Our second day in the city started with a visit to the National Museum. A spectacular building, with a beautiful courtyard garden, this was a little haven from the crazy streets. The museum hosts a large display of Khmer Empire art and sculptures. Some dating back thousands of years, we’d never seen so many stone carved Buddhas or religious objects in one place – pretty impressive.
On the afternoon we had planned to visit the Royal Palace, but after walking to the entrance we found out I couldn’t get in as I needed to have my shoulders covered… we hadn’t done our research! So instead we hailed a tuk tuk and went off to the Killing Fields for another afternoon filled with sadness.
Choeung Ek – now known simply as the Killing Fields was once a mass execution site used by the Khmer Rouge. About 30 minutes tuk tuk drive outside of Phnom Penh, this place was used to transport the prisoners of S21 where they were killed on mass and buried in huge pits.
The site is now a peaceful setting, greenery and bird song, beautiful in fact, a haunting juxtaposition to the horror that went on.
In 1980 the remains of 8985 people were discovered at this site. There are 129 individual burial pits, 49 of which have not been disturbed. Fragments of human bones can still be seen in the ground, and as we walked around the audio tour again gave us a chilling insight into the pain of the victims.
One sight the Killing Tree was particularly hard to take in, this was a mass grave of women and their babies, the babies had been killed by being smashed against the tree. The tree still stands, right next to the grave.
In the centre of the field stands a memorial Stupa. In the late afternoon light it’s silver and gold against the blue sky was beautiful. As we walked around the outside we could hear traditional music playing inside, when you enter you see the skulls of over 8000 people, arranged by age and gender and each labelled with the injuries inflicted. There was something very surreal about seeing so many human bones in one place, but it marked the end of our visit to Killing Fields, and served as a lasting reminder of the tragedy of 1975-1978.
Our tuk tuk ride back to the city during the sunset was a much more positive journey. We passed through small villages and then back into the busy rush hour of Phnom Penh.
This evening we went for dinner at a hostel called Feliz for more traditional food. Followed by a late night swim in the stunning roof top pool of our hotel.