After a whole morning of visiting museum and memorials in Phnom Phen, we are finally on the van starting our 6 hour drive to the city of Battambang. We shall stop for lunch on the way to the city and once arriving we are going to ride on a bamboo train which the locals use to transport rice from the rural areas into the city.
At around 7:30 in the morning we checked out of the hotel and went to take a look at the S21 Genocide Prison. Before the Khmer Rouge took over power of the country in Phnom Phen, this security office was a high school. On April 17th 1979, this security office was created by the orders of Pol Pot. Office 21 was called S-21 and was used for detention, integration, inhuman torture and killing after confession from the detainees were received and documented.
When Khmer Rouge came took over the Phnom Phen, they told everyone to leave to their assigned province or go back to their home towns. If they didn’t go, they were killed instantly. So a city with a population of 2 million was deserted within a month, they were all relocated to different provinces around the country to work in the farm lands. Everyone started work at dawn and ended well into the night. They were required to increase the rice production by triple the amount which was impossible. When the rice was harvested they were exported to China and other countries so guns could be brought with the money. Meanwhile all the people are starving to death feeding on a little bowl of rice soup everyday. The soldiers believed that if they feed them too much a lot the people will have energy to fight back against the soldiers.
When we first walk into the compound 14 graves can be seen. These were the only people that were killed in the prison, others were transported to the killing fields. They either tortured themselves to death or just committed suicide, by hanging themselves.
The compound has 4 buildings, each labeled A,B,C and D. Which originally was class rooms were now all transformed into individual prison cells. The first and second floors of building A were for VIP prisoners. These people were actually high ranking officers of the old Cambodian Government. There were given a room for themselves. This might seem good as they get their own prison cell, but instead they are locked up in that room for 3 to 6 months before they are killed. In each cell, there is a bed in the center of the room, with sheets and pillow. Sometimes a desk with a chair are also in the cell. Every prisoner gets a metal box type like thing. This box was their bathroom. They weren’t allowed out of the cell so had to all their business in that box. In the months they are in the cell, each of them gets tortured in the most inhuman way possible. They do this until they confess about a crime that they haven’t done or tell them information about who is against the regime. After this information is told, they are taken to the killing fields and killed instantly.
On the other floors and other buildings each classroom are split into 11 individual cells. At the entrance to each classroom there are numbers on the wall from 1 to 11. This is where they would put the keys to each cell. Each cell isn’t spacious at all, a grown man could hardly lie flat down in one cell. Each cell wall isn’t that tall, so the prisoners in each room can peak over the wall to see the prisoners in other cells, but they weren’t allowed to talk at all. The prisoners placed in these rooms were ones that were smart and had some sort of education. Again each prisoner had their own toilet box in their cell.
Other cells weren’t split up but instead just cramped with 20 to 30 inside the cell. Their legs are tied to a chain and there are 10 people to a chain. This prevented them from escaping. Even if they did mange to get free there are barbed wire outside the classroom that stops the prisoners from jumping down the three story building and committing suicide or running away.
Every few weeks, 2 to 3 trucks with 20 to 30 people on them transport prisoners from S21 to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. The prisoners hands are tied behind their backs and eyers are blind folded. They were told that they are going to a new home, but actually they are getting moved to their death. The Killing Field was once a traditional Chinese cemetery. Once arriving to the Killing Field each prisoner was documented and checked of the list. Then they are lead to a side of a huge whole, which sometimes are 5 meters deep, and beaten at the back of their head breaking their neck and causing them to fall into the hole, which is now their grave. Incase the prisoner doesn’t die, a chemical powder is sprinkled over them which would kill them and also prevent the horrible smell of flesh decaying. These massive killings happen in the night. A luge speaker blasts out revolutionary music so it covers up the screams and shouts of the prisoners when they are getting killed. It is a horrifying scene. Getting towards the end of the regime, trucks to the Killing Field increased taking 60 to 70 prisoners everyday to their death. At the end of the regime, 3 million people have died from these 300 or so Killing Fields around the country. Out of 4 people, 1 person would have died because of the killing.
When rain pours down the Choeung Ek memorial site, soil shifts and sometimes clothes that the prisoners wore comes to the surface. Even though they are now only rags but they are still very valuable. Sometimes bones and teeth surface too. They are all collected by the staff and put on display. At the center of the site, there is a memorial where more than 400 skulls of the victims lie. They were all examined by forensic experts which sorted them into groups.
We left the museum and went on our 6 hour drive to the city of Battambang. The drive was long and it got us talking to each other and getting to know each other better. Also the view of the country side from the van was very amazing. The blue sky and green rice fields made it look like a scene from a picture book.
After stopping for lunch in a local restaurant next to the highway, we continued onto Battambang, reaching finally at around 5 o’clock. The van took us to the place of the bamboo train. These trains were defiantly not made for comfort. They were firstly very loud because the engine of the train was just a normal motor, secondly the tracks for the train are very bumpy and they are getting very old.
At the 2nd train stop, we stopped at a small village. As we pulled into the station, kids greeted up and gave us some small origami artifacts that they made themselves with leaves and sticks. There were grasshoppers, rings, necklaces and even hair clips, they were all so beautiful and adorable.
We visited the brick making farms and the cambodian guides introduced us to how these bricks are made. They took about 18 days to fully cook and it was a long and hard process. After saying goodbye to the children we headed back on the bamboo trains and went to check into the hotel. This was basically the end of our day.
Dinner was at a local restaurant and I had a traditional Khmer food, it tasted really good. Tomorrow we are going to go to the market and get our supplies for our 3 day journey on the boat. It shall be very fun!!
Fried Rice with Beef