The main attractions in Phnom Penh are sites associated with the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. Tuk-tuk drivers offer cheap-cheap prices to get to the Killing Fields and S21 Museum, a school that the Khmer Rouge had transformed into a prison with rooms for torturing false confessions out of the Cambodian field. Some 10,000 adults passed through the doors between 1975 and 1978; researchers believe another 20,000 children were murdered as well.
Pol Pot aspired to restart civilization and turn Cambodia into an agrarian utopia. He imprisoned, tortured, and slaughtered the educated, artists, anyone with connections to Vietnam or the U.S., and a number of people just because they’d been city-dwellers. Their families were murdered too, so there would be no one seeking vengeance later. People went to S21, then to the Killing Fields.
People who weren’t killed were forced to work and starve in agrarian collectives, from which Pol Pot demanded three times the normal amount of rice be grown. Local administrators couldn’t meet the high quotas, so it was common practice to send the workers’ share of the rice along to the central government.
The Vietnamese, with the help of a few brave Khmer Rouge resisters, were the ones who came through and saved the day in early 1979, even pulling one man who had been buried alive (a common occurrence) from the Killing Fields.
The U.S. and the U.N. continued to recognize Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge as the government of Cambodia for years after the genocide. The leader died while under house arrest in 1998, on the same night he heard he was to be turned over to an international tribunal.
After such a somber outing–on our three-year anniversary to boot–we needed a bit of an upper. We feasted at an Indian restaurant near our hotel for $2.50, then I went for a stroll while Colin handled some Italy business online.
With some help from the hotel staff, I found a bakery where I could buy Colin a birthday cake (chocolate and “oo-berry”). They even wrote his name on it and gave me a candle.