Video Trip Report: Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields

Apr 10, 2012

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This is an installment in my March 2012 Asia Trip Series which includes: A Birthday Present To Myself: Business Class on the World’s Longest Flight for $2.50Help Me Plan My Asia Trip Starting With SingaporeFlight Review: Singapore Airlines All Business Class Flight From Newark To SingaporeHotel Review: Intercontinental SingaporeVideo Trip Report: SingaporeHotel Review: Le Meridien Bangkok Avantec SuiteVideo Trip Report: BangkokHotel Review: Le Meridien AngkorVideo Trip Report: Siem ReapHotel Review: Intercontinental Phnom PenhVideo Trip Report: Phnom Penh and the Khmer Rouge Killing FieldsHotel Review: W Hong Kong.

As I mentioned in my hotel review of the Intercontinental Phnom Penh yesterday, based on the recommendations of many TPG readers, I decided to extend my stay in Siem Reap and shorten my time in Phnom Penh to just a single night and day. That’s not much time, but then again, there wasn’t anything much in the city itself I wanted to see. Rather, I wanted to spend an afternoon touring two of the country’s most infamous sites, the S-21 prison, which is now a genocide museum, and the Killing Fields where hundreds of thousands of people were put to death during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in the 1970’s.

This is a video I made of my time taking a self-guided audio tour of the Killing Fields and then S-21, which is the Genocide Museum at a former political prison, and some of the disturbing, often unfathomable things I learned while I was there.

The Killing Fields, where hundreds of thousands of Cambodians were murdered–many came from the educated and middle classes whom Pol Pot felt were threats to his iron-fisted rule–are about 30 minutes from town. It’s hard to imagine the atrocities took place here in the not-so-distant past, but learning about what happened is critical to understanding Cambodia.

Twenty minutes from there, back towards town, S-21 had actually been a high school called Tuol Svay Pray before the Khmer Rouge took it over and turned it into a detention and torture center. Of the 14,000 political prisoners who entered, only 7 survived. There are just five buildings, but they form the heart of the compound and have been kept just as they were back in the 1970’s.  The walls are covered with photographic portraits of those who were murdered, providing a powerful backdrop to experience this horrific place.

For those of you who have not been to Cambodia, despite the fact that I wasn’t a huge fan of Phnom Penh itself, I would not have skipped my afternoon learning about the darkest period in Cambodia’s modern past for anything. It gave me such a different, deeper perspective of the country than I’d been able to form simply by spending time at Siem Reap and Angkor Wat where the tourism industry is fully developed. Instead, this was a chance to learn something about the lives of ordinary Cambodians, the hardships they suffered, and the tragedy that still defines the country to this day–as well as to remember what happened here in the hope that we can prevent it from happening anywhere else ever again. I would highly recommend coming here as any trip to Cambodia.

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