Cambodia- a country marred by its unfortunate turn of historical political events and background that the country is still recovering from. Nonetheless, it is endowed with so much natural beauty and has risen/is still rising above all odds to establish itself as a safe and stable harbor in South East Asia. It is bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Vietnam to the east, and the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest. Making it possible to visit all these countries at the same time as they are both equally beautiful.
So many years ago when I first watched the 1984 movie “The killing Fields”, I remember making a promise to myself to visit this country, and late last year, during the holidays, I finally decided to step out of my comfort zone and make it happen, ticking it off my bucket list!
The Killing Fields is a 1984 British drama film about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, which is based on the experiences of two journalists: Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg. I must warn you though, grab some tissues if you are intending to watch it. I will give you a brief history on the killing fields for now and later about the beauty that is in this country that had my heart at first sight.
The Killing Fields:
The Khmer Rouge (named after the dominant ethnic group of Cambodia and the French word for “red”) was the radical communist group that ruled Cambodia from 1975 until 1979. Led by Pol Pot, a Maoist-inspired revolutionary who wanted to create an agrarian utopia, the Khmer Rouge carried out a genocide that killed more than 1.7 million of their own countrymen.
To “purify” Cambodia from the evils of capitalism and foreign influence, millions of people were forcibly evacuated from the cities and made to work in the countryside under inhumane conditions. Private property, religion, and money were all banned. Critics, intellectuals, and middle-class people were executed by the hundreds of thousands, and many others perished from starvation and overwork.
By the time Vietnam invaded Cambodia and overthrew the Khmer Rouge in 1979, over a quarter of the Cambodian population had died, many of them buried in mass graves known as the “killing fields.”
Choeung Ek Killing Fields: Hell on Earth!
Two of the biggest tourist sites in Cambodia are Angkor Wat, the famous temple complex built by the medieval Khmer Empire, and Choeung Ek, the country’s most infamous killing field. One of thousands of mass graves from Khmer Rouge times, Choeung Ek contains the remains of more than 8,000 people who were executed there. A Buddhist stupa on the site holds thousands of human skulls.
Most victims, including children, were tortured before they were killed. They were forced to dig their own graves and were often hacked or beaten to death with axes, knives, and bamboo sticks because the Khmer Rouge didn’t want to waste bullets. Sometimes, small children and babies were smashed against trees until they died. After being attacked, victims were pushed into the graves they had dug, and dirt was thrown over them. Some people survived the torture and were buried alive.
There are still killing fields that have yet to be excavated. It’s also possible that many more killing fields will be discovered in the future. Due to the shallowness of the graves, old bones and teeth sometimes turn up around the country after a heavy rainfall.
S-21 Prison (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide)
A secret to the world and even to Cambodia until it was discovered by two Vietnamese photojournalists in January 1979, the Security Prison 21 (“S-21”) was a former high school that was used to hold more than 15,000 people during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Only a few prisoners are known to have survived the S-21, so much of what we know about the site comes from the meticulous documentation recorded by its leaders and workers during the 3.5 years the prison was used.
A person transported to the prison first had his or her picture taken, thousands of which still exist. Prisoners were relentlessly interrogated and beaten until they confessed to crimes they didn’t commit. Interrogators pulled out the prisoners’ toenails, waterboarded them, and even subjected them to medical experiments.
Once a prisoner admitted to the charge of which he was accused, he was forced to write out his confession, which could be up to several hundred pages long. With prisoners sometimes having to eat insects for survival, conditions in the prison were so bad that some died before they could be executed.
Today, the prison is a museum (Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide) dedicated to the people who died there. Pictures of prisoners cover the museum’s walls, and prisoner confessions and government documents are also on display. When the museum was opened to the Cambodian public in July 1980, it drew an estimated 300,000 Cambodian visitors by October of that year.
When I got to cambodia, I was hesitant at first to make a trip to these fields as I am such an emotional person. I cry at stupid things such as watching engagement videos on you-tube. I knew I would be an emotional wreck by the end of this trip. But nonetheless I had to. And I was right! Got out with a swollen face. I didn’t have the guts to take take any pictures, no one did! That is how sad it is…
With that brief history on Cambodia, can we now talk about something interesting? Check out the site tomorrow to get a glimpse of all the beautiful things to do in Cambodia.