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Saturday, 16 February 2008

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Dark Tourism

We bussed down to Phnom Penh on what felt like the bumpiest bus in the world but it took less than five hours so it wasn't too bad.

Siem Reap had been very laid back and easy to like, Phnom Penh is more abrasive and certainly wears it's seedier side closer to the surface. There are lots of beggars and children selling things on the street, I know some people find this difficult to cope with. I formulated a coping mechanism where I gave money to people with disabilities because there's no social security to speak of and avoided giving money to children. I, perhaps wrongly, believe that giving children money keeps them on the streets and saw some of the organisation of begging and hawking with older children and adults "taking care" of the money. Someone had advised me to offer food to children which seemed like a good cop out position for me to adopt.

However, seedy and impoverished as it is, it's fun place to be, people are generally very good natured and saying "No" with a smile worked most of the time.

It's impossible to visit Cambodia without facing up to the atrocities of the Pol Pot era and with that in mind we visited Tuol Sleng or S21 prison. The torture centre where an estimated 17,000 were processed and eventually executed in order to extract confessions or biographies from them proving their position as enemies of the cause. Some of these enemies were children and babies.

It's with no apology that I'm posting these disturbing images and I deliberately avoided some of the more harrowing shots available.

On initial viewing the building is just like so many other schools of the same era, many buildings exactly like this are still in use today. The normality of it is possibly the most shocking aspect.

How to be a good torture victim.
Rules for torture

Detailed records were kept and photographs taken of each suspect as they arrived.
Museum of genocide


These are displayed in two rooms, they make difficult viewing as so many portaits seem to gaze directly into your eyes.

Single cell, Tuol Sleng

Sngle cells filled the upper floors, tiny and the only furnishing being a chain or a hasp to hold shackles.

S21 Les 3 Chevaliers

I couldn't find anyone who could tell me whether this was scratched on the wall during or after Toul Sleng's use as a torture and genocide centre but it seemed so incongruous I had to include it.

Barbed wire was strung over windows and walkways to stop victims throwing themselves to their deaths, surely a better proposition than remaining alive in this Hell of a place.

S1 Barbed wire

In a cage in a corner I saw these concrete busts of Pol Pot, presumably they're displayed in such a manner to limit understandable vandalism.

Caged busts of Pol Pot

Visit if you can.

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