Today’s travel tuesday post is much more somber than most – but it’s something I can’t seem to get off my mind. I learned about Cambodia’s mass genocide under the oppressive thumb of the Khmer Rouge in school – during which about 2 million (yes, two million) people perished from executions and the poor living conditions and disease from the nation’s multiple forced labor camps.
Reading about the Khmer Rouge was one thing – seeing the aftermath of it for myself was a whole different story. In the bustling streets of Phnom Penh, I realized that there were barely any old people – most of them were killed under the Khmer Rouge. There were lots of amputees, injuries, and obvious signs of torture – such as acid-washed faces and empty eye sockets. In an effort to reduce the population back to the ‘Year Zero,’ charismatic dictator Pol Pot executed anyone in the government, with an education, or of noble blood – even those that wore eyeglasses.
These shots are from the memorial at one of the countries biggest ‘killing fields,’ where Khmer Rouge soldiers dragged workers from the streets, villages and forced labor camps to be executed. The site is riddled with mass graves, various execution sites, and gruesome details – the worst of which I chose to leave out.
The craziest thing about the killing fields, though, is that they are breathtakingly beautiful. A gorgeous, glittering lake bordered by lush green forest is said to contain an unknown number of bodies – yet from the outsider’s perspective, I would have never expected anything ominous to have taken place there. In addition, the entire site was filled with butterflies – hundreds of them clung to the trees, fences, and swirled around the air. All I hoped was that they were happy that the atrocities that occurred were being shown to the world, in hopes that it wouldn’t happen again.