Skulls memorial hall Choueng ek genocide

Cambodia: Choeung Ek genocidal center — the infamous “Killing Fields”

Date: 11 May, 2018

We arrived in Phnom Penh yesterday and after sleeping through much of the day, we woke up early and set off on our sightseeing in Phnom Penh.

Taking a trike in Phnom Penh
We hired a tricycle taxi to take us to & fro the Choeung Ek genocidal center for $20
Phnom Penh traffic police
The Choeung Ek genocidal center is a 30-40 minute drive from Phnom Penh city
Couple in masks Phnom Penh
Since the roads were dusty, we wore masks
Boy riding bike Cambodia
The legal age for riding a motorcycle in Cambodia is 16. I didn’t ask this kid how old he was.
New developments China Phnom Penh
Many new buildings in Phnom Penh have signages in both Khmer and Mandarin… so you know easily who is funding much of Cambodia’s new developments
Cambodia People's Party office
Cambodia People’s Party is the ruling party in the country
Trike Phnom Penh bridge
We were out of city limits by now
Road dug up Phnom Penh
The village roads we were passing through were far from smooth
Cambodia kids going to school
Kids were all set for school at this time
Entrance Choeung ek genocidal center
We finally arrived. The trike driver said he would wait for us at the parking lot.

We bought our entry tickets. It costs $6 for one person with the audio guide. You save a little if you bring your own pair of earphones/headphones.

Choeung Ek Monument
These audio guide devices have two 3.5mm jacks so you can connect two headphones to one device. Only downside is that two of you will have to walk closely together.
Tourists Choeung Ek genocidal center
You go about the tour by making stops at sign boards with numbers on it. That building in the back is the Choeung Ek Monument and I’ll go there later.
Truck stop Killing Fields Cambodia
When you reach the next point, you press the corresponding number and the voice over narration continues. For example, this is the point where victims from prison camps were brought by trucks to be executed at Choeung Ek
Open grounds Choeung Ek Cambodia
The audio guide voiceover was narrated by a male survivor of Choeung Ek. You can’t help but imagine the horrors as he describes them… even though all you see now is this

Victims brought here were usually killed immediately but as the number of prisoners increased, many who had to wait were kept in detention camps (the drawing they showed looked more like a shed). The average execution rate was 300 per day but when the Khmer Rouge guards couldn’t kill them all, some were kept in sheds to be killed another day.

Chemical storage room
The chemical storage rooms were used to store DDT (the infamous pesticide), which was poured over the dead bodies for two reasons — to get rid of the rotting stench and to kill off anybody who wasn’t fully dead
Media center killing fields
That houses the movie hall, where they show a short film about the Khmer Rouge and what went on at Chuoeng Ek
Khmer rouge ideology
Inside they had some photographs and exhibits. The above summarizes the Khmer rouge ideology.
Choeung ek chicken fields
We would return to the movie hall later. But you can’t help but wonder as we now watch chicken graze these fields… just how many bodies are buried underneath it.
Palm sharp edges plant
The audio guide even tells you how Khmer Rouge guards used that part of the palm plant, with its sharp edges (the white arrow) and how it was used to slit the throats of prisoners
Choeung Ek lake Cambodia
It looks all serene now
Chinese grave Choeung Ek center
This was the grave where prisoners of Chinese ethnicity were buried
Choeung ek tree path Cambodia
The audio guide has many optional stories visitors can listen to and the narrator even encourages you to sit down, take a break and listen to them
Outside killing fields Cambodia
Back then, the villagers outside Chuoeng Ek knew little of the horrors that were taking place inside
Burial grounds Chuong Ek center
This was just one of the burial grounds where piles of bodies were dumped
Bones teeth Chuoeng Ek
Some of the bones and teeth retrieved from the exhumed bodies
Burial ground headless victims Cambodia
The burial ground to the right was used for headless victims
Women children burial ground Choueng Ek
This burial ground was used for women & children. They were mostly buried naked.
Killing tree Cambodia
And this is the infamous “Killing tree” — where babies were smashed against and killed

Why were babies killed? Well, because Kang Kek Iew or Comrade Duch (he oversaw the infamous prison camps), believed killing the children would prevent revenge attacks. For example, after Khmer Rouge soldiers would execute a key male figure, they would then arrest his wife and children… and execute them as well. The movie hall has exhibits detailing the horrible acts of Duch. Believe it or a not, Duch was only sentenced in 2010.

Choeung ek memorial phnom penh
It was now time to enter the Choeung Ek memorial, first constructed in 1988
Skulls memorial hall Choueng ek genocide
This is what it houses
Skulls between 20 to 40 killing fields
Each level of skulls is classified by ages of the victims. You also have a level for victims aged 40-60 and victims under 20.
The Khmer Rouge had different ways to execute prisoners. Some were killed with a bullet to the head, some were stabbed in the head, beaten with iron rods… among other tools. Imagine being bored using the same technique that you come up with some much needed variety — to murder someone :/

After visiting the memorial, my girlfriend and I went to the movie hall to watch the 15-minute short film. NOTE: No photography or recording allowing inside the movie hall.

Killing fields movie room Cambodia
These are the timings

I’m not putting up photos of the exhibits and displays detailing Duch and the atrocities committed under his command at these “Killing Fields”. In fact, no amount of words can do justice to actually hearing the narration from the survivor. The audio guide is really well done and if you plan to visit the Choeung Ek genocidal center, I highly recommend you opt for the audio guide. It may not be the ideal place to visit when on a vacation but this is the closest Asia has to something like Auschwitz (the infamous Nazi concentration camp where over a million Jews were killed). You also have to remember, unlike the Nazi era, the Khmer Rouge killed over a million of their own people between 1975 and 1979. That’s not too far back in time.

Choeung Ek map Phnom Penh
The audio guide is available in various languages

With that, we were done with our tour of the Killing Fields. The Choeung Ek genocidal center is one of two stark reminders of the horrors committed by the Khmer Rouge during their reign. Our next stop would be the S21 detention center — where victims were held and tortured before they were brought to Choeung Ek to be executed. That will be the next post.

Next posts in this series:

Cambodia: S21, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Cambodia: Phnom Penh Central Market and Wat Phnom

Cambodia: Mekong River Sunrise Cruise… and an insight into Chinese investment in the region

Cambodia: Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh

Cambodia: Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by bus

Cambodia: Visiting Angkor Wat

Previous posts in this series:

Cambodia: Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh Night market

Cambodia: Arriving in Phnom Penh

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