An Expedition to the Wilds of the Rugby World V
Created | Updated Feb 18, 2003
Petersham RUFC 2002 tour to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
Day 5 - The Killing Fields 23/9
This morning we were going on a tour to Toul Sleng (also
known as S21) and the Killing Fields. As I had long
suspected, it turned out to be a very tough and emotional
experience. Toul Sleng was originally a high school that
was turned into a torture / interrogation centre by the
Khmer Rouge. The bus pulled up outside a non descript
walled building, surrounded by blocks of flats. How anyone
could live there was beyond me1.
Once inside we were shown the first school block, which
was where the important prisoners were kept. Each room
contained a single bed with manacles in the four corners
and a selection of torture instruments. In some of the
rooms it was still possible to see blood stains on the
floor and walls, although this was gradually fading as
more and more tourists trampled through the rooms, which
were not roped off in any way.
The other blocks were used to house the less important
prisoners. Downstairs there was a display of photos taken
of some of the victims (meticulous records were kept) and
paintings by Vann Nath , one of only seven people out of
seventeen thousand to survive. Upstairs the classrooms had
been divided into tiny brick cells, so small it was
possible to touch all the walls from the centre with your
Sok, our guide, told us stories of what had gone on both
inside the prison, and generally in Cambodia. Apparently
most of the prison guards and a large number of Khmer
Rouge officers also ended up in this madhouse, tortured by
their own people. Her own family had been split up all
over the country, and had somehow managed to find each
other years later when they had all escaped. Her
grandmother had been left for dead after being hit over
the head with a club, and somehow managed to survive but
suffered permanent brain damage as a result of the blow.
I felt highly distressed and uncomfortable the whole time
we were there, and terribly guilty that we make people
like Sok visit this accursed place on a regular basis. I
personally think that they should raze the damn thing to
the ground and build a memorial instead. The stories are
horrific enough that the physical proof is not required.
I was happy to get back on the bus, even if the next stop
was the Choeung Ek Memorial (commonly known as the Killing
Fields). The killing fields, which is but one example of
many scattered throughout the entire country, are located
about 15 kilometres from Phnom Penh and was originally an
orchard and Chinese cemetery. This is where people from
S21 were taken to be killed.
For some reason I didn't find this site anywhere near as
disturbing as where we had just come from. I don't know
why that was, given there was a huge stupa full of bones
on display, the excavated pits from the mass graves were
clearly evident, and it was still possible to see small
bits of bone protruding from the ground as we walked
around. Perhaps it was the stupa, or perhaps my mind was
so overloaded with grief and horror that I had become
As we were leaving we passed a dam, full of men standing
in the middle of it practicing their dragon boat rowing
technique for an upcoming water festival. I think everyone
was glad for the opportunity to talk about something
positive, rather than what we had left behind.
As we walked back into the hotel I was told that I had a
phone call. It turned out to be Tim, who was my rugby
contact at Phnom Penh. This was something of a relief as
to date I had only been in contact with him via email, and
our match day arrangements were somewhat tenuous.
Arrangements were made to meet the local rugby types at
the Sharkey Bar that evening.
The rest of the day was free. After a quick lunch, Vinnie,
Bob, Blackbird and I wandered down to the Central Market
to go shopping for souvenirs. Upon exiting the markets
some hours later, we had to walk around almost the entire
outer perimeter before we located a known landmark and
were able to find our way back to the hotel.
After quick showers we jumped on the back of motos and
headed for the FCC, which was where Kangaroo court was to
be held. We passed the time while we waited for everyone
to turn up by playing a few games of pool and talking
about what we had all got up to in the afternoon. Little
John, Alastair and JR had gone out to a shooting range and
fired a variety of weapons. They were also told that for
$250 USD they could fire a rocket launcher at a cow! Mind
you, given their efforts on the rifle range I'm sure the
cow would have been perfectly safe.
Although I can't tell you what happened at kangaroo court
(due to the cone of silence being in force) I can report
that Netball was late as he didn't want to miss the end of
an old Michelle Pfeiffer movie.
Once court had adjourned for the day it was time to head
for the Sharkey Bar. It never ceased to amaze me how motos
would appear from everywhere in enough numbers to
transport the entire crew, as soon as the first of us
reached the footpath.
At the Sharkey bar we were met by various representatives
of the Phnom Penh team, Les Piliers D'Angkor, who
proceeded to show us some wonderful hospitality. We
settled in for a long night of doing what rugby players do
best; drinking free beer and reminiscing about rugby games
gone by. The free beer was, of course, a clever ploy by
the locals to get us drunk the night before the game and
was totally successful.
All the rugby people we met were expats, however Tim told
me how thay had started a junior rugby competition amongst
the local kids and that it was the only national sporting
competition in Cambodia. He also asked if we would play
them 15 a side the next day (they mainly play 10s) so some
of their 17/18 year olds could play against us, which of
course we were delighted to agree to, as long as they lent
us some players.
Many beers later, not long after I had been offered the
Australian franchise for Angkor beer by the 2IC for the
company, I noticed the vast majority of the opposition had
disappeared home to get some sleep. A few of us decided to
go to the FCC for 'one more'. We eventually ended up at
the Walkabout bar, which I thought was rubbish, so I
called it a night and left them to it.
Laotian Rugby Tour Diary Archive