Tuol Sleng (S-21) museum and Psar Thmel (Central Market), Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

After breakfast we take a long walk south across the city to Tuol Sleng, better known as S-21, the school that was used to perform unthinkable horrors during the Khmer Rouges rein of terror in Cambodia. Around the museum the streets are home to regular Cambodian people going about their day. As we approach, the building line changes and the space the school was occupied for more than 30 years is obvious.

In the barbed wire fence the entrance is visible; we take a deep breath and go in.

The first room in the first building holds the images I have seen many times in the film Baraka and from other photographs; checked tiles on the floor, a single window, and a rusty metal bed.

We move through the building, through the similar rooms. In the second building we find the endless walls of photographs of the people who lost their lives in this gruesome museum.

There is a respectful display of photographs by an artist who has tried to bring back the lives of the people features in the photographs. He has used only the reflections of the glass covering the photographs to create the illusion that the people are in the room. It’s clever, impressive and respectful. In the third building we find the horrible cells, cheaply and badly made to house people during their time in the prison. Upstairs we find wooden cells that are creepy and scary to walk around. The last building holds some of the items of torture and other artifacts found on the site. The museum is well presented and leaves much to the imagination rather than explaining too much, which is good, as too much information when you are inside the former prison would be too much.

We leave saddened and enlightened, having learnt and having paid our respects. We stop at the cafe across the road to unwind a little.

After lunch we take a walk north through the city. Cambodia is a real mixture of new, old, rich and poor. The people are so friendly and smiley though, a wonderful change after Vietnam where people are keen to take your money without offering much.

The area around Central Market is a mixture of workplaces and street shops. We find the market and take a look around. It’s big and housed in a wonderful domed building. I quickly find myself almost unable to resist buying a watch I didn’t really want. Moving on we find lots of good things to buy for ourselves and for people at home. The people in the market and friendly, helpful and realistic with their prices; another nice reality check.

After the market we head over to the shopping center, get some food and continue our shopping mood. We don’t find too much, but a visit to the supermarket, and watching the roller disco is fun.

Eventually we leave and take a long walk back to the hotel, through what seems like the karaoke area (read brothel zone).

It’s been a day of ups and downs. I’ve wanted to visit S-21 for many years, and today I learnt some things about other people and myself, and paid my respects to those who suffered here in the past.

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