site was in Hiroshima. The killing fields were now a huge tourist destination, but when walking through the area, it was hard to imagine how this place was during the Khmer Rouge regime. At the entrance you can get a audio guide that tells you all about the area. How soldiers brought truck loads of people here blindfolded, scared and waiting to be executed. These people were not shot to death, because there’s just too many people to “waste” bullets on. Instead, people were killed using shovels, rocks and even plants. In the field itself there were these huge plants with leaves with sharp “teeth” on the side. Almost like a saw and that’s exactly what the soldiers used back then to slit peoples throats. Not only adults were brought here and killed, but also children and sometimes even babies. There’s a tree in the field where they smacked the babies against. They would hold the babies by their feet and just smacked them against the treetrunk. At the site they’ve built a memorial stupa which holds more than 8000 skulls of victims and their ragged clothes. When entering the memorial, it all seems so surreal, the filled with skulls towering meters over you. Before the people were being brought to the killing field they were being held in the S-21 prison, a former school, in the center of Phnom Phen. You can still see the cells and many of the torture chambers along with haunting photographs of the victims. According to sources, at its peak, some 100 prisoners were killed here everyday. Only 7 prisoners survived due to their skills in painting or photography.
After all the rather depressing visits to the killing fields and S-21 prison, I visited the Royal Palace to enjoy some of the Khmer architecture. The palaces were simply amazing and it’s attention for details on the finishing touches were uncanning. Oh and I also saw a street stall selling all kinds of deep fried insects. Not just the regular stuff you find in Thailand, but they also had snakes on a skewer and tarantulas! From what I’ve heard, they put a peanut up the ass of the tarantula (don’t ask me how) and then they deepfry it to give it that extra flavour. Haven’t tried it myself, but I did try a fried grasshopper or something and I must say, it does taste good! Was even thinking buying some as a snack for the bus, but didn’t want to risk it. Ha! Let me know how the tarantula tastes like if you’ve tried it!