Happy New Year . . .
We started off the day (and the year) by visiting Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields, remnants of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s massacre.
Tuol Sleng was the highest-level interrogation center of the Khmer Rouge, housed in a former high school. During our visit, I couldn’t help but compare it to Auschwitz, which I visited in 2008. Both of them were beautiful and strikingly peaceful, which is such a dichotomy from the places of death and horror.
We had a Cambodian tour guide show us around, explaining the conditions in which prisoners were held and the torture that they were subject to.
It was horrifying – similar to Auschwitz, but perhaps more so because of how recent it was. Sometimes it seems like we took care of the genocide issue after the Holocaust, but visiting Tuol Sleng is a harsh reminder that it’s still happening.
From the interrogation center, we traced the path of condemned prisoners as we drove 15km outside of town to the Killing Fields. This is one of the largest mass grave sites discovered after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, with almost 9,000 bodies. Most of the bodies have been exhumed (although they continue to find human bones), leaving shallow grassy pits as reminders, marked with signs indicating how many bodies were found there.
At the center of the grounds is a large stupa filled with layers of bones.
The clear doors are open, and once you go inside there are skulls within easy arms reach.
After a long sobering morning, we went to lunch. We asked Mades to take us to a Cambodian restaurant, so he took us to a place owned by a friend of his. They employ students as workers, giving them loans and a way to pay them back so that they can attend university. We had typical Cambodian food – a sour chicken soup, pork ‘n veggies, and an eggplant dish, which were all quite good.
We spent the afternoon at the Russian Market, which we think is thus named because Russians don’t like air. It’s a covered market crammed with stuff. I bought art, carved dragons, t-shirts, and presents for back home.
We tuk-tuk-ed home with our loot and then headed to dinner.
I went out for phở with Kim, Michelle, and Garret. My food looked brown but was delicious.
After dinner, we went for a tuk tuk ride down the main boulevard to see the Independence Monument at night (again, taken from a moving tuk-tuk!).
There was an incident during the ride when I tried to buy a Coke from a vendor peddling by us, and he ended up just taking my dollar and driving off . . . Best use of a dollar EVER.