Chattanooga couple returns to changed Cambodia for holidays after once fleeing for their lives

Khom (left) and Tha Yim visit Phnom Penh, Cambodia, their homeland which they fled during the murderous Khmer Rouge years. They have lived in Chattanooga for the 33 years since they fled.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - The holidays have a way of bringing people home.

But for Tha and Khom Yim, "home" is a complex term. Although they settled in Chattanooga decades ago, home is also Cambodia, where they once fled for their lives.

This month the Yims are visiting their homeland, a place where millions of people died during the Khmer Rouge genocide 40 years ago.

Most Cambodians led normal lives during the war in neighboring Vietnam.

Tha remembers growing up among farm fields and banana trees, riding bicycles through town and playing in the streets.

"It was a simple life," he said. "I took a bath in the Mekong River and stayed after dark without fear."

It was when the Vietnam War officially ended on April 17, 1975, that another one began. Suddenly, fear was everywhere.

"It