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The majestic Angkor Wat in Siem Reap is not the only crowd-puller in Cambodia. I must say Phnom Penh’s Killing Fields site is now at par with the Angkor Wat. (Related post: How to Explore Siem Reap Alone)

While Cambodia’s genocide history is not a stimulating matter to muse over, its two main genocide sites continue to pique tourist curiosity.

The “killing fields” of Choeung Ek is just one of the hundreds of sites around the country where the Khmer Rouge practiced genocide in the late 1970s.

Choeung Ek is 15 kilometers outside the capital, Phnom Penh.

Choeung Ek is not a happy place to visit.  It is a place where thousands of tortured civilians – men, women, and children – were killed and buried in mass graves.

Everything you see inside the Choeung Ek is a distressing reminder of the brutalities of the Khmer Rouge regime.

The marks of cruelty left around Choeung Ek are unspeakable.

So why visit?

As a tourist, I wanted to witness it myself…off of history books and travel guide pages.

It is a grim remembrance, yes…but it is a reminder to me that the world I live in was never a Disneyland, to begin with.

Tour of the Genocide Sites 

The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek)

Audio guides in 15 languages are available at the entrance of the Choeung Ek complex.  This is a self-guided tour but tour guide service is offered at extra cost.

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In the center of the area is a glass stupa which houses 8,000 skulls pulled from the mass graves.

the-glass-stupa-that-houses-human-skulls-in-the-killing-fields

The glass shrine that houses 8,000 human skulls

Skulls with bullet holes are separated from those hacked with pickaxes and knives; adults’ isolated from those of children’s.

Pickaxes and knives are said to be common as tools of murder, as the Khmer Rouge would rather save bullets.

human-skulls-encased-in-a-glass-shrine

Some of the trees around the area were silent witnesses to the past atrocities.

The audio guides explain that Khmer Rouge murderers battered children against these trees; other trees were used for hangings.

the-pathway-for-tourists-at-the-killing-fields

One tree was marked as used for hanging children.

I couldn’t even bring myself to pause for a prayer as it was too horrifying to imagine.

Loudspeakers hung from the trees to conceal the screams and moans of those being executed.

tree-used-for-loudspeakers-to-conceal-moans-of-victims-being-executed

The tree that was used for loudspeakers to conceal moans of victims during execution

As you walk around, it is likely that you will come across human bones and teeth scattered on the ground.

human-teeth-surfaces-on-the-ground

Mass graves cannot be missed as they are slightly sunken.

Markers are also visible.

one-of-the-mass-graves-at-the-killing-fields

 

colorful-bracelets-tied-to-the-fences-of-mass-graves

Visitors tie colorful bracelets to wooden fences around mass graves in remembrance of the genocide victims.

pieces-of-bones-exhumed

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Prison S-21)

It’s another self-guided tour with an audio guide that is available in 8 languages.

The Tuol Sleng genocide museum (also known as S-21) is a 40-minute ride from the Killing Fields.

tuol-sleng-museum

The Tuol Sleng was a high school until it became a prison, torture camp, and execution center.

It was only one of nearly 200 prisons ran by the Khmer Rouge.

Through extreme torture, the prisoners were made to confess to whatever crimes they were charged.

Examples of the methods used by the Khmer Rouge to torture prisoners can be seen at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum.

In each room, one will discover the weapons of torture, and graphic images of thousands of people that were executed.

the-torture-bed-used-for-tuol-sleng-prisoners

Blood stains are still visible on the walls and floor.

Some 17,000 people passed through Tuol Sleng before they were taken to sites such as Choeung Ek where most were executed and buried in mass graves.

Only seven are documented to have survived.  Seven out of 17,000.

The grass lawns and the serene atmosphere outside the Tuol Sleng buildings can barely hide Cambodia’s harrowing past as you see the gravestones of the seven prisoners.

the-gravestones-of-the-seven-prisoners-who-survived-tuol-sleng-camp

Other sites that were noted to have remains and/or graves of victims of the Khmer Rouge are the Kampong Trach Cave, Rung Tik (Water Cave), Kiry Seila Hills and Rung Khmao (Dead Cave).

entrance-of-the-dead-cave-cambodia

The entrance of the Dead Cave (photo by Albeiro Rodas)

 

man-holding-human-bones-of-genocide-victim

Man holding human bones from the Kampong Trach Cave (photo by Albeiro Rodas)

These sites, however, are farther outside the center of Phnom Penh.

Every Cambodia tourist should visit Choeng Ek and Tuol Sleng Museum.

As a reminder though, one doesn’t need to collect pieces of bones from the Choeung Ek graveyard or prance around skulls to make the most of his visit.

The genocide happened in the 1970s but it has affected every living Cambodian family.

A visit to these sites is meant to understand Cambodia’s tragic past, its people, and its nation, in general.

 

About thesolotripper

Sheila, a.k.a. The Solo Tripper. Former news desk editor, full-time traveler, freelance writer.

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thesolotripper

Sheila, a.k.a. The Solo Tripper. Former news desk editor, full-time traveler, freelance writer.

4 Comments

Erica · December 2, 2017 at 1:20 am

This is so well written and chilling just to read. I’ve always wanted to visit Cambodia and I’ve never been sure whether the killing fields should be on my list of things to see while I’m there.

    thesolotripper · December 2, 2017 at 7:59 pm

    Thank you so much, Erica! It wasn’t on my list too, initially but going anyway was a good decision after all. I’ve learned so much in such a quick visit. 🙂

Kaleigh · December 4, 2017 at 7:25 pm

This was such an interesting read. I think you did such a great job at conveying the horrifying events that happened here, while delivering the importantce of remembering and visiting sites like this. As a history major, I have studied the genocide led by Pol Pot, and this is a place I have wanted to visit for the same reason you shared above, that that you need to witness it for yourself.

    thesolotripper · December 4, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    It may be a cliche to say it but for real, a visit to the Killing Fields is life-changing. Thank you so much, Kaleigh, hope to hear from you when you finally get to visit the site.

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