We had been told by travellers we'd met that Phnom Penh is a pretty boring city that didn't have much to offer but we loved it! We did something interesting every day. One of our first visits was to a famous prison called Tuol Sleng, which was just 15 minutes walk away. As we neared the entrance there were elderly people without limbs begging for money and from that moment I knew that Cambodia was going to be quite an eye opener. I didn't know what to expect at the prison as I hadn't done any research beforehand, all I knew was that it was formally a school. This former school had been turned into a torture prison where people who were against Pol Pots Khmer Rouge regime or just random people where locked up and tortured for many years. There was no sign of this place ever being a school. The entire place had a cold chilling feel about it. Class rooms had been turned into cells and each room had photos of what was found in them. Some photos showed the remains of corpses that had been chained to beds and left to rot. Many of the cells where no bigger than 2 foot wide and 6 foot long. Many of the prisoners never left these cells for the entire duration of their imprisonment. In some of the rooms there where torture devises that had been used on the prisoners, such as water boarding tables, swords, chains, barrels that would have been full of water and prisoners would have been lowered into them and a chair that was used to take photos of all the prisoners. Other rooms had photos of many of the victims some that were no older than 3 or 4. In one room they had pictures and information on 3 of the last remaining guards that where in charge of the prison. Their trial only started in 2009 for the atrocities that occurred at the prison. All 3 are now in their late 80s early 90s and are only now being brought to justice.
After shopping at Russian Market I reachedTuol Sleng Genocide Museum in the afternoon and that afternoon I would never ever forget.The moment you enter you will not feel like a museum, that's because it was formerly a high school, but later was converted into a prison and interrogation centre by the Khmer Rouge communist regime.Make sure to take an audio tour to understand the history of the place.This is the place where an estimated 20,000 people were imprisoned and tortured. It also serves as a memorial to those who died. Prior to this visit, I had very little knowledge about this dark side of the history of Cambodia. I have heard a little bit about the Khmer regime, but they did not make much of an impact on me NOT until I visited this place.Walking inside the Genocide Museum, I saw many paintings on the wall showing victims being tortured. Most of them were awful depictions of the horror and suffering that the victims had to endure. Prisoners were routinely beaten and tortured with electric shocks, hot metal instruments and also hanging. Some of other methods they used were sleep deprivation, starvation, suffocation with plastic bags and heads under water.The cruelty was beyond my understanding! How could any human being do this to another fellow human being? I was so shocked and depressed looking at that. Besides, most of the prisoners were ordinary Cambodians, not criminals and they were tortured simply to extract confessions to crimes they did not commit!The paintings alone had already left a deep impact on me. But as we toured the building, checking out the torture cells, looking at thousands of photos of the victims and reading their stories, I suddenly felt down, very down.Being the first time visitor, you might find place and history very much depressing and traumatic.
History is proof of the fact that humans have often been severely unkind to each other, inflicting on each other the worst pain imaginable for reasons that have not always added up. The Cambodian Genocide, replete with all its barbarism and ruthlessness however, is unfortunately one blank page in history and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum chronicles just that. The former high school was used by the Khmer Rouge regime in order to torture innocent Cambodians and eventually exterminate them in the several 'Killing Fields' spread across the country. This was some sort of an ethnic cleansing, initiated by Pol Pot, reminiscent of the Holocaust during the Second World War. The fact that there were only twelve survivors of the largely underreported genocide (with two still alive and around the museum to meet visitors) is greatly disturbing. The experience will leave a lump in your throat and it is best to have a guide for detailed explanations.
The Museum reminded me a lot of previous visits to places such as the Tunnels in Sarajevo and Dachau in Germany. The museum is full of photos of the regime and exhibits that were used for torture and holding Cambodians against their will.