After Laos (see blog) we crossed by land into Cambodia. Cambodia has recently had a turbulent history including Operation Menu (see Wikipedia article) where in 1969 the US secretly bombed parts of the country in an effort to suppress communism. After 14 months and 108,823 tons of bombs the results were dismal and it is estimated that 800,000 civilians (8% of the population) died and the communist were only pushed further into the interior. The bombings were mostly in the countryside – massive in intensity and appallingly destructive – driving many Cambodians to support the communist led advance against US-aligned urban areas.
In 1975 the Khmer Rouge (see Wikipedia article) took control and horrific tragedy unfolded. Over the next 4 years they killed between 1.0 and 3.0 million people who were deemed "enemies of the state", whether they were linked to the previous regime, were civil servants, people of education or of religion. In April of 1975 they sealed off the country, evacuated all urban areas (including Phnom Penh), and banned the use of money, books, and markets.
We visited one high school that was turned into a concentration camp called 'Security Prison 21' or 'S-21' (see Wikipedia article) where people were interrogated and killed. Out of an estimated 17,000 people imprisoned at S-21, there were only seven known survivors. We also visited the 'killing fields' where many of the people were buried. This was a very emotional part of the trip but critical to start to understand Cambodia.
Cambodia has come a long way since the Khmer Rouge and held their first elections in early 2002. But there are still many sings of struggle and we had a chance to visit a few schools and an orphanage that took in children from main dump in Phnom Penh (see blog).