Our original plan for today had been to put our passports in at the Thai Embassy to sort out a Thai visa, then get a bus to Kratie (travelling overland to Thailand will only give us a fifteen day stamp but we need longer, hence the need for a visa). But the buses only go to Kratie in the morning so our plans were scuppered! Phnom Penh sightseeing it is instead then!
With Guy, we hired a tuk-tuk driver for the day to take us where we wanted to go. First stop, the Thai Embassy for us and the Vietnam Embassy for Guy. We were highly unsuccessful in sorting out our visas. The Embassy was closed so we had to speak to a man in a hut outside. The price he quoted for the visa was almost double what it stated on the Embassy website. Clearly, with the Embassy shut, he could charge what he liked, adding an extra $5 every other sentence for one thing or another. Deciding we would not pay his ridiculous bribes we walked away. We'll figure out another plan instead! Guy was successful in putting in for his Vietnam visa so it wasn't a wasted trip.
Then onto the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museam, a.k.a. the S-21. This former school was used as a security prison during Pol-Pot's regime in the 1970's. Under the Khmer Rouge, all schools were closed (they belived that education was not important and that everyone should just work the land instead) and some were turned into prisons.
The S-21 is truly an awful place. Thousands of people were imprisoned, tortured and sent to the killing fields from here. The old classrooms were turned into cells and torture chambers and in some places you can still see what appears to be dried blood on the floor. People who were targeted by the Khmer Rouge included educated individuals such as doctors, lawyers, scientists and teachers, Buddhist monks, ethnic minorites, and anyone who they believed opposed their ideology.
The Khmer Rouge kept detailed records of everyone who came into the prison including taking their photograph. These photographs are now on display and the sheer volume of them is overwhelming. Most of the people whose faces we looked at would have been murdered not long after their picture had been taken. And even more upsetting was the number of pictures of children and babies. The information boards at the museum explained that when someone was arreseted by the Khmer Rouge, his whole family would usually be captured and killed also so that no-one could seek revenge on their behalf. Under the regime around a quarter of the population of Cambodia was murdered, something that we both find extremelly difficult to comprehend.
After spending a couple of hours walking through the different buildings, looking at photographs and reading information boards at the S-21 we decided to take a few hours break before going to visit the Killing Fields on the outskirts of town. So our tuk-tuk driver took us back to our hostel where we spent some time relaxing and working out how we would get around our Thai visa issue; we decided to just pay up and fly to Bangkok so we can get a thirty day stamp!
At 3pm, we met up with our driver again who took us to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, more commonly known as the Killing Fields. This is a site where thousands of people were murdered (bullets were seen as too expensive and so most victims were beaten /stabbed to death) and buried by Khmer Rouge soldiers. There are many more sites like this throughout Cambodia.
Walking through the site, the audio guide explained the different areas and what had happened here. We saw mass graves, fragments of bones and clothes that are still only just making their way up to the surface, a tree which was used to brutally kill infants against and the memorial stupa which has on display the skulls and larger bones of some of the victims who were killed and buried here.
Today has been deeply upsetting and, at times, we both couldn't quite believe what we were seeing / hearing.
We had a sedate evening of going out for dinner with Guy followed by a trip to Dairy Queen.
Exhausted from our day we'll have an early night.