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Tuol Sleng prison and Killing Fields

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Cambodia has a jet-black period in the country’s history. Under the deterrent leadership of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, more than a quarter of its own population was tortured and murdered. Pol Pot wanted to make the country an agrarian state. Intellectuals were the enemy. Someone who wore glasses was also considered intellectual and arrested, tortured and killed. As were all the officials, doctors, teachers and so on. If you were not a farmer, then you were not sure of your life under this regime. You died a cruel death on one of the killing fields. Everyone was obliged to till the land. Because there was no knowledge of agricultural techniques, there was a great shortage of food. Many died from starvation and heavy labour.

Tuol Sleng Prison

In the middle of Phnom Penh is the Tuol Sleng Prison or Prison 21. For many, this was their last address before being killed on one of the killing fields. It was first a school, where children played happily in the school playground, Pol Pot changed the peaceful atmosphere in a “torture factory” that is unparalleled. After the liberation by the Vietnamese, 7 more people were found. They are the only survivors of this hell on earth who can tell what atrocities took place here. Some of them are still alive and are active as a guide in the museum. With a truly excellent audio tour, available in mostly all modern languages, you visit the various spaces and hear about the terrible events. The many pictures that have get of all the prisoners are impressive, as well as all the stories you hear. You walk through the torture chambers, often only provided with a bed, you see the skulls of the deceased, the garments, all the things used for torture, you behold the tombs of the last captured that were found dead upon liberation. All the visitors, including the many Cambodians, are quiet as a mouse during the visit and their eyes are filled with tears.

Killing Fields

Outside the city, you will find one of the most famous killing fields, Choeung Ek, about a half-an-hour’s drive away. If you don’t know anything about this bloody history, you’d think you were in a peaceful park. Birds whistle, you see beautiful trees, a beautiful pond. But unfortunately, these killing fields were the places where the army murdered everyone in a horrific way. The regime did not want to use bullets, so tortured the people until death followed. Then someone tipped the corpses in a mass grave. Here too you can listen to a very impressive audio tour while you visit all the places. The most touching is a visit to the “Baby Tree”. The impressive story of the events at this tree causes goose bumps and tears.

It is emotionally hard to visit the prison and the Killing Fields, but it should not be lacking from your trip to Cambodia. Moreover, dwell on the fact of what it means to be allowed to live in freedom. The visit confronts you with a tough reality and makes you realise that such a thing should never happen anywhere in the world.