Travel Report: Choeung Ek Killing Fields, Phnom Penh.
December 2015. After a couple of hours wandering around the unwaveringly grim Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the last thing I felt like doing was going out to Choeung Ek Killing Fields. After all, this is the place where so many Cambodian prisoners were finally put out of their misery in the mid 1970s. But in many ways seeing Choeung Ek felt like a rite of passage. As if my travel mate and I had no right heading off for the beach oases of Sihanoukville and Koh Rong until we’d finished the historical journey we’d started.
There are 189 mass graves across Choeung Ek, containing an estimated 90000 people. It’s hard to reconcile the actions of the past with the tranquility of the present.
It’s especially hard to comprehend when you see how the entire area has become a gorgeous conservation zone. At its centre stands this beautiful dyke, constructed in 2000 to protect the area from flooding.
Choeung Ek Killing Fields.
A peaceful nature trail runs all the way around the dyke and onto the largest collection of Choeung Ek’s mass graves. Somewhat strangely, a section of the path is open to the general public. Indeed I saw an old man cycling and groups of kids cutting through on their way home from school.
This is Choeung Ek’s largest mass grave, located near the infamous Killing Tree.
According to the sign, this is where Khmer Rouge soldiers routinely beat children to death. An audio guide gives you the lowdown on how the executioners often had to improvise due to a lack of weapons. It is not pleasant listening.
Choeung Ek’s memorial stupa has been here since 1988. Inside there are more than 8000 skulls, arranged by sex and age.
There’s no attempt to be discreet about it, they’re fully visible behind the glass panels as soon as you walk in. Choeung Ek also houses a small museum with an exhibition on the Khmer Rouge leadership. A memorial day is held here annually on May the 9th.
For a deeper insight into The Killing Fields, check out this excellent article from National Geographic.
For more info on my adventures in the city, have a leaf through my other reports on Phnom Penh.
Like these? Then why not have a look at my articles from across Cambodia.
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