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Cambodia’s Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is so Heartbreaking

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Visiting Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was so heartbreaking I couldn’t grasp the atrocities humans can do to its fellow humans. It’s my first ever museum of this kind and I was totally devastated going around, reading one description to another. It just didn’t break my heart but also made me realize that, as a traveler, you have to prepare yourself in places like this.

I visited this museum back in September 2008 — and I wasn’t blogging then. I was very new in backpacking world and I relied too much in my Lonely Planet guidebook. Though I’ve traveled solo anywhere in China (I lived there for 8 years), but my one month backpacking trip in Southeast Asia was my first real backpacking experience that brought me to Thailand (for the second time), Cambodia and Vietnam.

Siem Reap was my first stop in Cambodia. The long trip from Thailand’s border was one bumpy ride on a corrugated road where vehicles spew thick dusts that could cloak you into invisibility. Discovering Angkor Wat from sunrise to sunset was a really great experience. After three days, I took a bus to Phnom Penh. It was already dark when I arrived.

The first thing I did on my first day in Cambodia’s capital city was to visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. And boy, I was so wrong to be doing that first. Nothing prepared me for the emotional experience I had inside.

Warning: You might find some photos graphic 

This is the facade of a building that used to be a High School. Pol Pot (Cambodia’s monstrous, evil leader) and his security forces turned it into Prison 21 (or S-21).

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia

Right in front of the school is this torture post used to hang prisoners upside down. The two water vessels below are used to drown them before they’re lifted up.  

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

Next to the torture pole is a billboard of Security Rules.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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Thousands of prisoners from all walks of life were held here, including foreigners and Pol Pot’s cadres and ministers. 

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

Most of the prisoners here were brought to the Killing Field, 15 kilometres from Phnom Penh.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

Inside the museum are the real iron bars and chains used to torture the prisoners. Imagine yourself sleeping with someone side by side with your feet chained to these bars. 

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

This photograph is displayed to remind people how brutal Pol Pot’s regime was. I wonder if the child on top is still alive.  

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

The second floor was used at the cell for mass detention. 

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

 This bed is the real bed used to torture, not to comfort someone. 

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

If this cushion could talk, what horror could it tell?

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

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Here’s the list of people that were brought in S-21. It includes the day they were brought in, the day they died and the place they were buried. 

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

Up until today, some are still missing and can’t be identified.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia.

Update: On August 7, 2014, two Khmer Rouge leaders were convicted of crimes against humanity.

Recommended movies:
Killing Field  (winner of 3 Academy Awards)

Recommended books:
1.) The Elimination: A survivor of the Khmer Rouge confronts his past and the commandant of the Killing Fields by Rithy Panh
2.) Bophana by Elizabeth Becker

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