One of the more sobering experiences in Phnom Penh is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also commonly referred to as Security Prison 21 (S21). This former school was turned into a prison and torture facility by the Khmer Rouge, a communist regime in Cambodia, in the 1970′s. During it’s years of operation thousands of men, women and children were interrogated here, with only a small few escaping with their lives. Several methods of torture were used here in an attempt to gain information, however most people knew nothing and were being wrongly held captive. The classrooms were altered to include tiny cells for prisoners, many without any windows and all with just a metal box to use as a toilet. Walking through the narrow hallways the air is hot and still and though the rooms have been empty for decades there is still an eerie feeling walking by the empty cells. The outside walkways have curtains of barbed wire covering all potential exits, which also undoubtedly intimidated and scared those being kept inside.
In addition to S21, you can visit the Killing Fields, which is where the prisoners were taken to be executed after being interrogated and held in Tuol Sleng. I did not have time to visit this area but it offers another view into the Khmer Rouge’s maniacal regime. Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields serve as a sobering reminder to the rest of the world what can happen when the wrong people have too much power. As terrible as these events are, it is important for people to visit these places to learn from the mistakes of the past and help countries like Cambodia move forward.