[Day 9] S-21 and the Mekong River Cruise in Phnom Penh
Today, we woke up at noon. The biorhythm is slowly going back to regularity I guess! After packing up for the rest of the day, we set off to find a place for breakfast (or lunch!).
We found a nice, partially westernized restaurant called the Meeting Place. I ordered Lok Lak, a rice dish with beef slices with some sweet chili sauce. It is delicious for the low price tag of 1,5$ – 2$. Also, the rain started pouring pretty hard, transforming us 4 in green, blue and pink raincoat ninjas!
After some difficulties with the GPS, we finally found the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or S-21. Before venturing inside, we waited for the rain to stop in the coffee place just opposite the museum. Once you pay 5$ entrance fee, you’re free to explore the whole museum grounds. You can also pay an additional fee of 3$ for an audio guide.
This place was an elementary school before the Khmer Rouge regime. During the second half of the 1970s, Cambodia was ruled by a totalitarian regime that abolished money, possessions, education; and removed the people from the cities to working fields, where they were forced to work 18 hours, without pauses and with 180g of sticky rice to eat in two days.
This regime was responsible for the vanishment of 25% of the Cambodian population (7 million was the total population at that time). Much of the former schools were used as prisons to torture people, most of them innocent people and children too. This place is one of them. Here, the people who were thought to be an enemy of the regime were tied up to beds and tortured daily.
Mostly, these people didn’t know why they had come here and what had they done, so they were tortured just more. Most of the people here died of starvation, as they were tied up, and were allowed to eat their feces, nothing more.
In one room, there are hundreds of photos of the victims of this S-21 jail. It was depressing to see the hopeless looks on the faces of people on the photos, especially children.
There are a few survivor stories on display that show that the Vietnamese came marching to Phnom Penh to ‘liberate’ Cambodia from the cruel Khmer Rouge regime. Artists were kept alive because they had to paint portraits of KR leaders.
Anyway, we took our time here at the S-21. It is an extremely depressing, yet educative place, and I think that it is important to know what happened to the people here in recent history to understand why their country felt behind so much.
We didn’t have time to visit the Killing Fields, as they are outside the city. But, we had arranged a free Mekong River Cruise with our guesthouse, so that was our next stop. It starts at 5:30 PM and lasts 2 hours. We were in a huge rush but eventually reached our ship.
The cruise was simply amazing. Observing the sunset and the skyline of the city while slowly sailing through the huge Mekong River. There was also some local Cambodian music, which sounded nice; and of course, food and drinks!
We also sailed through some really dirty riverside villages. I saw that they throw the trash in the river or burn it on the shores. That just showcases the problem of waste management in Cambodia and the lack of education regarding it.
When the night comes, the Phnom Penh skyline becomes a light show. After 2 hours of cruising, we were immensely hungry and eager to find some street food.
Afterward, we returned to our guesthouse. I worked on my deadlines, while the others went to the massage.
Today, it is time to go to sleep earlier, as the ride to Siem Reap begins tomorrow!
To get up to date, check out the previous chapter!