Wat Thmey

Wat Thmey

A Reminder of Monumental Stupidity.


The tuk tuk ride back from Angor Wat is pretty much like any other tuk tuk ride in Siem Reap, it's a little noisy; somewhat hot; dust blown; and as always, hugely, entertaining. Around half distance you pass a fairly modest Buddhist temple called Wat Thmey. Normally such temples are ten-a-penny in Cambodia, and are hardly given a second glance. However this one is different, it's well worth stopping at. The interior of the temple is light, airy and spacious, nowhere near as stiflingly claustrophobic as some of the Buddhist temples that you'll find in Tibet, and certainly far less gaudy. They're still gaudy of course, certainly to the western eye, just less so than those in Tibet.


However it's not the temple that holds your interest here. As you walk up to the temple steps, you pass a monument – a large concrete and glass cuboid with a Khmer style roof. The full grizzly horror of the monument is revealed as you walk up to it. On one of its four glass sides it contains human skulls. Human skulls stacked one on top of the other, row upon row of them. One of the other glass sides contains femurs, the other two contain other human bones, matched together by anatomical type and packed in so tightly as to leave barely a space between any of them. This was Siem Reap's killing field. The site of the executions during the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror from 1975 to 1979. It's here where tens of thousands were murdered. It may have lacked the notoriety of Tuol Sleng or S21 prison but it's no less hard to comprehend.


For most of us violence on this scale is unimaginable, it certainly is to me, it may, quite possibly, be beyond human comprehension. Fortunately, the effort is spared you. For just a little further on there's an arrow painted onto a wall suggesting that you walk 50 metres to your left.

The first sight that you then see is a row of rather pleasant looking monks' houses, but that's not what we've been urged here to gaze upon. For in front of the monks' houses is a small concrete building without windows. Its single door is reached by climbing two steps. A sign on the door requests that you remove your shoes before entering.

Here the story of the Khmer Rouge is told through the eyes of one man, a survivor, in a series of acrylic paintings. Around thirty of these paintings line the walls of the building. The bright, colourful and slightly stylised paintings are numbered chronologically, with a short paragraph of explanation under each. Every painting captures a scene from the man's struggle for survival under the Khmer Rouge. And survive he did, although after studying the paintings and reading the captions you can scarcely credit it.


Reduced to the suffering of one man You can possibly begin to get a sense, just an inkling, of the extent of the genocide. Although extrapolating up from just one man's suffering, to a nation's was, mercifully, beyond me.

There are various charity boxes and stalls selling tourist tat on the one side of the temple which collect funds for educational establishments in Cambodia. In front of such a graphic reminder of monumental stupidity it's hard to think of any reasons why one shouldn't contribute.


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