Tuesday October 10 – Thursday October 12, 2017
We made the 6 hour trip from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh on a nearly empty, very modern bus – which made for an awesome trip. After we arrived, we decided to spend what remained of our first day visiting the royal palace so that our second day could be spent visiting the killing fields.
The palace really blew away our non-existent expectations and was a beautiful gem in the middle of the city.
The next day we woke up early to make the drive out to the killing fields. Approximately 20-30,000 people were killed at the location near Phnom Penh during the Cambodian genocide – but with hundreds of similar sites across the country, the tally quickly grows towards the 2-3 million mark (in total). What perhaps was the most surprising thing we learned was that virtually all individuals were executed by hand, often using hatchets, shovels, hammers, or bamboo poles. (To learn more we again recommend Angelina Jolie’s documentary on Netflix called “First They Killed My Father”.)
After we spent several hours at the killing fields we visited the S-21 prison in central Phnom Penh, which served as the holding area, and feeder, for the killings fields. Originally a school when the Khmer Rouge occupied Phnom Penh, it was quickly closed, fortified, and turned into a brutal concentration camp. Nearly everyone who entered S-21 perished in the genocide, with most of them being tortured and later marched to the killing fields – but, due to the intensive record keeping by the Khmer Rouge, the documentation and headshots of all of these people remain. It was a haunting and really emotional experience to see the faces and learn the stories of many of the victims.
After a quick turnaround in Phnom Penh, Maddie left us to head further south towards Vietnam. We enjoyed one last night at the hostel before heading back to Siem Reap early the next morning for some more exploration (see the latter half of the Siem Reap post for that).
And, since it was so great, a quick note about the bus we took – below is a picture, and on both rides we were one of 4-5 guests on the bus. What was also incredible (aside from the free wifi and Mr. Bean they played) were the road-side stops — pictured below. Unlike the concrete around the En-Routes off the 401, this place had similar amenities (albeit home-cooking!) and looked out onto a beautiful lake. We were lucky to catch a sunset on the way back to Siem Reap… how nice is that!!?