Choeung Ek Killing Field
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Choeung Ek Killing Field Phnom Penh Reviews
A must-visit for any visitor to Cambodia Nov 29, 2014
Located just outside of Phnom Penh, the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center is definitely a must to visit, for any visitor to Cambodia. The only way to get there, is by tuk-tuk.
More commonly known as the Killing Fields, this was one of many where so many Cambodians were taken to be executed and buried, or working on the fields non-stop, to be point of dying of disease and starvation, during the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979). I’ve written more about the events themselves in the blog.
Entering the site, after paying admission, you are given an audioguide, which gives a very good and informative tour of the place. The tour is narrated by a survivor of the Killing Fields, who manages to do it without showing much emotion. That is remarkable in itself. Also, you will hear accounts from other survivors along the way, and learn some more things that are not only sad, but also very upsetting. Also, there are posts throughout the place, which are also audioguide spots.
The first thing you see is the tall stupa, which is a memorial to the people who died during the Khmer Rouge era. Inside it, are the skulls, bones, and the weapons used to kill the people. As the Khmer Rouge tried to save on ammo, they resorted to other ways to killing, often in very horrific ways.
Walking around the place, you will see different mass graves, and the other spots, which are marked by a sign. Plus a couple trees, which have horrible stories themselves. Like the one where babies were clubbed to death, and another known as the “magic tree”, where a speaker hung to drown out the cries of people. Both the mass graves and trees have bracelets on them, to pay respects to the people.
There is a museum, where there are photos of the Killing Fields over the years, during the Khmer Rouge years and after. Plus a short film as well. Both are worth checking out as well.
The Killing Fields is a place where unspeakable horrors happened, that left a horrific chapter in Cambodian history. But it must be visited by anyone visiting Phnom Penh, as we should never forget.
In fact, I would say, this site is enough reason to visit Phnom Penh itself, as I think it does gives more of a complete picture of Cambodia.
Part of the Cambodia 2014 travel blog
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Haunting and Heartbreaking Nov 18, 2012
To get here hire a return journey tuk-tuk for about $12.
This attraction is good to do in combination with the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. Prisoners from the prison were sent to The Choeung Ek Killing Fields for execution, whether confessions were extracted or not, innocent or guilty these people were driven to their evivatable death, a mere 15 kilometres from the S-21 prison that had been their living hell for days or months.
The prisoners were offloaded from their transport vans and either lead off to be executed immediately or held in a containment shed in total darkness to await their death the following night. The guards hut was located behind the holding shed where the guards held the paperwork and compared names of prisoners who had arrived against lists of prisoners who left the prison, to ensure nobody had escaped during transit. These structures do not exist anymore unfortunately because after the liberation the local people dismantled them for firewood.
You navigate your way around the area by following the directions of the informative audio guide provided to all of the visitors.
The audio guide explains how the prisoners were murdered in a barbaric fashion through stabbing, bludgeoning, axe to the head etc. Because bullets were expensive and considered too valuable. An extremely loud speaker was positioned on a tree nearby blaring revolutionary music in order to drown out the screams of the prisoners.
The area is set around some 100 mass graves that the Khmer Rouge used to bury bodies. Thousands of bodies were recovered after the liberation, those of men, women, children and even babies. There is a very special tree beside the area the Khmer Rouge used to dump Women and babies bodies. They used to kill the children by smashing their heads off the tree. The tree now is covered in colourful bracelets, the thoughtful, heart-warming gifts from compassionate visitors from all over the world.
The audio guide offers a lot of information about the regime, the perpretrators and survivors stories. The former director of the Tuol Sleng prison, which sent thousands of innocent people to their death, was on trial for years for his crimes against humanity and war crimes. He denied knowledge of the Killing Fields but when he came to see them he broke down in from of the tree where the babies were killed.
The huge stupa in the centre of the attraction holds the bones of all of the bodies found.
As butterflies flutter about and the sun shines you cannot help but feel such a sense of tranquility in this horrid place where so much suffering happened. Everybody remains somber, really trying to understand what and why such a horrendous thing was allowed to happen.
