Discover The Killing Fields - Phnom Phen
In order to truly know a country, a traveler should not only stick to visiting its finest attractions. He or she should also strive to learn more about that country’s past—especially its darker periods. That’s why, in the case of Cambodia, TripGuru recommends a visit to the Killing Fields.
A term coined by Cambodian journalist Dith Pran, the Killing Fields collectively refer to a number of sites where millions of Cambodians were tortured, executed, and buried during Pol Pot’s regime from 1975 to 1979. Pran himself was tortured at one of these sites; his story eventually became the basis for the award-winning movie “The Killing Fields.” But among those many sites, the most visited is Choeung Ek, which has a memorial and a museum at the site. This former orchard-turned-mass grave was where political prisoners from the infamous S-21 prison were sent to their deaths. While today the area is generally peaceful, during the regime it was where prisoners of all ages—men, women, and even children—were literally ordered to dig their own graves. They were then bludgeoned to death, to save on precious bullets.
Upon entering the gates of Choeung Ek, travelers will first see the memorial—built in the form of a Buddhist stupa—where hundreds of skulls from some mass graves in the area are housed. Hence, travelers are encouraged to offer their prayers and incense at the memorial. Travelers can then go on the self-paced audio tour, included in the entrance fee, which will lead them around the camp. The heart-wrenching tour will narrate survivors’ stories and even the account of Him Huy, one of the former guards and executioners at Choeung Ek. Hence, travelers are advised to be emotionally prepared for these accounts. On rainy days, some may even come across skulls and bones while walking in the fields, as the rainwater washes the mud away from these shallow mass graves.
Choeung Ek is around 7.5 kilometers south of Phnom Penh. While it is out of the city limits and in a much rural area, it is still easily accessible by chartering a tuk tuk for $15. Due to the huge number of visitors that go to the site, travelers are encouraged to go to the site early in the morning to avoid the crowds. A memorial ceremony for all the victims is also held every May 9.