The S21 museum in Phnom Penh is like no other. It stands as a symbol of torture and terror to over 17000 persons who lost their lives with no reason. In 1975, a high school in Phnom Penh, the Svay Prey High School was taken over by the Khmer regime and turned into a prison known as Security prison or S21. The S21 is now turned into a museum named the Tuol Sleng Museum. It is open daily from 7 am to 1130 am and then from 2 pm to 530 pm. Entry to the museum is a mere $2 per person.
The Khmer regime was meticulous is documenting the interrogations of each of the 17,000 prisoners and even photographed each and every person before and after the torture session. One of the rooms in the museum pays tribute to these victims by displaying the pictures from the ceiling to the floor. Amongst the locals several American, Australian and French tourists were also detained at the site and their documents are displayed on the walls. While in the torture rooms pay close attention to the devices used to torture the living and eventually being them to their death. Also, put yourself in the photographers shoes and picture him taking pictures of those being tortured, young children being slaughtered, women with children in their arms being nailed and poked with torture devices and men being tortured for hours all while being photographed.
Its amazing how a simple set up as a regular school with a play area turned to be the end for so many persons. What adds to the depression of the museum is the regular lay out, a regular suburban setting that was converted to a torture chamber. A visit to the location while in Phnom Penh is a great experience however it is not for the faint at heart. History buffs and those who have lost their loved ones in this massacre stand to gain a lot fro a visit to the site; however it leaves a sense of depression and uneasiness.
Getting to the S21 can be arranged by most hotels. Speak with the front desk at the time of reservation or when you get there. Most hotels have arrangements with the locals tour guides and can make quick arrangements. For those looking to venture out and explore the city on their own one can do so by making arrangements with a tuk tuk. An average cost of $15 should get you from the city centre to the S21. Book a guide at the gate for a personal tour. Most guides have lost family in the S21 and they will not share personal information unless they are asked. Most will share the details of the tragedy and even point out the pictures on the wall of their family members. Though it is a loss close to their heart they prefer to share as they believe it is their way of ensuring the such tragedies are not repeated anywhere.
For a complete experience get to the S21 by either 11 am or 3 pm . A film is run at these times with an in depth narration of the history of the S21. Tourists may also meet with the survivors of the tragedy at the site. It is a difficult ordeal for them to relay their stories on a daily basis, one can only imagine them having to relive the torture. While there is no official dress code for the visit dressing up respectfully will honor those who lost their lives. Speaking in lowered volumes and avoid laughing and banter while on site would be deemed as appropriate behaviour.
A visit to the S21 is definitely not for all but it tells the story of the inhumane behaviour of the then leaders in Cambodia. To make the most of your tour it is important to get there for video time as well as get a guide for the tour. The guide will charge a mere $6 per group and it one of the best ways to make the most of your visit. Do a bit of personal research before you head to the site. Read of the history briefly before you go to the site or ask the hotel for any literature they may have on the history of the S21. Getting familiar with the events that occurred may help you to decide if this is the tour for you.