Why do you want to visit the grave of Pol Pot? That’s a mass murderer, isn’t it? And what if there was a mausoleum in Germany for Adolf Hitler? Would you have been there as well? I asked myself these questions before I actually went to the grave of Pol Pot, leader of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.
Of course I would never go to a grave of Hitler. That would have been a walhalla for right-wing extremists. The idea of it! But I am especially curious about which people would visit the grave of Pol Pot and especially why…
On the motorbike to the grave
The town of Anlong Veng has about 10,000 inhabitants and is a two-hour drive by bus from Siem Reap. This is the starting point for a ride on the back of a motorbike to the ‘highlights’ of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Well, you drive a motorbike yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The road is really difficult.
An owner of a restaurant in the city suggests to give me a lift to the border. He wants to arrange a guide there. And indeed, at the border he arranges a guide for 14 dollars. According to the Lonely Planet it should cost around 20 dollars. That makes a difference! We are on our way to the house of Pol Pot…
Who was Pol Pot?
Pol Pot (1925-1998), his real name was Saloth Sar, was born in the small village of Prek Sbauv north of Phnom Penh. From 1949 to 1953 he studied electrical engineering in Paris and joined the Communist Party in 1960. Together with his accomplices he fought a guerrilla war against the government.
In 1970, with the help of the Americans, the Republic of Cambodia was proclaimed by General Lon Nol (1913-1985). The civil war continued and in 1975 the Americans left Vietnam (and Cambodia as well) and the country was left to its fate. The Khmer Rouge came to power, with Pol Pot as leader.
Although the Cambodians were at first positive about the Khmer Rouge, this soon changed. Phnom Penh was evacuated on the first day. Everyone was forced to work on the countryside, money and private property were abolished and enemies were murdered without mercy.
The regime lasted 4 years and it is estimated that 2 million people were killed. And that for a population of only 8 million inhabitants. Cambodia was liberated by the Vietnamese People’s Army in 1979 and Pol Pot fled into the jungle. Untraceable for 20 years until his death.
What’s left of the house of Pol Pot…
I estimate my guide is around 25 years old. He can’t speak English very well, but that shouldn’t spoil the fun. He doesn’t have a helmet for me, so I hope to be back in one piece in Anlong Veng.
Just before the border with Thailand we turn right. We pass the sign with ‘grave Pol Pot’ and drive along a dirt road to the furthest ‘landmark’: the house where Pol Pot has lived for many years. The route looks more like a part of the motocross: I don’t have a helmet and in some places there would still be landmines. What did I get myself into?
After an exciting ride we arrive at a deserted place. I see a concrete skeleton and that’s all. There is little left of the house of Pol Pot. And there are still contours of what probably should have been a garden. There is also a cellar in the house! “Snake, snake”, says my guide. With my flashlight on the camera I shine in the dark room. Of course I don’t see anything.
In the early 80’s this house was used to try to regain the power from the Vietnamese. The United Nations and the United States supported Pol Pot (they were against the Vietnamese), but did not know what had happened for years. Until the atrocities came out around 1983…
The house of the second man, Ta Mok
The next destination is the country house of Ta Mok (1926-2006), the second member of the Khmer Rouge. Nowadays there is a museum with three pictures on the wall. The man of the museum Pol Pot shows that Cambodians are friendly. The location is beautiful with a beautiful view of the landscape around Anlong Veng. There is also a guesthouse here, but nothing more.
The power of Pol Pot crumbled in the 90’s more and more. The tipping point was that Pol Pot suspected his minister of defense Son Sen of a possible coup and had him and his family murdered by a truck. Ta Mok had him and his wife sentenced to life and the popularity of the leader declined.
To this day, it is unclear how Pol Pot came to its end. The original story is that he succumbed to old age, but there are also rumours that he was poisoned.
The Cambodian army was in the neighbourhood in 1998 and members of the Khmer Rouge were afraid that Pol Pot would tell them everything. His supporters wanted to prevent that and that could be a reason for poisoning.
True or false, the fact remains that he died on 15 April 1998 and was buried by the supporters of the Khmer Rouge…
2 dollars and then… the grave of Pol Pot
The last ‘sight’ is the tomb of the leader himself. Upon arrival I am summoned to pay 2 dollars. 2 dollars? Ah, it was also in the travel guide so faithfully I tap 2 dollars.
And here I am… standing in front of the grave of one of the most controversial leaders from Southeast Asia. All alone, because my guide is at the entrance. A pile of sand, a couple of garlands, a roof and nothing else. I’m here for 10 minutes, but most of all to think about it. No sign of other people…
This region has few other ‘places of interest’. There are even plans to emphasize the past of Pol Pot in this region even more to attract tourists. And I fully understand that, because what has happened has to be given a place, positive or negative. And maybe that includes a grave of the greatest mass murderer in Cambodian history…
Finally, on our way back to Anlong Veng, we stop at a monument made in memory of members of the Khmer Rouge. I actually see people sitting there, but a conversation is difficult. On the way back to Anlong Veng I can only draw one conclusion: it remains bizarre!
Planning a visit to the grave of Pol Pot?
How to get there? From Siem Reap to Anlong Veng takes about 2 hours. I myself came from Sra Em east of Anlong Veng, because I visited the Preah Vihear Temple. At the roundabout motorbikes can be arranged and this should not cost more than $ 20 dollars. I paid $14 in total. There are no buses to the border, but Pol Pot’s grave is practically near the road.