Backpacking in Cambodia: Choeung Ek Genocidal Center – “Killing Fields”
Make no mistake about it – this place is as horrific as it sounds. Here at Choeung Ek, was the scene of thousands of murders. Babies bashed against trees, prisoners thinking they were changing prisons only to be tortured and killed, bodies thrown into pits. In the darkness of night. Cambodia lost a third of its population under Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime. The best reason for this place existing and to go and see it is to make sure this sort of thing never happens again. You’ll want a coffee on your way in, and a beer on your way out. The long lonely walk around the lake sees you veer into pits and catch glimpses of the mass graves, the killing tree and the fields of nothingness in behind. Whatever dreams these Cambodians had as children were destroyed. As a tourist all I could think was Rest In Peace my fellow humans. A truly sad, sad place. For those interested, arrival is by Tuk Tuk, 20 odd kilometres outside Phnom Penh, Cambodian quite colossal capital city. I made my way there just after my visit to Toul Sleng – The S 21 Concentration Camp. I covered that visit here Backpacking in Cambodia: Touring Tuol Sleng (equally disturbing yet strangely uplifting on departure).
Again it’s all about euphemisms, and calling this place a Genocidal Centre is a less horrific way of saying “Killing Fields”. Don’t be under any illusions. It’s not exactly a “museum”. Choeung Ek is the most well known of over 300 Killing Fields throughout Cambodia.
The entrance gates to Choeung Ek. Looks all nice and touristy enough, but they charge entry and have a shop etc. so its important to donate and pay respect to those who lost their lives horrifically, here and in many parts of Cambodia during the 1970s Khmer Rouge era.
The entrance ticket was $3 but I paid $5 US Dollars, so that it included a free audio guide, which is the ticket above. I must say this was DEFINITELY worth the extra. It’s an audio guide in English and extremely informative.
This is the actual admission ticket, the above one was actually only the audio guide ticket. Together it’s $5 US Dollars, despite the fact that it says $3 US Dollars on each (which would mean $6 US Dollars). It would be pointless to rent the audio guide but not go inside, though you could easily pay the $3 to go inside and not take the audio guide option – probably if you are Japanese/Chinese as I’m not sure they had translations.
Once inside you stare at this large column. It’s basically a memorial to all the victims who were found dead at Choeung Ek.
The audio guide was totally immense. It had 19 different sections, all amazingly detailed and exact for the points you could stop at on the way round. I spent well over an hour there and listened to EVERY part of the audio guide such was its intrigue.
Stop 2 was where the “truck stop” was. Horrific to try and imagine. Trucks would arrive late at night with the prisoners from the concentration camps (or elsewhere) and a lot of them were fooled into thinking they may be heading to a new prison. If they weren’t dead when they arrived here at Choeung Ek, they were killed here in these horrible surroundings.
These real skulls from the bodies have been left here in this Memorial Stupa to those killed at Choeung Ek. This is basically a mass grave for those who died here. It wasn’t actually that terrifying for me to see the skulls, perhaps because I’d just come from the Concentration Camp.
More skulls of nameless unidentifiable dead humans. Sad but at least in this memorial they finally have a resting place.May the Gods of heaven be with them.
This basically tells you that all the prisoners were alive when they arrived here and then killed IMMEDIATELY.
The buildings in this area had all been removed and they just tell you what was there. Victims could be killed by electricution it seems.
Before The Khmer Rouge came to this area, it was a Chinese Cemetery.
The ceremonial kiosk, part of the Chinese cemetery.
Chemicals were also used to eliminate the stench from the dead bodies and to kill off those being buried alive. Horrific.
One of many mass graves and pits. This one had 450 dead bodies dumped in it.
A chilling image of what the site once looked like. Just pure evil in that picture. Bones and skulls of helpless victims savagely murdered and dumped.
I had already seen some torture tools at Tuol Sleng itself, but here there were actual Killing Tools. Axes, hatchets and knives convey the brutality of the Khmer Rouge.
Bones and teeth were found here, sometimes more bones and teeth comes up after flooding.
These “Killing Fields” are not so much actual fields, more of a site. It is difficult to admire the trees, grass and scenery of such a place, knowing what happened here. I just took this photo of the path to walk around.
A former Chinese grave which outlasted the Pol Pot regime.
Another mass grave or pit.
I looked outwards towards the fields themselves and took a few countryside shots. This place had to be strategically miles outside the capital.
Barbed wire always conveys sadness to me. The view out to the fields behind the main part of Choeung Ek.
There is a lake at the back of the fields, it is likely that there are dead bodies in there too. It is recommended to listen to the guide as you walk round the lake. There are stories to listen to on your way round. I stopped a few times to sit on benches as I listened.
The lonely walk alongside the lake including benches to sit on at points.
The lake. Not a place to admire the scenery this.
