"As you walk around the area you’ll pass mass graves and pits which contained the bodies of their victims. There are glass boxes filled with items of clothing and bones which have been discovered around the site.
Very often bones, teeth and clothing come to the surface after heavy rainfall due to the large number of bodies still buried in the pits.">
The Killing Fields were a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the Khmer
Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979, immediately after the end of the Vietnam War. The Khmer Rouge regime arrested and eventually executed almost everyone suspected of connections with the former government or with foreign governments, as well as professionals and intellectuals.
In Cambodia, nine miles (14.5 kilometers) from Phnom Penh, the "killing fields" of Choeung Ek have become a tourist attraction,
horrifying and fascinating. Choeung Ek is one of thousands of other such sites around the country where the Khmer Rouge practiced genocide during the late 1970s.
Today, it is the site of a Buddhist memorial to the victims, filled with more than 5,000 human skulls. Tuol Sleng is now a museum commemorating the genocide. The memorial park at Choeung Ek
has been built around the mass graves of many thousands of victims, most of whom were executed after they had been transported from the S-21 Prison in Phnom
The utmost respect is given to the victims of the massacres through signs and tribute sections throughout the park.
Some victims were required to dig their own graves; their weakness often meant that they were unable to dig very deep. The soldiers who carried out the executions were mostly young men or women from peasant families.
Tourists are encouraged by the Cambodian government to visit Choeung Ek. Apart from the Buddhist memorial with the human skulls, there are pits from which the bodies were exhumed. Human bones still litter the site.
Many dozens of mass graves are visible above ground, many which have not been
excavated yet. Commonly, bones and clothing surface after heavy rainfalls due to the large number of bodies still buried in shallow mass graves. It is not uncommon to run across the bones or teeth of the victims scattered on the surface as one tours the memorial park.
Choeung Ek is a memorial, marked by a Buddhist stupa. The stupa has acrylic glass sides and is filled with
more than 5,000 human skulls. Some of the lower levels are opened during the day so that the skulls can be seen directly. Many have been shattered or smashed in.
A soccer-field-sized area surrounded by farmland, the killing fields contain mass graves, slightly sunken, for perhaps 20,000 Cambodians, many of whom were tortured
before being killed. The bordering trees held nooses for hangings.
The place feels surreally serene, and I was more overwhelmed with curiosity than a sense of death and horror.
With the commemorative stupa in front of us, we imagine that we are hearing the grievous voice of the victims who were beaten by Pol Pot men with
canes, bamboo stumps or heads of hoes, and of the ones who were stabbed with knives or swords. Imagining the horrifying scenes and the panic. Stricken faces of the people who were dying of
starvation, forced labour or torture without mercy upon their skinny bodies. They died without giving the last words to their kith and kin. How much pain those victims were in when they got beaten with
canes, heads of hoes and stabbed with knives or swords before their last breath went out. How bitter they were when seeing their beloved children, wives, husbands, brothers or sisters were seized and
tightly bound before being taken to the mass grave! While they were waiting for their turn to come and hare the same tragic result.
It was a very sober but educational experience. At first, we were not exactly excited about going, and
even when we were there it felt strange staring at piles of human skulls and peering into pits that were used to throw human.
However, in the end, we are glad that I had the experience because it helped me to better understand the culture and history of Cambodia.
The Killing Fields is a very confronting area to visit. We were quite unsure what to expect, but also felt it was somewhere that foreign tourists should learn about. I don't think we had fully understood the enormity of the brutal years the Cambodians lived through.
It is a peaceful place today, masking the horrors that unfolded here less than three decades ago.
Human bones on the path
Read about the Pol Pot.
Read about the genocide of Pol Pot.
Read about the Pol Pot's grave.