Phnom Penh - 'the horror, the horror'

Memorial Stupa at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

Time is ticking against us as we travel by bus from Saigon into Cambodia and into the city of Phnom Penh. We are due to fly back to the UK from Bangkok in just over a week, and so can only afford a whistle-stop tour across the length of Cambodia, taking in this its capital, and Siam Reap.

Phnom Penh is an old French colonial town that was once known as 'The Pearl of Asia'. And on our visit its people were some of the smiliest and friendliest we met on our entire trip. Unfortunately though, it's also a city that is possibly best known for one of history's darkest moments - the Khmer Rouge genocide of 1975-79 during which an estimated 2.2 million people, almost a third of the country's population at the time, were wiped out in just 4 years.

'The horror, the horror' is a reference to Colonel Kurtz's closing line in Apocalypse Now - Francis Ford Coppola's classic 1979 film set during the Vietnam War, but largely based over the border here in Cambodia. While not directly relevant to the atrocities of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, Jo and I had watched this film only a few days earlier and I found myself repeating this line in my head as we spent a day visiting what are depressingly the city's two biggest tourist 'attractions' - the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (formerly Pol Pot's S-21 torture prison).

Tree at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

Interrogation cell at Tuol Sleng (photo on the wall shows the mutilated body of its final occupant)

These two locations provided a gruesome snapshot of some of the atrocities that took place throughout the whole country during those years, and the extreme brutality that a twisted minority of the Cambodian population inflicted upon their fellow country-men. And all within my own lifetime, not way back in the annals of ancient history. Which makes it all the more difficult to understand and come to terms with the Cold War-era psychology and Agrarian Socialist philosophy that led to something so utterly barbaric.

We only had one day to explore Phnom Penh, so struggled to really take much else in, but the other parts we did see were charming. Here are some pics...




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