Fields beside the Killing Fields, some of them look cultivated. Given the fact that the fields beside housed thousands of dead bodies, I must admit, I wouldn’t be happy to munch on a bit of broccoli that was grown here. The fields nearby should be left alone.
Flooding is a problem in Cambodia and so they built a dyke here. It was probably the first time I had heard the word “dyke” since a school trip to The Netherlands in 1991.
The bottom of a pit.
The pits. No need to ask what they were used for.
There are a number of trees at Choeung Ek. This one was the Magic Tree. Music was played to disguise the screams.
The bones in this box have all been found after the excavation of 1980. I cannot imagine a worse job that having to be part of that excavation process.
Another Chinese grave remains.
Perhaps the saddest part of the entire site was this tree, known as the “Killing Tree”. Babies, children, pregnant women and pensioners were also killed at Choeung Ek. This Killing Tree was horrifically used to smash babies and children against before dumping them into pits.
The “Killing Tree”.
This mass grave had over 100 victims in it – most of whom were naked. Clothes were found in various parts of the “Killing Fields”.
A box containing the rags and left overs of the victims clothes.
The Magic Tree where the speakers hung off and blasted out music to prevent the local people hearing screams. Very sad. It was astonishing to hear the types of people killed by the Khmer Rouge. While Hitler and the Nazis executed mostly Jews, the Khmer Rouge were a lot less selective and arguably more brutal in their genocide activities. Intellectuals and clever people were executed. They didn’t want intelligent people living in Cambodia, as they saw them as a threat to their ideals. A life of hard work and agriculture was the dream of the Khmer Rouge, so they could control these people working in the farms. People with glasses, politicians, journalists and also every foreigner and traveller they saw were all legitimate fodder for execution in the eyes of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
Buying souvenirs and the commercial aspect doesn’t escape these places, and why should it. I bought a few things in the shop here.
The main sign inside the “Genocidal Center”.
This is an odd photo of me with my audio guide on. Of course I’m not smiling. A little bit of sadness accompanied my visit to Choeung Ek.
In front of the Memorial Stupa at Choeung Ek.
OK, so there is actually a “museum” there too. I went in there after doing the tour.
A depiction of the prisoners arriving at Choeung Ek.
A map of Choeung Ek. Known here as “The Extermination Camp Choeung Ek”.
Brutal weapons found at Choeung Ek.
Apologies for the blurred picture. This paragraph was all about how the babies were smashed against the tree. Horrifically there was also a mock video of the Khmer Rouge smashing the babies against the tree. I do not want to remember seeing that and in fact cannot remember where I saw the video. It may not even have been at Choeung Ek or Tuol Sleng.
I went to Choeung Ek with Anthony and Helen, plus Mickey. The four of us had travelled down from Don Det together. We went our seperate ways once inside Choeung Ek, it’s just the natural thing to do, but afterwards we agreed we needed a cold beer to relax away from the heat. This wee restaurant, run by a survivor of the Pol Pot regime fitted the bill.
There we spoke to the owner who told us about his life, showed us some war wounds and told us about his family. Although his story felt totally legitimate and we could do nothing but sympathise with him, it did feel there was a slight commercialness associated with it. So we paid our bill, leaving a small tip and headed back to Phnom Penh on our Tuk Tuk.
The restaurant is AAD Restaurant. The under elaborateness of the sign gives it that rawness. You do have to feel pity and sympathy with any Cambodian who survived the Killing Fields. This was probably the most horrific visual experience of my life, just seeing Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek in one day.
I like to read up on places more after I’ve been there rather than before. It’s always been my way to do things. After my trip to Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng. I had to buy this book on the Killing Fields, which was also a film.
I began to read the book in the Shamrock Irish Pub on Khaosan Road in Bangkok, Thailand. Over a Guinness. Choeung Ek is a horrific place.
What – Choeung Ek Genocidal Center/ The Killing Fields
Where – 22 kilometres south east from Phnom Penh city, Choeung Ek Commune, Khan Dangkor, Kingdom of CAMBODIA
I have simply chosen a few poignant Cambodian Songs. I played music on the way out of Choeung Ek – the 19th track on the audio guide you get is of two songs, one an instrumental and one with vocals,the song is called
OH PHNOM PENH:
CAMBODIAN MUSIC – KHMER SONG:
My Videos from touring Choeung Ek from backpacking in Cambodia –
ARRIVAL AT CHOEUNG EK GENOCIDAL CENTER:
MASS GRAVES OF 450 VICTIMS:
DEATH PITS AT CHOEUNG EK:
SNIPPET OF LIFE ON A PHNOM PENH TUK TUK TO AND FROM THE KILLING FIELDS:
PART 2 –
PART 3 –
There are countless videos and films about Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek, and of course the entire Cambodian History during the Khmer Rouge, here is just a short one:
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