Asia Cambodia

The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)

The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)

Both of these places are the main draws for travelers to Phnom Penh and visited on the same day by most as a combined package. It makes for a somber, sober and saddening day, planting memories of images and scenes that are likely to stay with you and last a lifetime. No bad thing, although we did witness some disrespectful idiots taking selfies in an around the Stupa that houses the skulls of the dead. Whilst another group of young adult Australians I witnessed were loud and behaved as if they were visiting a theme park. At the risk of sounding, or being, preachy visitors should show their respect for all who died in these dreadful places by observing an air of solemn calm and quiet reflection.

The Entrance to Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

The Killing Fields, once the site of an orchard, memorialises and symbolises the final expressions of barbarity of the Khmer Rouge,  the final resting place for the murdered, located about 17 Kilometres outside Phnom Penh most arrive here by Tuk Tuk.

The Memorial Stupa. This Stupa houses the skulls of many of the victims found buried around the site now known as the Killing Fields. Depressions in the ground are the sites of excavated mass graves.

It is estimated that from a population of some 8 million people about a quarter were either murdered or starved to death during the reign of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. For me, although witness of the remains of the mass graves is an awful reality, the most harrowing and difficult to comprehend aspect of the place is the Killing Tree that was used to kill babies and children in the most horrific fashion by bashing their skulls against it. I cried a lot this day and in the end despaired for us as a race when my thoughts turned to current day events taking place in Syria at the behest of another couple of murderous dictators, Assad and Putin. For the sad truth is, humanity it seems will never learn.

Inside the Stupa, glass cases house the skulls of the dead

Site of an excavated grave

Tokens of respect and sympathy left by visitors to the site over the years

The Killing Tree. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful thing used for a more awful purpose.

Tokens of remembrance pinned to the tree by visitors

Site of another excavated mass grave

Garments and clothes of the dead still appear regularly in the grounds after heavy rains and are left as tokens of remembrance and respect.

This solitary battered sandal needs no explanation

I photographed this dog sitting calmly looking out beyond the barbed wire fence and found it quite haunting.

Even in this place of horror you can find bursts of colour. Water lilies in the pond which is known to be the final resting place for many of the slaughtered.


Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)

The script used by torturers whilst interrogating inmates of S-21

One of the saddest truths of both the killing fields and S-21 is that they stand as testament to the many more like them situated all over Cambodia. The pain and suffering witnessed in these two places is the mass pain and suffering of all of Cambodia. This was in fact only one of over 150 execution centers located throughout the country. In conversations I have had with many Cambodians over the last few years I have scarcely met one who has not lost at least one family member, and some many many more, to the brutality of the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge To visit these places is to witness and share in the grief of an entire nation and not just those of a single place. S-21 alone saw at least 17,000 prisoners beaten, tortured and killed in the most brutal ways between 1975 and 1979. Of the 17.000 inmates only 7 were known to have survived. The faces staring out from the many pictures are both haunting and beguiling. Some show the puzzled expressions of the countless children imprisoned and killed here, whilst others document the tortured and dead. Looking into the eyes of those pictured all I see is an innocence and fear for what is happening and what will happen to them. Even more horrific is the fact that the building and compound that became so infamous throughout the world as Tuol Sleng (which translates into “Hill of Poisonous Trees”) was originally a school. It is hard to imagine a more poignant contrast between such two extremes, one dedicated to learning and growth, the other to suffering and death.

Barbed wire prison cell block S-21

Faces of the innocents. The children of S-21

Faces of The Innocents. The adults of S-21

Faces of the tortured. The victims of S-21

Neat rows of legs shackles

A cell block S-21

Corridor of torture

Torture chamber S-21

Inside a torture chamber. The picture on the wall clearly demonstrates the appalling inhumanity of this place.

To learn more about the Killing Fields and   S-21 prison click this link

To learn more about The Killing Fields this is the official site link 

Getting around

I can recommend this Tuk Tuk driver  (his name is Hak) for any and all travel needs in Phnom Penh. We first came across him on arrival by bus from Siem Reap and so glad we did. His prices were fair and he was very friendly and reliable. We booked many trips with him and regardless of the time he would be waiting for us outside our hotel at the agreed pick up time. The only contact details I have for him is his cell number, so maybe get your hotel to call him. He also speaks very good English.

Hak Tuy 

Telephone 089723889

A tribute post to all the victims of the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge and a dedication to those suffering torture and death in today’s areas of conflict.

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