Why Visit Khmer Rouge Killing Fields (or Why not)

Visiting the Khmer Rouge killing fields was a heart wrenching experience for me, to say the least. Let me share a little background on these slaughter fields first to give you an idea of what to expect.

killing fields wanderwithjo.com

What are Khmer Rouge killing fields?

Under the rule of genocidal tyrant Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge regime became the ultimate power in Cambodia and killed around 2 million people. This happened just about four decades ago, so it’s all too fresh in the minds and hearts of everyone. In fact it is so fresh that even the skulls buried in pits in the killing fields surface during heavy rains and storms.

Cambodians were killed left, right and center. Their heads were bashed with rocks and children were thrown against trees – bullets were expensive and not to be wasted. It was a horrific time for around 8 million people back then – out of which barely 5-6 million survived.

As you enter the killing fields now, you see a structure and think it looks pretty nice. As you get closer you see it is full of skulls – over 8000 skulls of the people who were tortured and thrown into the pits to die. Many a times, they were still alive.

Khmer Rouge killing fields

Stupa at entry

I did not expect that.

The killing fields warmed my heart and filled it with compassion. It was a good thing that I didn’t take a tour guide as this place should be explored alone – you will need time to contemplate as you listen to the audio tour. The audio tour has stories of survivors from Khmer Rouge – tales of those who have seen children get murdered, women raped and men tortured. These are the kind of things they can never forget. As you listen to their riveting stories, you get lost in their world.

I would give the audio tour 10/10 and my recommendation is go to the killing fields alone. It is not a place to go with friends or family and you definitely don’t need a tour guide. You will want to be alone when you listen to these terror tales. I found a spot under a tree on a long winding road. You can choose to take a stroll along the lake , see the pits and graves or just sit and listen – I did everything and I came back blown away.

audio tour killing fields

The spot I choose to listen to the tales in the audio tour

I am not the kind of person who does monuments, dark tourism, museums and the likes. Usually, I prefer to take a hike or go on a wildlife tour – chill on a beach or take in the mountain views. This was different for me and I was happy I went there – This is why “Dark tourism” is popular. These are the kind of things you would surely not want to know about (especially from such close quarters like standing on graves of women and children), but I feel we need to.

You will see things that will leave your shocked.

You will see the magic tree where a loudspeaker hangs. It was used to play music to subdue the screams of those tortured , raped and left to die.

magic tree killing field

You will see the tree where children were smashed against the trunk again and again till their bones broke and they died (You can see the marks on the trunk).

killing fields cambodia

You will see a pit where 450 innocent people were thrown and left to die.

mass grave killing fields

Mass grave of over 100 women and children – Most of whom were naked.

mass graves

Mass grave of 166 victims without heads.

mass grave

All this happened only because Pol Pot was scared of the power of this own people. He feared the rebellion – he feared the educated – he feared they might stand up to him – so, he simply executed them all.

So, in all honesty it is not for everyone (unless you can handle bones, teeth or clothes poking from the dirt while listening to tales of horror) but if you do decide to add it to your itinerary, you will be humbled , emotionally challenged, educated about Cambodian suffering  and much more empathetic as a person.

I will leave it to you to decide if the Khmer Rouge killing fields are something you would like to be confronted with or not but it is highly recommended by me. Click here to read my day by day Phnom Penh itinerary.


  1. I’ve visited as well, twice actually- really sad and an awful time in history. It’s important to learn about it though.

  2. I have missed the Killing field the last time I went to Phnom Penh, but am going back this coming July and would love to visit it! Its important to understand the history.

  3. I remember being so overwhelmed with learning the history and being confronted by the horrible events that occurred. Looking back, I feel glad I went. It is truly an important thing to be informed about our past, better to acknowledge it than turn a blind eye and deny its existence. We don’t learn from ignorance.

  4. Himanshu Barsainya April 10, 2016 at 12:06 am

    Hey Jo,

    After a long time i could find a article so full of emotions and compassion. Kudos to you. I may have never written an article after vsiting such a place and might have kept to myself.
    You have done a great job by putting forth this to us. I will certainly visit this place when in Combodia.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Himanshu. I was in two minds about writing this piece but I decided I will give it a whirl. It is difficult to do justice to sensitive topics.

  5. I visited the Killing Fields a few years ago – so sad to learn about the atrocities that went on during that time. A lot of people had tears in their eyes as they walked around. I’m really glad I went, though, it was important to me to understand a bit more about Cambodia’s past.

  6. As traumatising as I find visiting these kind of places, I always still do as I feel it helps me understand the country better. Haven’t been to Cambodia before, but this is certainly something I would include in my trip!

  7. Wow I had no idea! Thank you sharing a little background about what what happened. I would definitely include this in my itinerary if ever I visit Cambodia. I’m quite sure it will be a humbling experience for me.

  8. This looks like an incredibly moving place to visit. Thank you for sharing.

  9. The day I visited S21 and the Killing Fields was such a heavy and emotional day. Such a sad atrocity. I think it is a must visit for anyone visiting Cambodia so they can get an idea of just how resilient of a country it is.

  10. When I visited Cambodia in 2012 I was at a time in my life where I knew I would not be strong enough to visit the Killing Fields. Instead I stayed around Siem Reap and visited the Landmine Museum instead. But I think that on my next trip there I would like to muster up the courage to go down to Phnom Penh and visit the Killing Fields. I want to honour the people who suffered so much terror. What happened in Cambodia is almost incomprehensible and I can’t even begin to wrap my heart around it.

  11. This is something I would like to go back to Cambodia to learn about. When I went in 2011 I sticked mostly to ruins and the “pretty” side of the country. After reading the book “First They Killed My Father” I was devastated to realize I missed the opportunity to learn so much more. Thanks for sharing, it’s great to see you had a positive experience and are encouraging others to go.

    • Well I wouldn’t say it was a “positive or negative” experience but it moved me for sure.
      Hey I haven’t heard about that book – sounds like a good read – off to check it out 🙂

  12. Devastating stories, I had no idea about this. These places that for what I know are called Dark tourism make us stop and think.

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