You cannot come here and pretend Pol Pot did not happen. Only 30 years ago, this monster and his regime killed almost half of the population of Cambodia in less than 4 years. They killed 3 million Cambodians by forced labor, starvation, torture and execution. Entire families. Why? Because the Khmer Rouge wanted to build a new Maoist society, so they abolished money, religion, color (yes, color in clothing), traditional culture. There was a civil war (complicated by the mishegoss of USSR vs. USA, etc) The Khmer Rouge "liberated" the capital and in three hours they had taken all the city dwellers outside of Phnom Penh and to the countryside for forced labor. They believed in the rule of the proletariat, which meant they had to destroy the middle class, the educated people first. But they ended up torturing everyone.
Every single Cambodian family was affected by this insanity. Pol Pot, the main perpetrator, was a middle class kid with a solid private school education, who went to college in France and joined the Communist Party there. First thing he did was murder everybody who was like him. Teachers, professionals, doctors. The evil is incomprehensible (torturing and murdering your own people, what kind of abysmal self hatred must feed that hunger?). So two required stops in Phnom Penh are the infamous school in the middle of town that they used as a torture center and a prison (where 20,000 people were killed and only seven survived), and the Killing Fields, 15 km. away, which is where they found hundreds of mass graves and is now a genocide memorial. A stupa (a Buddhist temple) was built here that houses 17 floors full of human skulls.
It is a testament to the depravity of the Khmer Rouge that they turned a high school into a torture chamber. The museum is bare bones, and there are some gruesome photos, but they left it pretty much as they found it and it is a harrowing place. As many repressive regimes, the Khmer Rouge kept files on everyone and photographed all the prisoners. In the end they tried to destroy the evidence, but a lot was found in this school.
Unlike the lucky Germans, most of them who actually loved the Fuhrer, the Cambodians did not get a sweet development break from the civilized world after their immense and continuous suffering. Maybe you have to be white and rich to get a development deal after your local genocide. Cambodia barely got squat. No Nuremberg-like trials (it took forever to get these going; there are Khmer Rouge leaders still awaiting trial). Only two of the ruling Khmer Rouge leaders were executed. Amazingly, Pol Pot hid somewhere between here and Thailand and died of natural causes at a ripe old age. His security chief, the infamous Duch, has been convicted to 35 measly years in jail. There was some sort of amnesty and many K.R. are now in the government. So imagine the sense of impunity and injustice. Apparently, a significant amount of Cambodians suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and depression. I wonder if this is a culture of fatalism, in which people feel there is no sense in trying to apply recourse. In any case, the Khmer Rouge atrocities weigh very heavily on the heart. And if there is any fun to be had in this town (as evidenced by scores of pedophile tourists, incredibly cheap cocktails, equally affordable whoring and drugs), it's probably not of the joyful kind.