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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
You will see a pit where 450 innocent people were thrown and left to die.
Mass grave of over 100 women and children – Most of whom were naked.
Mass grave of 166 victims without heads.
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.