To be completely honest, we haven’t planned anything for Phnom Penh as we would only be staying here for a night. So we grabbed a map from the hotel which labelled several tourist attractions and decided to visit these places.
Central market is a market in an old building which features a wide array of products for tourists. The market operates from 7am to 5pm and you can find anything ranging from ahli baba pants to imitation goods like Ray Ban sunglasses or Michael Kors’ handbags.
However, we were too famished to start shopping proper and headed nearby to get some food before kickstarting the day’s adventure officially.
After a quick breakfast, we headed back to Central market again, this time round for some serious shopping.
Unlike Thailand’s Chatuchak, Central Market is less suffocating as the stalls are not enclosed in a poorly-ventilated area. Additionally, there were little tourists around so the overall experience was more pleasant.
Location #2: Russian Market
Russian market, on the other hand, is a bazaar which can be sweltering hot for tourists. It also sells a wide variety of goods and one can find a great selection of souvenirs and gifts for the loved ones back home.
The aisles were small and the market was so packed it was not exactly a great experience for us. The weather was not making it better as we were feeling so sticky that we only spent 10 minutes inside before making our way out and sipping on a sugarcane drink before moving on to the next location.
Location #3: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum/ Security Prison 21 (S21)
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was originally a high school compound that was converted into a prison under the Khmer Rouge Regime from 1975 to 1979. It is estimated that almost 17,000 people were imprisoned during this period. Victims were tortured in the most grueling ways and coerced to name opponents of the Khmer Rouge leadership.
The museum is free for students so you may try and ask if you can get free entrance if you have brought along your student pass. Otherwise, you would be required to pay a small entrance fee of 2 usd. The museum operates from 7 to 11.30 am and 2 to 5.30pm.
I had initially thought that it would be a typical air-conditioned museum but was rather surprised once we entered. We had little knowledge of Cambodia’s history prior to the visit to S21 and it really opened our eyes to the suffering the country underwent in the past.
There were multiple charts, photographs and explanations around the different buildings and that was when we felt a sense of sadness setting in.
“Formerly the Chao Ponhea Yat High School, named after a royal ancestor of King Norodom Sihanouk , the five buildings of the complex were converted in August 1975, four months after the Khmer Rouge won the Cambodian Civil War, into a prison and interrogation center. The Khmer Rouge renamed the complex “Security Prison 21” (S-21) and construction began to adapt the prison to the inmates: the buildings were enclosed in electrified barbed wire, the classrooms converted into tiny prison and torture chambers, and all windows were covered with iron bars and barbed wire to prevent escapes. (Source) “
Every single prisoner was photographed and given a number tag for identification purposes. They would also be required to give a detailed biography of their lives leading up to their arrest.
“The day in the prison began at 4:30 a.m. when prisoners were ordered to strip for inspection. The guards checked to see if the shackles were loose or if the prisoners had hidden objects they could use to commit suicide. Over the years, several prisoners managed to kill themselves, so the guards were very careful in checking the shackles and cells. The prisoners received four small spoonfuls of rice porridge and watery soup of leaves twice a day. Drinking water without asking the guards for permission resulted in serious beatings. The inmates were hosed down every four days.
The prison had very strict regulations, and severe beatings were inflicted upon any prisoner who tried to disobey. Almost every action had to be approved by one of the prison’s guards. They were sometimes forced to eat human faeces and drink human urine. The unhygienic living conditions in the prison caused skin diseases, lice, rashes, ringworm and other ailments. The prison’s medical staff were untrained and offered treatment only to sustain prisoners’ lives after they had been injured during interrogation. When prisoners were taken from one place to another for interrogation, their faces were covered. Guards and prisoners were not allowed to converse. Moreover, within the prison, people who were in different groups were not allowed to have contact with one another.” (Source)
At the second building, J was already feeling uncomfortable seeing the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge and I went ahead to see some of the exhibits myself. Thankfully, there were other tourists and I was able to push through and finish reading the stories of those that survived.Every single cell was so small and it was depressing as we looked through every part of the museum.
At the first floor in Building C/D, there was a room filled with mugshots of the victims. Out of respect for the victims, we did not photograph any of their faces. It was overwhelmingly depressing and there seems to be a constant silent ringing in our ears wherever we go.
Truthfully, we have never felt this heavy-hearted. Stepping foot and revisiting the old compound where all the atrocities were committed makes me reflect on all the things we take for granted so easily in Singapore.
I would really recommend a visit to S-21 Museum even if you are not one who is interested in history. It is a whole different level reading the stories online and seeing it for yourself the actual compound where all the horrendous acts are committed. Here, I realized a newfound respect for the Cambodians who are struggling to fix their broken country together as 40 years pass.
“The Royal Palace, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia , is a complex of buildings which serves as the royal residence of the king of Cambodia. The Kings of Cambodia have occupied it since it was built in 1860s, with a period of absence when the country came into turmoil during and after the reign of theKhmer Rouge.” (Source)