The Killing fields

Outside Phnom Penh ‘The Killing Fields’ can be found. This is an area where people were brought to be executed and buried in mass graves during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. In the center of the fields is a large white monument to the unknown people whose bodies were found in the graves. This monument is where they house 5,000 skulls in the various conditions in which they were found as a reminder to those who visit.

The Killing Fields

The grave sites were huge and compassion wasn’t considered when they nailed the signs in front of them reading ‘2000 bodies were found here’. It was a real shock. I stood there thinking about these people brutally killed and in most cases decapitated, all lying in this pit. And there wasn’t just one, there were many.

The Killing Fields

At The Killing Fields or Choeung Ek there are over 20 mass graves which contained around 9,000 human remains when they were exhumed. In Cambodia it is thought there are around 20,000 mass graves containing a majority of the 2 million people who are predicted to have died between 1975-1979.

One of the most disturbing facts was that only in 2004 had they started to bring those responsible to trial for the crimes they committed, though Pol Pot had already died in 1998. A year after I left Cambodia I read that one of the men who was recently brought to trial had died before sentencing. Since then, in 2014, two other men have been sentenced to life in prison for their involvement in the genocides.

It was truly a life changing visit and I feel that these places are important for us to visit as a reminded of the mistakes the human race has made. From my experiences in Cambodia and throughout Asia I did notice that they were unable to display the information respectfully and the shock factor was important.

Phnom Penh

I knew very little about Cambodia when I travelled there in 2011 and knew even less when it came to the atrocities that happened there in the 1970s. When deciding to travel through Cambodia I didn’t realise what I would learn and see there. Looking at my trip it was one of the most educational visits I have ever made.

What was most surprising was how recently the events had occurred. We often talk about the Holocaust and World War II, many people are educated in that subject. People know little about the Khmer Rouge and the genocide in Cambodia which had happened only 40 years ago.

In 1975 the Khmer Rouge under the reign of Pol Pot moved into Phnom Penh. They told the residents that they knew the Vietnamese were on their way, which was a lie, and they should evacuate the city, leaving them to seize power. Once they were in control they began imprisoning people they considered to be intellectual and a threat, along with anyone else they felt like.

The Khmer Rouge took over a school and then turned it into a prison where they tortured the people who were held there. You can now visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum as a tourist attraction where almost everything has been left as it was found by the Vietnamese in 1979. Barbed wire covers the windows and plaques of the survivors are displayed throughout the school grounds which has now become a museum.

Out of the estimated 17,000 people who where held in prison only 12 were found alive when the Vietnamese arrived in 1979. Out of those 12 only two are thought to be alive today. Prisoners were interrogated and executed in the prison, many were buried on site until there was no more room.  Then prisoners were taken out of Phnom Penh to The Killing Fields were they were executed and buried in mass graves.

Khmer Rouge

This weekend marked 40 years since the Khmer Rouge rolled into Phnom Penh. During the 44 months of Pol Pot’s rule over Cambodia a quarter of the population would die during his attempt at building a perfect society. For most Europeans, especially if you didn’t live during this period, I think knowledge on these atrocities is limited as we were more taught about history that we are directly involved with.


Click image to see inside. It may shock you.

Over the next few posts I will be looking at Cambodia from my own experiences and what the role of dark tourism is in today’s tourism industry. I feel like this post should come with a warning. I will take a realistic view of the situation and to some this might be hard to comprehend. When I gave a presentation to my university class on orphanage tourism I made one of my classmates cry.

If you are interested in the subject and can’t wait for the next post you should consider reading this article, Cambodia Forty Years After Genocide.

I would like to encourage you also to use the tag The Academic Traveller if you are writing a post that discusses the influence of tourism or takes a serious look at the motivations of our travel decisions. Together we can build a topic that gets to the core issues and impacts of tourism.