Read the first post on Cambodia here, on Phnom Penh City.
Between 1975 and 1979, a genocide was carried out by the Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot. It was estimated that between 1.5 to 3 million people were killed, which is almost a whole generation of people in Cambodia. Up to 20,000 mass graves, known as Killing Fields, were uncovered throughout Cambodia. We decided to visit one of the Killing Fields, Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum - it seemed wrong to list them as popular, but I have to say that one should visit these 2 places to learn about the history of Cambodia and the atrocities inflicted to the people of Cambodia.
(Some of the images below may be a little disturbing, so... be prepared.)
We took a tuk tuk, an auto rickshaw, a few distance away from our hotel and negotiated with him to bring us to these 2 places. I think it costed us about US$15 to US$20 for the day trip. We first head to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, which is located about 15 kilometres South-West of Phnom Penh. Before we were out of the city, our driver stopped at a convenience store and bought for us and himself some face masks - as the road ahead are mainly dirt roads, with sand and dust kicking up like a storm by the vehicles.
45 minutes later, we arrived at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center.
For US$6, the admission included an audio guide. It was an excellent audio tour, perhaps too excellent, as it describes who and how they were killed. It also included recounts by people who survived the Khmer Rouge and a Choeung Ek guard and executioner.
I remembered the place was very quiet... and eerie. It was horrifying, learning what the Khmer Rouge had done to these people - their own people.
In order to save bullets, which were deemed too expensive and precious by the Khmer Rougue, the Khmer Rouge used different ways to kill the prisoners - adults were killed by a blow to their heads after which their throats were slit. Babies were killed by bashing their heads against a tree. They killed children and babies too because the Khmer Rouge were afraid that these children would grow up and seek revenge against them.
It was hard to describe how we felt after the audio tour - it was painful, depressing, and heart-breaking, and we left the Center with a heavy heart. I strongly encourage tourists to visit the Center to learn more about the Khmer Rouge and the genocide. This blog post has an excellent narration of the audio tour.
Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
45-minute tuk tuk ride
(US$15 to US$20 for a day trip, usually includes a ride to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum as well)
Daily 0730 to 1730
US$6, includes an audio guide
Go early in the morning to avoid the heat and the crowd
It was another 45-minute tuk tuk ride back to Phnom Penh city, and we headed to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The museum was originally a high school, which was taken over by the Khmer Rouge in 1975. They converted the high school into a prison known as Security Prison 21 (S-21), which became the largest centre of detention and torture in Cambodia. According to records, more than 17,000 people had been held, interrogated and tortured in S-21, before they were taken to be executed in Choeung Ek Killing Fields.
We walked through the museum without a guide, visiting each classroom one by one. Most of the classrooms were prison cells, some were torture rooms, while some have been converted to display pictures, photos and the tools used to torture the prisoners. Wikipedia has covered quite extensively the living conditions of the prisoners - it was horrid.
The prison cells were tiny, the prisoners were not allowed to talk to each other and they were fed a meagre amount of food and water everyday.
To prevent the prisoners from taking their own life, the prisoners were inspected frequently to ensure they don't have items that can aid their suicide. Electrified barbed wires enclosed the high school to ensure the prisoners don't jump to their death. All the barbed wire were removed from the museum except from one section of the high school.
Prisoners were tied and lifted upside down to be interrogated. Once they lose consciousness, the interrogators would dip the prisoners' heads into the jar below them, which was filled with filthy water, to wake them up. The interrogation would then continue...
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Street 113, Boeng Keng Kang 3 Phnom Penh, Cambodia
(A tuk tuk ride will get you there easily)
Daily 0800 to 1700
To be perfectly honest, I knew nothing about the genocide in Cambodia until I visited the country - I knew more about the genocide in Germany than the genocide that happened closer to home, even though it happened only a few decades ago. I was glad I visited Cambodia and learned more about the genocide, and I strongly urge visitors to do so to.
Next travel post will be something lighter, about the beautiful Angkor Wat, stay tuned!
To see our itinerary for the whole trip and our budget, click here!