Travel is a beautiful thing that brings joy and adventure into our lives and breaks us out of routine. We can experience some of the most alluring things in the world through travel- which is why many of us find it so addicting. However, there is more importance to travelling than just the seeing of sights.
It is essential to realize the history of a country to truly appreciate its place in the world and what it has become. To travel is to overcome ignorance. Just as we must not be ignorant of a country’s culture, religion and customs we must also not be ignorant of it’s past.
Many people know about the holocaust and the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, but not many people are aware of the genocide that happened in Cambodia- even people who visit the country.
During the rule of the Khmer Rouge Communist party in Cambodia, almost anyone suspected of having connections with anyone involved with the former government was executed. The Khmer Rouge also wanted a one-status society so they also executed anyone who wore glasses or was a professional since they were seen as intellectuals.
The leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, did not want anyone to resent or seek revenge on him, so if one person was killed so was everyone related to them- including children. It is estimated that 2-3 million people were killed during his rule.
When I planned on coming to Cambodia I was already aware of it’s sad and dark past.What was hard to grasp is that the genocide ended in 1979- only about 30 years before I came to visit Cambodia. This meant that my tuk-tuk driver would have been alive during this time. I kept looking around at all the people in wonder. It was mind-boggling that some of the people I saw walking around could have actually been part of the Khmer Rouge.
When I was in Cambodia I wanted to visit where this all took place to gather a sense of what this country went through. In Phnom Penh you can visit the prison that the victims were kept in and the killing fields- so that’s where I headed. I spent a day visiting both locations.
I decided to go alone because I knew that this was the type of thing that I wanted to take in and process on my own.
On the grounds there is one tree in particular that catches your eye. It is covered in different coloured bracelets. Even though it looks beautiful you can sense the sadness that the tree represents.
As I approached, I saw a large pit beside the tree. It turns out that this tree was used to smash in the heads of small infants and children before throwing them into the pit. Children were murdered if their parents were accused of crimes against the Khmer Rouge so that they would not grow up and try to seek revenge. Instead of putting flowers at a grave site, a tradition has started where people leave their bracelets as a sign of love and respect.
At the end of your tour you come to a tower made up of skulls. Real human skulls. This tower is made up of about 8,000 skulls that were found scattered across the killing fields. If you look closely you can even see scars on the skulls that tell the story of what weapon was used to kill the victims.
Walking on the ground where millions of people were murdered is an eery experience that cannot be explained. You are literally walking in top of the dirt that once was scattered with bone fragments, hair and pools of blood. But my heartbreaking experience didn’t stop there…next was the prison.