A Travellerspoint blog

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

The Khmer Rouge regime

sunny 33 °C

Written on May 6 for the day of April 27....

  • *** There are some graphic pics here, buyer beware*****

First, let's begin with a bit of history. The Khmer Rouge were a communist party which took power in 1975, until defeated by the Vietnamese in 1979. The country of Cambodia has been in (violent) turmoil from the early 1970 until 1998, thus explaining in great part, the current level of poverty. It is generally stated that the people don't want any war anymore, they want peace and they see, amongst other things, tourism as a great way to develop and enrich their country.

The vision of the Khmer Rouge was apparently to bring the Khmer people (real name, to this day, for Cambodia people) back up to the glory of the Angkor period. To do so, they emptied (literally completely evacuated) Phnom Penh and relocated the people to the country side to grow rice. I read an authobiography called "First they killed my father" of a young girl who was 5yrs old and living in Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge took over. She survived, along with 4 of her 6 siblings. Her mother and father died.

There is now a museum on the premises of the Tuol Sleng (also called S-21) prison, where approx 20,000 people where detained, interrogated, tortured and eventually killed. Only 7 people survived, and even during the last minutes, 14 people perished.

Anyone could be arrested and interrogated. Anyone who had worked for the previous government was immediately killed if that was found out. Being different was sufficient to be killed (ex. skin too white, handicapped, educated, etc)
Although officially, everyone was equal, there was apprently 3 categories. People high/middle ranked in the Khmer Rouge regime, the "base people" (people who had always lived in the country side and were therefore not corrupted like city people) and city people. Although they worked hard too, base people apparently had it easier than city people (more food rations, less arbitrary killing). Overall, it is extimated that between 800 000 and 3 000 000people died during the Khmer Rouge regime (suicide, starvation, mass murdering, diseases, the "sources" of death are numerous)

The following is an explanation board at the entrance of the site:

The site is composed of 4, 4 storey buildings, which were originally an elementary and high school. The Khmer Rouge surrounded the property with thick layers of electrified barbwire to prevent anyone from escaping.

These are the rules that were posted throughout the site on the black boards. We can still see the writing in some of the rooms, but it's clearer here. Note: It was written in Khmer and French.

The following 4 pics are to represent the rooms after rooms filled with people's pictures. The Khmer Rouge where quite thorough in their inventory of people with the result that most prisonniers' pic was taken, along with their age and a little biography.




The following pictures are quite "hard core", so you may want to skip. They definitely brought the point across, that's why I chose to put a couple on here. On that note, I was originally not going to take pics of this site at all, but changed my mind, as a picture is worth a thousand word, and it the best reminder possible.

These are mounted in the 14 "interrogation rooms", and is how these people were found at the site.
There are several more graphic paintings (made by a survivor) of the torture methods which I didn't take pics of, as it was just to sick. Think of horrible torture methods and you might be almost there.



Posted by Mistrale 05:42 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Angkor Thom - part 3

other temples

sunny 30 °C

After lunch, we moved on to another temple, the Baphuon. This one had started to get renovated by a French team, who had meticuously removed and documented each stone, when the Khmer Rouge took over.
When they came back after the war, the rocks had been moved seemingly without any order and they were therefore left with a bunch of rocks spreat out everywhere. The area surrounding the Baphuon is now a graveyard of stones and no one knows where they go. The French are still, to this day, working on restoring it, and they are no where near done as you can see by these 2 pics. What's not shown is that there are rocks spread around the entire building, almost as far as the eye can see.
Bonne chance mes amis!


This pic was taken from the actual building, looking at the courtyard.

Quick note to mention that there are several countries working in team with the Cambodia gov to restore different temples. No CA or US, but German, Japanese, French, Australia, etc.

Leaving Angkor Thom, we went to another temple called Ta Phrom:
This temple had not been restored at all, and as a result, the jungle is slowly taking over. It's gorgeous and was built by the King for his mother. It is said to have needed 80,000 people to maintain it.
I think that the movie Tomb Raider was partially shot here.

Well, that's almost it for the temple pics (there are more of course, but really, it's pretty pathetic how badly they fail to properly portrait the places), so let's finish with a few random pics.



These kids were literally at every temple, agressively selling their stuff. This is an example with only 2 kids at once. They are very very very very pushy!!!

