Our day started driving down the roadway running along the Mekong River lined on the other side with shops, restaurants and bars; most of which tried very hard to be Western in appearance and approach, whether it be “$1 DVD” or “Heart Break Club” or the now well-known “Happy Herbal Pizza”.
Towards the end of this rather ramshackle city is the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. Our guide (you note I intentionally never use his name), as we entered the Palace Grounds, was far more “tour guide” than normal and did not try to fill empty time with stories or reflective commentary. I walked up to him and asked him to turn off his microphone. He complied. I said I didn’t think he liked it here and he replied that is was fine. I knew what he was saying…and it something he later confirmed.
At the Royal Palace in Phnom Phen, Cambodia, just as when visiting Ho Chi Min’s Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam the people that are supposed to be casually walking around are actually listening to be sure the tour guides deliver the required message. When you travel to places like this and see a number of people “just there” or sitting in a uniform doing nothing they may well be listening. Fear and intimidation still exists in Cambodia.
As we walked around the relatively small area there are signs about what was here or there; as not much was preserved in this former Chinese cemetery. (Because Cambodians are fairly superstitious they do not like to be near cemeteries; hence it was a good choice to secret the horrors that were to occur there.) There are a few areas cordoned off with crude bamboo fencing marking mass graves designated for those who were women or who were decapitated. There is a Plexiglas box with bones and teeth inside and another with some clothes.
What I found to be obvious, and as was also subtly explained to me, is that the King and majority of the government (who are former/still Khmer Rouge) wanted the Killing Fields to be destroyed so as to make their existence a distance memory...and then not at all. What exists is shockingly small and unkempt (compare to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda in the morning); noting that every other Killing Field has been removed from existence - save a small memorial marking.
I leave you with this thought: The monument houses a mere 9,000 skulls of those murdered by the Khmer Rouge. Can you imagine the size it would need to be if it housed the 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 Cambodian people that they killed?