Tuol Sleng prison cells Cambodia

Cambodia: S21, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Date: 11 May, 2018

We began our morning visiting the infamous “Killing Fields” — Choeung Ek genocidal center. It wasn’t a pleasant place but it’s what most foreign tourists coming to Phnom Penh see without fail. Well, that and S21 — the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum — which is where we were headed next.

Phnom Penh trike bridge
We asked the tricycle taxi driver to drop us off at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum next
Phnom Penh countryside
We were going back the same way we came
Phnom Penh highway Cambodia
This is Chamkar Doung Street
Cambodia riding opposite direction
Another reminder Cambodia is no better than India — yes, our driver was riding in the opposite direction of traffic
Tuol Sleng Genocide museum entry fee
We had a quick lunch from an eatery nearby and then entered the Tuol Sleng genocide museum

Entry costs $8 per adult with an audio guide. It’s $5 without the audio guide device.

Audio guide S21 prison camp
This time, we paid for only one audio guide. My girlfriend used the earphones she was carrying and plugged it into the device and we walked together.
Tuol Sleng genocide museum cemetery
Same as the Killing Fields, you stop by the numbered markers and press the corresponding number on the device to listen to the narration.
Tuol Sleng genocide school Phnom Penh
If you are wondering why this looks like a school building… because it once was

It may now be known as Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum but this was once Tuol Svay Prey high school. In April 1975, the Khmer Rouge transformed the school into a detention center called S21 (Security office 21). The classrooms on the ground and first floors were divided into individual cells. The second floor was used for mass detention. Thousands of victims — peasants, workers, technicians, engineers, doctors, teachers, students, ministers and later — even Pol Pot’s own soldiers and a few foreigners were imprisoned here and tortured.

In fact, photography is not allowed in many of the rooms. One of the rooms held a steel bed frame with a description of how it was used for torture. The prisoner would be tied to the bed with his head sticking out at the top. The security guards would then interrogate the prison using various torture techniques like shock treatments, picking their nails off and hitting their heads with tools like metal rods or hammers. The photo they put up in the room showed one such prisoner but his head was pixelated. Still, with the amount of blood on the floor, you can imagine the damage the guards inflicted on the poor guy.

Security of regulation Khmer Rouge
These were the instructions for the prisoners
Children Tuol Sleng prison Cambodia
Outside they had photos like this. Yes, even children were taken as prisoners by the Khmer Rouge.
Gallow pole S21 prison Cambodia
This pole was once used by students for climbing exercises. The Khmer Rouge used it to hang prisoners upside down and dip their heads in filthy water.
Tuol Sleng prison cells Cambodia
We moved on with the tour from room to room. These were holding cells.
Tuol Sleng prison Cambodia
May not seem like much space but many prisoners were crammed into such “rooms”
Tuol Sleng detention rooms Cambodia
Every room had a sordid story to say… but pictures won’t do it justice

Unfortunately photography is prohibited in many of the rooms. There are a few rooms with photographs of the prisoners, some who made it out and could tell their stories… and the many that didn’t make it. S21 is very much a museum with a lot of photo displays in each of the rooms.

S21 genocide museum Cambodia
We spent well over an hour here
S21 genocide museum monument
A monument that was installed to honour the prisoners
Peacock Tuol Sleng Phnom Penh
We sat down and listened to the many sub-stories the audio guide had. As sordid as the tales were, this former school is now a place of peace. And yes, that is a peacock.

Just like Choeung Ek genocidal center, the S21 Genocide Museum is made a worthwhile visit thanks to the audio guide. I highly recommend you get the audio guide if you intend to visit this place. The tour experience is not the same without it. The stories are grim but it’s history worth learning about.

Once done with the grim insights into the Khmer Rouge, we moved on to our next stop — Phnom Penh’s Central Market

That and some other attractions in the next post.

Next posts in this series:

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: Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh Night market

Cambodia: Arriving in Phnom Penh

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