Phnom Penh, situated on the banks of the Mekong River, is the capital and largest city of Cambodia, Along with Siem Reap, Phnom Penh is a significant global and domestic tourist destination for Cambodia and is home to more than 2 million of Cambodia’s population of over 14 million.
During the Vietnam War, Cambodia was used as a base by the North Vietnamese army and the Viet Cong. Thousands of refugees from across the country flooded the city to escape the fighting between their own government troops, the South Vietnamese and its allies, and the Khmer Rouge. By 1975, the population of Phnom Penh was 3 million, the bulk of whom were refugees from the fighting. The city fell to the Khmer Rouge on April 17, 1975 when all of its residents, including those who were wealthy and educated, were evacuated from the city and forced into labour on rural farms. Tuol Sleng High School was taken over by Pol Pot‘s forces and was turned into the S-21 prison camp, where people were detained and tortured. Pol Pot sought a return to an agrarian economy and therefore killed many people perceived as educated, “lazy”, or political enemies. Many others starved to death as a result of failure of this agrarian society and the sale of Cambodia’s rice to China in exchange for bullets and weaponry. The former high school is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where Khmer Rouge torture devices and photos of their victims are displayed.
Choeung Ek, better known as one of The Killing Fields, is 15 kilometres away, where the Khmer Rouge marched prisoners from Tuol Sleng to be murdered and buried in shallow pits. It is thought that the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies was almost 2.5 million.
Nowadays, Choeung Ek is a memorial site to those who were killed by the regime. It is a peaceful place filled with birdsong and butterflies. A place for quiet reflection, far away from the atrocities committed there. We were just sitting quietly by the lake, listening to the audio guide when I noticed a little girl in ragged clothes on the other side of the fence. She was just standing and watching us – and how her face lit up when I opened my bag, produced a balloon and blew it up to give to her.
The Royal Palace complex and attached Silver Pagoda serves as the royal residence of King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia and was only a couple of hundred metres from our hotel. We spent an hour or so wandering around the manicured gardens.before passing the Independence Monument on our way to the Central Market (which was much more civilized than my previous visit to a market).