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The Killing Fields of Phnom Penh, Cambodia Nov 5-6, 2014

The Killing Fields of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

GPS waypoint: 11°33'23.2"N 104°55'41.4"E
Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Historical Backdrop
After a few years of civil unrest, King Norodom Sihanouk was overthrown by the inept Lon Nol in 1970. Lon Nol with his weak administration was outsted by the Khmer Rouge in 1975, led by Pol Pot. The people were brought to the countryside - the cities became ghost towns. They worked under slavery conditions.

Recent History
My compelling reason to visit Phnom Penh was to get a sense of the barbaric genocide that took place. As recently as 1975-79, 2-3 million Cambodians were brutally and senselessly killed by the maniacal Pol Pot and his ruthless Khmer Rouge - that's one in every 4 Cambodians, including women and babies! The torture chambers of Tuol Sleng and the killing fields in Choeung Ek now stand as a monument to the horrors that took place.

The Torture Chambers of Tuol Sleng (S21, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum)
When Phnom Penh was emptied of its population, one of its schools were converted into a secret prison system, named Security Office 21 (more infamously known as S21). More than 20,000 people were arested and brought here for interrogation, imprisonment and torture. Many died in the process, but those who survived were later brought to Choung Ek for execution (the Killing Fields). In 1979, after the Vietnamese defeated the Khmer Rouge, S21 was converted into a museum.

big signage about Tuol Sleng on a major intersection Tuol Sleng is located on a street was a former school a comemoration of the prison system-turned-museum it would have been a vast school yard for kids
rooms were subdivided into mini torture chambers skulls piled high from those who did not survive the torture a survivor of the Tuol Sleng torture was there - he was one of the lucky few the ground floor of Building A - interrogation, imprisonment and torture were done here to former high officials
one of the 10 cells of Building A the sic regulations inside the prison system the gallows - the interrogators would tie up the prisoner's hands from behind and hang them upside down until they lose consciousness. They are then lowered down head-first to a container full of foul water to wake them up. The interrogation resumes. clothes worn by the prisoners - notice the children's clothing
prisoners - before prisoners - after (already dead from torture) prisoners's ankles were bound by these shackles Building A, one of three buildings
Tuol Sleng from the 3rd floor Bou Meng, another survivor who wrote a book about his ordeal - he was also there    

The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
Choung Ek, about 15 kms south of Phnom Penh, was a former Chinese cemetery that was turned into a killing field. Those who survived the torture of Tuol Sleng were brought here and summarily executed - including women, children and babies. They even have the killing tree where babies were held by the feet and slammed with their heads into the tree. Pits were 15 feet deep and they were covered when it became full of bodies - there were 129 mass graves all together. Skulls and skeletons representing 8985 people were found. The victims were peasants, workers, diplomats, intellectuals, ministers, Khmers, foreigners and purged Khmer soldiers.

a stupa was erected to commemorate those who died in Choeung Ek there isn't much infrastructure in Choeung Ek, but signs and materials left behind were preserved. This is the truck stop where 20-30 people per truck were brought in for execution when prisoners arrived at 300/day, those who could not be executed on the same day were held here for detention until their time came site of the working office of the executioners
one of the very few structures left in Choeung Ek site where chemical substances were stored site for the deposit of the chemical DDT bodies piled high on this place
normal farming tools were use for killing - shovels, hatchets, digging hoes, etc. when the mass graves were exhumed, clothes were collected - some of them were children the Killing Tree where babies' heads were smashed against it should have been a spirit house
the tree were loud speaker systems were kept on full volume to drown the screams of those being killed skeletal remains were collected after the bodies were exhumed the now infamous skulls - a grim reminder of the horrors that took place in Cambodia more documentation of Choeung Ek

Ending Thoughts
The one thing I'd like to have a handle on is why 2 million people were killed in a short span of 4 years by one man's warped mind. How the f$#%ck could that possibly happen in recent history? I was hoping I would get my answers in Choung Ek and S21. But even after visiting those 2 places, I couldn't find the answers. I guess there was no answer - just the muted remains of what a fucked-up mind has done. I feel terribly bad for what happened to the Cambodians.

Where was the United Nations? Where was the purveyor of democracy - the good ol' US of A? What did the international community do? Did they collectively conclude Cambodia was not a lucrative war to make an investment on? Next time these superpowers start their lip-motion on democracy and freedom, I will always have Cambodia in mind and what these super powers failed to do.

I'd been in Cambodia for nearly a total of 6 weeks - from Siem Reap, Battambang, Sihanoukville, Koh Rong, Kampot, Kep and Phnom Penh. It's been not just a home, but a mini-life as I would often refer to my extended stay in a place. I've learned to love the place, its food, its culture and its people. Cambodia grows on you. Physically, I don't look any different from them - in their parlance, "same same but different". I feel for them.

With my visa expiring, I now have to pack-up again. I don't know if or when I can come back. Cambodia will always be special to me. Thank you Cambodia!

--- TheLoneRider

Next stop: Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam

Phnom Penh landmarks
Phnom Penh attractions

Phnom Penh Cost Index, backpacker places (US$1 = Riel 4000 = Php 44)

  • $1-1.25 one mug draft beer (.75 happy hour)
  • $.50 1.5 liter drinking water
  • $.75 - 2.00 from street coffee to restaurant coffee
  • $2 bicycle rental, 24 hours
  • $4 cheap dorm lodging (Mini Banana)
  • $1.50/kilo laundry
  • $.25-.50 glass of sugarcane juice

FYI / Tips

  • best way to explore Phnom Penh is still by bicycle ($2/day) - intersections can be tricky
  • if there is festival happening, it's best to book bus and hotels ahead of time as they can be more expensive or fully booked
  • Phnom Penh is generally more expensive than the rest of Cambodia
  • Cambodia accepts payment in US$ - even sidewalk vendors. If your change is less than $1, it will be given in riel


  • How to Get to Phnom Penh from Kampot
    • the minivan fare from my hotel straight to Phnom Penh is $8/pax ($10 during the Water Festival), 3.5 hours. Like most bus rides, you can have your hotel book it for you. Usually, the rate is the same as booking it directly with the bus company - so I book mine with the hotel (and get the hotel pick-up service).
  • How to Get to Ho Chi Minh City from Phnom Penh
    • there are many bus ticketing offices around the Old Market where you can buy tickets. 5 hours 30 mins, $5-7

Cambodia Blogs by TheLoneRider

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Nov 5-6, 2014

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Phnom Penh Hotel

Titch Riverside Guest House Kampot

One Up Banana Hotel | Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh Hotels

One Up Banana Hotel, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
One Up Banana Hotel
Phnom Penh, Cambodia