A sad tale of the cruelty of man... Feb 08, 2011
The Killing Fields are the sites in Phnom Penh where people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime. Estimates of the total number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge range from 1.7 to 2.5 million out of a population of around 8 million. So the death of around ¼ of a country’s population is attributed to the Khmer Rouge regime. Hard to believe! Wars are cruel and sometimes difficult to understand, but genocide like the one that took place in Cambodia is impossible to understand.
Walking around at The Killing Fields reminded me a lot about visiting the concentration camps of the Nazi regime. It’s depressing, but I have to admit that it didn’t touch me in the same way as the S-21 Prison. I don’t know why. Maybe the information in the prison was a bit better than at The Killing Fields.
The memorial park has been constructed around the mass graves of the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. In order to save ammunition, the executions were often carried out using poison, shovels or sharpened bamboo sticks. On you way around you also see a killing tree which was used to kill the children and infants of adult victims by having their heads bashed against the trunks of the tree. Reason: "to stop them growing up and taking revenge for their parents' deaths”.
The memorial park however is quickly seen. It’s not as informative as S-21, but is so closely related to the prison that you need to see both places.
Part of the Cambodia 2011 travel blog
Dec 27, 2007
The Khmer Rouge gained control of Phnom Phen in 1975, in the chaos of civil war and U.S. bomb raids relating to the war for neighboring Vietnam. They evacuated the population into the countryside, eliminated modern medicine and forced everyone into backbreaking yet horrendously inefficient rural work projects that plummeted the country into starvation and famine. Men, women, children and babies were systematically taken out to "killing fields" and forced to dig their own graves. "Lucky" people were shot, while others were bludgeoned to death to save bullets. Many were shipped off to prisons like S21, where they were accused of being CIA agents or subversive spies, tortured, forced to accuse others, and finally murdered in the killing field at Choeung Ek.
Today, the sun shines warmly over the open ditches that line the path made for tourists at Choeung Ek. Signs mark the graves -- a hundred women and children found here, 50 bodies there with no heads. At the entrance stands a giant stupa filled with human skulls of unidentified victims. To understand what happened here is devastating, to see it a bit surreal.
Now I'll voice an unpopular opinion about the Killing fields -- I don't think it's a must-see at all. I'm not the kind of person who needs to be see where something occurred or monuments to an event, to understand the wieght of those occurances. Just to give an example, I remember when I was 17, visiting the Vietnam Memorial with a students' program, where everyone cried, except me. But that's because the year before, I was cuddling up with my history book and delving into the Vietnam war, being very touched by photos of the burning monk and dying soldiers, while my classmates skimmed the chapter and breezed through the quiz like it was another chore. Similarly, I've been aware of what happened in Cambodia in the 70's for a while, and was very moved by the first full documentary I watched that really delved into the subject in detail. To me, the killing fields didn't offer any more information than documentaries or books on the subject. While the tower of skulls and rows of ditches may be jarring to some, in my opinion it would be more satisfying to donate directly to Cambodian charities.
I'm not saying don't go. Just that you don't need to if you don't have time, and that it will be more of a powerful exprience for some more than others. But in any case, read up on what happened and think about why it happened.
Other minor but controversial notes: 1. Choeung Ek is currently run by a private Japanese corporation. Personally, I'm fine with this as long as they're doing a very good job preserving the place at a pretty low cost ($2 admission), but some people take offense that the site of such a national tragedy is being run by a for-profit organization. 2. The path leading around the back of Cheong Ek doesn't lead anywhere, and seems to be there to trap tourists with cute kids that follow you and beg for money. It's up to each individual on how to feel about this.
I would definitely recommend going to the Genocide Museum/ S21 prison while in Phnom Phen, however. It's more informative -- you can see a photo exhibit, read quotes from survivors and guards, and watch a documentary as well as visiting the prison. Described in more detail in my next blog entry.
