An Expedition to the Wilds of the Rugby World V

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A rugby player

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


23.01.03 Front Page

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1A fuller description of this and the Killing Fields can be found in the Cambodia archive

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