When the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 through to 1979, the civilians of Cambodia were forced into long hours of hard works at factories and farms. While food was sparse, disease ran rampant. Anyone who questioned the regime was brutally murdered along with the rest of their family. Many were to fearful to say anything, but almost anyone with an education was a target and underwent torture - men, women and children alike. Prison S21 (a converted high school) is where some of this hard-to-believe atrocity occurred and The Killings Fields (as well as a significant amount of other sites across the country) is where people were taken to be killed in their thousands. Now, the sites are used to educate everyone on the genocide and distressing history.
Harmony and I, like many other tourists that want to experience a bit of dark tourism, had to spend the day exploring both sites. Our day started with a tuk tuk picking us up from the hostel at 8am. 8am happened to be a bit of a rush hour, so it was already turning out to be an experience. The driver kept turning around, trying to find the best route with the least amount of traffic, but there was a lot of traffic everywhere we went. The many crossroads in the city only have a few road signs and no way to moderate the flow of traffic. So, weaving through the bikes and tuk tuks is an exciting event in itself.
The Killing Fields (otherwise known as The Genocidal Center) was 40 minutes out of city center. I tried to sleep through most of the journey, until we made it to a sketchy bridge and some bumpy roads. The entrance fee was $6 and included an audio guide that gives a lot of information about the many points of interest around the site. It also tells survival stories from the Khmer Rouge Regime and some speeches from the survivors themselves. In this blog post, I think I’ll spare a lot of the gory and graphic details of what happened at the site and what the regime inflicted upon the country.
Many of the buildings were torn down after the regime ended, so not a lot still stands. However, a few mass graves are somewhat protected and sheltered, and are main points of interest. The first and last thing you see at the site is a 39m high memorial, which holds bones and skulls. This isn’t something Harmony and I particularly wanted to see, so we gave it a miss. I imagine it makes things really hit home.
We completed the walk around the site within 2 hours and finished it with a short documentary. The site also has a museum, where what is shown is really moving. Overall, The Killing Fields felt like a touching tribute and an education experience. Whereas, it seemed like the people of Phnom Penh just use it to make money from tours.