This is Phonlou. He was one of our Cambodian guides. He lead our group through this prison, called Tuol Sleng or “S21,” where people were held and “tried” before being brought to the Killing Fields for execution during the Cambodian Genocide orchestrated by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot.

The Khmer Rouge would lead all the peasants out into the country from the main towns. Then, they would promise the more educated among them an education and they brought them back into the city into prisons such as this one. Here they were held and tried and, of course, eventually found guilty of some kind of treason or other crime and then executed.

Up to 2 million Cambodians were killed from 1975 to 1979. The effects of the Khmer Rouge could still be seen in the country, when you compared it to Vietnam or Thailand. It’s as though the country has been “stunted.”

Phonlou was a young boy during the Genocide. He said his father escaped basically by lying about who he was. They all pretended to be uneducated peasants.

Our other guide, Khim, told us that when he was ten or eleven, his family was taken away and they died during the Genocide. His parents and all his siblings. He hid, and he survived by hiding whenever the Khmer Rouge came to his village, sometimes in the water underneath bananas, or in the trees. He lived off of bugs and a little rice.

We really liked Phonlou. He was a great guide. Very informative. He also had many good stories, and despite the sometimes tragic and depressing nature of his subject matter, a fun sense of humor. For instance: he explained to us why the bathroom was referred to as “The Happy Room.” The reason is: It used to be you had to use the bathroom in a field, where you were always scared of being bitten by a snake. But when there was a bathroom you were happy because you could just relax and do your business and not be nervous. Therefore: The Happy Room.

More photos of Phenom Penh, including one of the Killing Fields are here. (WARNING: Some of these might be disturbing.)

Also, here is some shaky video (my speciality) of a cyclo ride through the streets of Phenom Penh:

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