Cambodia Chameleon: Road Trip To The Killing Fields
May history never repeat itself again.
This post will be slightly depressing if not heart-wrenching because of the stories and the visuals so bear with me as you read some facts from my second visit to the Choeng Ek Memorial (Killing Fields) in Phnom Penh. I consider this a road trip because we had to drive with a tuk tuk driver about 40 minutes from Phnom Penh city into the province area. I couldn’t recall the admission price the last time I was here but now it is USD$6 for foreigners and includes the audio guide in multiple language. We chose English but there is also Malay language as an alternative preference.
The Choeung Memorial or The Killing Fields is one out of 300 that can be found in the entire Cambodia. This location is also the largest of its kind with 20,000 including foreigners executed and murdered during Pol Pot and his Ultra Communist Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979. In order to remember the spirits and the victims at this site as well as over 3 million victims throughout the country, the memorial stupa was built in 1988. At this location, there’s 19 pit stops altogether with various descriptions of buildings that are no longer seen as well as personal encounters of the victims from this era.
Nothing but silence and sadness.
The first stop was known as the ‘Truck Stop’, where victims were transported from Tuol Sleng and other areas in the country. Usually when the victims arrive, they would be executed immediately but when the number increased, they were detained here in a wooden construction with galvanized roof for their turn the next day. In front of this spot was the ‘Executioners’ Working Office’ where they were stationed permanently for their duties.
I noticed a guide standing next to a palm tree explaining its function to her customer. The executioners would some time cut the leaf which has thorny ends and use this as one of the torture weapon. Now every time I see a palm tree I’m reminded of this story. Walking into the Killing Fields, we saw the mass grave which had 450 victims with colourful bands around the fence and just beside it was another grave with teeth and bones discovery. There was also an orchard where the victims used to work to death, another mass grave and the tree which executed many children. Pol Pot believed that if you want to destroy the grass, you need to destroy the roots as well in this case, the generation so that they don’t rise for revenge.
What disturbed me during this tour was the tree which had speakers on it to drown the sounds of torture conducted day and night. They would play old songs as loud as they could so that the villagers could not hear much. The tree stands very tall in the middle of the mass graves and memorial stupa. There’s also a few glass display which had clothes of the victims that were excavated in 1980.
Some tips before entering the area.
Say a little prayer before entering, for inner strength and to also wish peace upon the souls. Don’t make too much noise, laugh or chat in a loud tone out of respect for the place. You could pay your respects to the spirits of the victims by offering flowers, and lighting an incense and candle in front of the Memorial stupa before starting your visit to the site. Doing it after the visit is ok as well. Listen to the audio guide for more information on the site and visit the video gallery to watch a history clip. You could also leave some donation before you leave and wear decent clothing during the visit.
Address: Choeung Ek Memorial, 15km southwest of the city, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Opening Time: 8:00am-5:00pm everyday
Admission: US$6 for foreigners (inclusive of audio guide)
About Yafieda Jamil
A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.