Last note on the topic:
The Khmer society of Angkor seemed to be quite advanced in engineering principles as these temples (and the harvesting and transporting of the stones required to build them) show.
The origins of this people had been traced back to the Indians and Chinese traders who were stuck in Cambodia for 6 months of the year, while waiting for the winds to shift and carry them back to their home country. This explains many of the religious rituals and figures, as well as the appearance of the Khmer people to this day (darker skin than chinese, but clearly asian)

Angkor Wat and most surrounding temples are built around the "high tide" mark of the flodded Tonle Sap lake. Each year, during the wet season (summer in the Himalayas/Nepal), an enormous flow of water reaches the shallow sand of the Mekong river, actually stopping the "down to the sea" flow of the water and reversing it back up the Tonle Sap lake. During that period, it more than doubles in size, and completely changes the topography of this region of Cambodia.

Posted by Mistrale 05:17 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Angkor Thom - part 2

sunny 31 °C

famous faces...
You might notice a dumbass sitting on the right of the pic. Joe blow decided that it was a good idea to climb on these statues to get a good pic. I find that sooo stupid considering the effort that the Gov is putting in maintaining (nevermind restoring) these priceless pieces of history!

The Angkor Wat and surrounding temples were built between the 9th and 11th century and were the capital of Cambodia until it got moved to Phnom Penh (I'm not sure if this was before or after Thailand invaded Cambodia). They were left and forgotten until the French took over and started to restore (and/or some to steal) these magnificient pieces of architecture and engineering.

Coming back to the faces:




I really like the contrast of the monk's orange robe to the environment of this next pic:
They were 2 monks visiting together and I asked them to take a pic of them. They said yes, but it didn't turn out too good, so I won't post it. They then asked me to pose with them while they took a pic with me!!! I totally didn't expect this, but said yes of course. There are quite strict rules that a woman is not to touch monks, so I had a really hard time being close enough for a pic, while making sure no to touch them! hehehe
Aliya was all shocked to see monks with a cell phone/camera! hehehe, technology is everywhere I guess!

The details and carvings where almost as elaborate here as in Angkor Wat.

Posted by Mistrale 05:02 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Angkor Thom

A massive city in its time

sunny 30 °C

Written on March 6...recounting events of April 26...

After Angkor Wat, we went to the city of Angkor Thom (means Great Angkor/Great city), which is a gathering of several temples (at least 7-8) surrounded by a wall that is 12km long.
Here is a pic of the main entrance- there are 5 entrances/exits in total. Notice the statues on the side are re-enacting the battle "Churning of the Sea" that I mentioned earlier.

Inside Angkor Thom, we first stopped to see some monkeys that were on the side of the road, and I ended up sharing (aka letting him get it all) my mango (the one I had just bartered down to 1000riels, if you remember from a previous entry).
I first gave him (or her) a piece, then it jumped on me and we fought for the bag a little, so he reached in and touched all the pieces, taking a bite ofmost of them. As a result, he ended up with all of it, but it was an enjoyable close encounter. I wanted to pet him, but remembered the tour guide (when we went canoeing) who had told us that they bit when you touch them, and to bite back if they did. We avoided a biting match here.

We first visited the Bayon, undeniably the best temple there is. From the outside, it resembles a pile of rocks, but once you get close and definitely inside, it's aww inspiring.
Here's a view from the outside

And from the lower level inside:
The inside is amazing, it's a never ending twisty turning maze of corridors, stairs and upper levels. The second floor is built in a circular shape, and to my eyes (aka "the untrained") seem symmetrical and identical, making it somewhat confusing ("have I been around yet?).

It's well known thanks to it's 216 faces overlooking all directions of the kingdom. There are 3 different shapes of faces (subtle differences, but nevertheless), prompting the experts to say that 1 type probably represents Buddha, the other the King who had this temple built and the 3rd, a mix of both (King/God complex at it's best).

Pics on the next entry!

Posted by Mistrale 04:14 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Cambodia - Angkor Wat, part 2

sunny 30 °C

The following are pics of some of the carvings found on the walls. They are called "bas-reliefs".

There is said to be over 40000 of these goddesses throughout Angkor Wat, and everyone of them is a little different (different hair-do, clothing, eyes, hands movement, etc). Wow!


Most of the original Buddha statues look like this.
The heads (and often hands and feet) were broken by the Khmer Rouge (who wanted to abolish Buddism), and/or by looters to sell them to collectors (we saw a few at the National Museum).

Let's finish Angkor Wat with a couple of more random pics. The architecture is quite nice, with "doors within doors" like this:

The thing above the buddha is called the Naga. It's part of the mythology, and it's the symbol of water and fertility. It's said to be the first inhabitant of Cambodia. The details are a little blur, but the story goes like this: Cambodia was covered by water. The gods and demons were fighting (symbolically represented by pulling on both ends of a snake (naga)- we could picture is as the game:tug-o-war). The gods won and the land of Cambodia was created. The Naga is often represented protecting the Buddha in meditation.


Posted by Mistrale 00:04 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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