In Phnom Penh Jordan and I were greeted by our tuk-tuk driver, Jan. A tuk-tuk is a Southeast Asian taxi, a.k.a. a mo-ped dragging a wagon that can hold up to 4 people. Despite the dying engine, nearly side-swiping cars, or tipping the wagon altogether, we were very lucky to have Jan. He was our personal driver for the 3 days we were in Phnom Penh, spoke impressive English, and agreed to drag us around the main tourist attractions such as The Killing Fields and the S-21 prison openly giving his own account of the horrifying genocide. He also took us to his favorite places and ate lunch with us at local restaurants that our Lonely Planet Guide neglected.
Unfortunately, the only documentation of I have of Jan and the tuk-tuk is on video which I STILL have not figured out how to upload. Maybe one day.
Here’s a few pictures from the Killing Fields and the S-21 prison, and as unsettling as they are, they don’t do the experience of walking through the fields and prisons any justice. From 1975-1979 approximately 1.3 million Cambodians were brutally killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge Regime. The targets were the members of Cambodia’s former government, foreign governments, and professionals, intellectuals and scholars who threatened the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Jan, who was only 9 during the genocide, considers his family lucky because they were poor and uneducated and were not a threat to Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. However, Jan lost aunts and uncles who refused to be ruled by Pol Pot, and siblings to starvation and disease during that time period.
Although the bodies were buried in fields over 30 years ago, clothing, bones, and teeth appear from the ground every time it rains. Jordan and I walked through the fields carefully listening to headsets with personal accounts of some of the few survivors and their horror stories are unbelievable. And it’s so crazy because 1979 was not that long ago (my brother was alive then!) and yet the killings are so primal and barbaric. It’s pretty scary and it felt very real.
The war ended in 1979 when Communist Vietnam invaded Cambodia and toppled the Khmer Regime. Today, there is a memorial in its honor, tours of the Killing Fields and S-21 Prison to spread awareness and prevent another genocide from happening. Of course, like in Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Ho Chi Minh City and ground zero in NYC, there are paper cranes from the Japanese representing world peace.