Part of the Merry Thailand & Cambodia! travel blog
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Horrible but essential to any visit to Cambodia Oct 24, 2005
At half past 2 the group gathered and a bus brought us to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Just 15 minutes outside the city, but more than half an hour driving, while concrete roads turned into dirt trails and houses into rickety sheds. These Killing Fields, named after the small town they lie near to, are just one of many to be found throughout Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge - the communist regime that dictated Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and led by Pol Pot tried to turn it into a Maoist society of agricultural working camps - used these killing fields to rid themselves of people who had been detained and tortured in prisons. This specific one was used in combination with Phnom Penh's S-21 prison and 17.000 were murdered in that specific place. Now, that might be shocking but it's only a fraction of the 2 million people (almost 1/3rd of the population) that died during the Khmer Rouge regime, half of which was murdered and half of which died of starvation and illness in the camps.
What awaited us was heart-wrenching and stomach-turning. A large field riddled with holes, all of which represented mass graves. No less than 129 mass graves had been found, 49 of which have not been uncovered. Well, at least not intentionally by man that is, because the rain seasons often washes away the dirt to reveal pieces of clothing and white bones. And you could indeed see those lying all around, leaving little to the imagination. Some of the mass graves had signs explaining how many bodies had been found there, and in what state. There was also a tree with a sign informing visitors that executioners had used it to beat children to death before throwing them in the mass graves.
The unspeakable horror of the place was further emphasized by a big Memorial Stupa. Imagine this large tower with shelves on which 8000 skulls are stacked, neatly sorted by gender and age. Words cannot describe the feeling and it left me speechless for hours. There was also a small exposition featuring a map that showed the locations of the mass graves and actually made clear how many there were to be found. It just goes to show how horrible a species mankind can really be.
And it didn't make sense either. A place like this is supposed to be desolate, dark and overshadowed by rain clouds. Not bathing in sunshine with cows grazing and beautiful butterflies all around, or smiling children posing for the camera and asking for money or candy, as we found it. It's a strange world sometimes.
As horrible as this might seem, a visit to the Killing Fields is an essential part to understanding the history of Cambodia and the cruel capabilities of the human race. It should be included in every visit to this country.
Part of the Cambodia 2005 travel blog
A haunting and unsettling piece of history Jan 10, 2005
After Angkor Wat the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are probably the most popular tourist destination in Cambodia. Makes you wonder, should such an awful chapter in the country's history remain as a tourist attraction? Well, in my opinion, yes. Just like for example Auschwitz it is important to remind people of the atrocities that people are capable of, to make sure this will never happen again.
And the current site of the Killing Fields does so in a very discrete way.
Between 1975 and 1978 the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia. In an attempt to change Cambodia into a Maoist, peasant-dominated cooperative all teachers, scholars, monks, students, doctors, mothers and people wearing glasses were detained and executed. In three years time over 17,000 people were transferred to the extermination camp of Choeung Ek.
In 1980 129 communal graves were found at this site, 86 of which have been dug up revealing the remains of 8985 people who were killed by the Khmer Rouge.
There isn't much to see, really. The mass graves resemble holes in the ground and it is difficult to imagine what it looked like when this place was discovered in the eighties, with skeletons everywhere. That said, there are still bones and pieces of cloth skattered casually around the place. Seeing human bones skattered on the ground is a surreal experience.
There are some informative plaques about the horrible history of the Khmer Rouge and the atrocities that took place under the regime.
Of the nearly 9000 bodies exhumed from the graves over 8000 skulls have been placed in a large monument. A monument, featuring skulls arranged by sex and age is really macabre, it's awful, yet at the same time eerily peaceful. By turning the mostly unidentified victims into this monument they received a better memorial than any type of wall, statue, plaque or eternal flame would ever have given them.
So the Killing Fields are definitely worth seeing. It is an important history lesson and seeing the place with your own eyes is so much more impressive than reading about it in a book. Of course there are the happy thrill seekers who come here in order to visit the shooting range to shoot an AK-47 or other left-over military ordnance. Like any poor country Cambodia too will cater for anyone's taste in return for dollars.
Part of the South-East Asia 2005 travel blog
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