The eye-opening Killing Fields of Phnom Penh

The entrance to the Killing Fields.

Phnom Penh is a city by the Mekong River, the seventh longest in Asia and the twelth in the world which flows through many countries.

The Killing Fields or Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre is located in Phnom Penh and visiting it is an eye-opening if disturbing and depressing experience as it provides a chilling view of a dark era in Phnom Penh’s history.

Some companies provide tours to the Killing Fields but you can also get there by taxi. There is no comprehensive public transportation system in Cambodia’s capital, so your choices are rather limited.

You can also hire a tuk-tuk for the whole day. The rates differ and are negotiable. The tuk-tuk will take you to any place you want to visit.

Foreign visitors are required to pay a small fee in USD as an entrance fee to the Killing Fields. Upon payment, you are given a brochure and a map including an audio device.

The audio device is easy to use. Checkpoints are marked in the map with numbers. You key in the number of the checkpoint on the audio device and it will play information regarding that checkpoint.

It is advisable for you to follow the numbering sequence of the checkpoints to get a better understanding of the dark history of the Killing Fields.

What is the Killing Fields?

The Killing Fields was a genocidal centre used during the Khmer Rouge regime headed by Pol Pot. This place reflects the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge.

Most victims were brought in from the Tuol Sleng prison to be killed en masse here. It was so cruel that even babies were not spared from the genocide.

According to Pol Pot, to create the perfect society, one must start from the beginning. And babies were considered to be the beginning of society.

Visiting the Killing Fields will give you goosebumps as there is a palpable sense of eeriness here. In fact, you are encouraged to remain quiet as long as you are on the premises.

It is unbelievable that in the 1980s, local villagers accidentally stumbled upon a mass grave at this place, uncovering the horror that went on.

The mass grave that led to the uncovering of the Killing Fields.

It is a cruel dark chapter in the history for Phnom Penh and Cambodia as a whole. According to the brochure, some of the corpses were found to be buried without their heads.

Who was Pol Pot?

Pol Pot, the head of the Khmer Rouge regime, was a western educated man who furthered his studies in France.

He returned to Cambodia to serve the country as a teacher but this is the end of any good news about him. He became obsessed with communist ideology and became an extremist.

There is a checkpoint near a lake where it is states that bodies were thrown in and never retrieved. Overlooking the vast lake, you will be able to imagine the cruelty that the Cambodians had to endure then.

A loudspeaker blared loudly to drown out the cries of children who were beaten to death at this tree. 

What else is there at the Killing Fields?

As you continue walking in the Killing Fields you will see a huge tree emblazoned with ribbons. An information board states that during the Khmer Rouge’s reign, a loudspeaker blasted music from the tree to drown out the screams of horror emanating from this spot.

Clicking the audio device will reveal that these screams of horror were from children who were beaten to death against the tree.

Not far from the entrance is a huge stupa housing a shocking number of human skulls.

Glass cabinets filled with human skulls.

Skeletons of the victims retrieved from the Killing Fields have been put in glass cabinets in the stupa, and categorised according to age and gender. It is a very disturbing and depressing sight.

Visiting the Killing Fields at Phnom Penh is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is an opportunity to learn more about the darker side of humanity.

Khai and wife Amira are Malaysian travel bloggers who blog at Kaki Jalans. Their travels have taken them to almost all the countries in Asean and five countries in Europe. They are still actively travelling and adding to this list.