Saturday, December 17, 2016


Graves of the last victims killed as S-21 was being overthrown.
Just like you would imagine any holocaust museum to be, S-21 is a very interesting but sobering place.  The torture and death that happened here is on a scale and level of inhumanity that we could have never imagined existed in this world and really quite scary. 

Racks of leg irons used to restrain the victims

S-21 housed 1500 victims at any one time.  During the 4 year rule of the Khmer Rouge around 20,000 people were exterminated with only 7 survivors.  Most of the victims included soldiers, government officials, as well as academics, doctors, teachers, students, factory workers, monks, and engineers.  Even people who wore eyeglasses were determined to be intellectuals, because they must have read too much, and were brought here to be tortured.

The typewriter repair man.
 The Khmer Rouge kept well documented records and photos of the victims.  They fortunately did not have enough time to destroy all the records before being over-run by the Vietnamese Army so much historical content still exists.   

We met an old man that was detained there.  The staff discovered he knew how to fix their broken typewriters.  He was one of the 7 survivors.

Close up of the leg irons
The wire covering was to keep victims from jumping to commit suicide
Innocent people were brought to S-21 to make forced confessions for committing espionage and forced to implicate friends and family members.  The torture system was designed to make a prisoner confess to whatever claims the interrogator wanted.  They used lashings, electric shock, water boarding, suffocation with plastic bags, and whatever else they could think up.  After a victim signed the typewritten confession, they were sent away to be killed for the espionage that they never committed or used for 'medical experiments".  Many tried to commit suicide rather than live to be tortured.  To others, death was probably welcomed after their 2-3 month ordeal.

The Gallows
There was a converted children's swing set turned in to 'The Gallows'. People had their hands bound behind their backs and hauled up by their wrists to hang from the gallows until they passed out from the pain of their dislocated shoulders.  Then they were let down and had their heads plunged into the pots of urine and excrement until they were revived and then the process was repeated until they confessed to something else.

These are not some fake props of the museum.  They were real people.
We planned on visiting the famous Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, a mass burial site outside Phnom Penh but psychologically just couldn't handle it after visiting S-21.

Just like Hitler's Holocaust in Germany, the Cambodians accept this dark period of their history and having this museum to educate them about the atrocities of General Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge so that something like this will not be repeated.  30,000 Cambodians visit this museum every year. 

It's fortunate that this was such a short piece of Cambodia's history because there is so much more good about this country and it's people.  

Our next post will definitely be more upbeat.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Phnom Penh

Statues at the National Museum

We spent a few hours at the National Museum of Cambodia which houses historical culture, archaeology, and art.  It was quite impressive considering many of these artifacts could have, or were partially destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.

Hot souvenir t-shirt at the Royal Palace

It's good to be the king
We went to a few Buddhist Temples with the highlight was the Royal Palace.  It was extremely hot and Booker had to buy a t-shirt to wear over her other shirt since exposed shoulders were not allowed.  That was alot of trouble but worth the experience.  At least there were no monkeys here to steal Booker's earrings.

Buddhists only allowed
After enough great food, museums, pagodas, and temples, we took a day long bus ride to Siem Rep where our goal was to see the Temples of Angkor Wat and then fly to Hong Kong for our connection to Newark Airport.   

The bus ride took us north through plains and agricultural communities.  The people have a very subsistence living.  It was the end of the dry season and things were very brown and dry in the 100 degree heat.

It doesn't get much better than 50 cent beers

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge

The Khmer Rouge well documented their activities
The history of Cambodia is quite troublesome for us as Americans because our government was complicit in so much that happened here.

The Khmer Rouge, based in Cambodia, were supporting the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War.  The US bombed the hell out of them from 1970 - 1973 trying to disrupt the supply lines along the Ho Chi Minh trail.  This helped the Khmer gain support from the eastern rural areas and they emerged victorious from their civil war in 1975.   
Mass graves

During the time that the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia from 1975 to 1978, they murdered 2-3 million of the roughly 7 million total population in a mass genocide of educated people and their families.  If my math is correct, that's over 1 person per minute killed 24 hours a day for 4 years straight.
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Mass grave at the Choeung Ek Killing Fields
To understand Cambodians is to understand their history.  Until we learned what happened during the Khmer Rouge, we were surprised to see so few old people.  We now know why.  90% of the population is younger than 50 years old and 50% of the population is younger than 24.  The 'kids' that we thought were hotel and store workers, were actually the owners.  This is what happens when you kill a third of the adult population 40 years ago. 
Monument at the Killing Fields
In Phnom Penh there is a High School that the Khmer Rouge converted in to an 'interrogation' prison that is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, but more easily referred to as S-21 (Security Prison #21).  We thought we would visit it during our Tuk Tuk sightseeing tour.  After all, how many Buddhist Temples can you actually see.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Tuk Tuks and Cambodia

It's been a while since the last post and I need to catch up before returning to the boat next month.

Our Tuk Tuk transport
When we leave Malaysia by boat, we will be heading to Thailand and then across the Indian Ocean.  There are plenty of places to see in S.E. Asia that we will not be going by boat so we need to consolidate some of those trips in our travels to and from the US.

Our departure plan at the end of our 90 day visas was to take the bus to Kuala Lumpur and fly to Cambodia, tour around and continue to the US.

They have the same electrician as Honduras.
A full family Tuk Tuk
We arrived in Phnom Penh without doing any in depth research.  We were surprised at the airport when we saw we needed visas.  The good thing, unlike other countries, was that we could obtain them right there at the airport immigration office.  There were signs telling how much to pay so before as we have done so many times before when entering other countries, we went to the ATM before getting in line to get local currency.  However, the only choice for the ATM currency was US dollars.  Guess what, this country uses the US dollar as their official currency.  Amazing.  Their local currency, the Riel, is only in denominations for less than a dollar.  They are essentially like our coins except in paper.  So there are no coins only paper money.

Tuk Tuk Truck
From the airport to our hotel, we hired a TukTuk. This is a kind of motorized rickshaw powered by a motorbike,.  One thing we noticed right away was that the car drivers were much less aggressive and safer than in Malaysia.  What a nice change considering that Tuk Tuk's are ubiquitous and only go 15-20 mph.  

The Mekong River

We booked a hotel a few days prior but had no idea what part of town it was in.  Turns out, we were pretty close to the center of the action.  For future reference,  about 3 blocks away, along the road facing the Mekong River is really where the action is. 

Our included hotel breakfast.  Interesting.
While getting a feel for the area, we arranged for the following day to have a full day of personal Tuk Tuk transport to be our guide around town for the outrageous price of $20.  More to follow.