We took a bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh and the drive was gorgeous (in it’s own way). Most of the ride was on unpaved roads with screeching car horns blaring past us as we sped through tiny villages. Children were riding their bikes and large families were sharing their meals around a small table on the main street. Modern amenities probably don’t exist in most of these places but life happily carried on. I love being in these countries because daily life is so different from how I grew up. Makes you take a step back and appreciate what you have. As we pulled into the bus station, it started to rain… another torrential downpour as we’re moving from one form of transportation to the next. Thankfully the tuktuk had rain screens to keep us “relatively” dry.
Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia – a large city full of western restaurants, big hotels, yet still has the feel of a traditional village found throughout the country. We didn’t have much planned for the city except for a visit to Choeung Ek, also known as The Killing Fields.
WARNING: SOME IMAGES MAY BE DISTURBING
Some may recognize the name “The Killing Fields” from the 1984 film based on the experiences of two journalists during the Khmer Rouge reign. Some people have probably heard very little of the Genocide in Cambodia. Embarrassingly, I’m part of that grouping.
We started our self-guided audio tour when the grounds opened for visitors and we spent about 2 hours to complete the tour in full. We listened to the history, learned about the important landmarks, and the personal stories of survivors as we stopped at stations throughout the Killing Fields. It was informative and heartbreaking. As you walk in-between excavated mass graves, pieces of bones and clothing are coming up through the ground. Over time and especially after rain, more remains and pieces of personal belongings surface. While you’re listening to the stories and the history, you are appalled and disgusted by the heinous crimes committed but it takes on a new emotion when you see belongings and clothing articles of people from 1975-1979.
I can count on one hand the number of “life-changing” moments during my travels and our visit to The Killing Fields is one of them. I’ll never understand the motives for someone, or a group of people, to commit the crimes we see today in the news, but I also never expected to see such resiliency from an entire country after such devastation. Nearly 1/3 of the entire population of Cambodia lost their lives during the Khmer Rouge. Families are still looking for their missing loved ones and families are still suffering with loss but their spirits are gracious and thankful.
We met the most hospitable people everywhere we went. From our tuktuk drivers, the servers at the restaurants, and the friendly faces at the hotels we stayed in, we saw happiness. It was truly remarkable. I’ll forever hold Cambodia close to my heart.
To learn more about the Khmer Rouge, please read here.