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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Travel Report: Choeung Ek Killing Fields, Phnom Penh.

Mass grave 450 victims Choeung Ek Killing Fields Phnom Penh Cambodia.

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.

Visit Choeung Ek Killing Fields Phnom Penh Cambodia.

Choeung Ek Killing Fields, Phnom Penh.

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.

Conservation zone Choeung Ek Killing Fields Phnom Penh Cambodia.

The conservation zone at Choeung Ek.

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.

Choeung Ek Killing Fields Phnom Penh Cambodia

Choeung Ek Killing Fields, Phnom Penh.

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.

Mass grave Choeung Ek Killing Fields Phnom Penh Cambodia

Choeung Ek Killing Fields, Phnom Penh.

This is Choeung Ek’s largest mass grave, located near the infamous Killing Tree.

The Killing Tree Choeung Ek Killing Fields Phnom Penh Cambodia

The Killing Tree at Choeung Ek.

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. 

Memorial stupa Choeung Ek Killing Fields Phnom Penh Cambodia.

Choeung Ek Killing Fields, Phnom Penh.

Choeung Ek’s memorial stupa has been here since 1988. Inside there are more than 8000 skulls, arranged by sex and age.

Victims' skulls Choeung Ek Killing Fields Phnom Penh Cambodia

The victims of Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh.

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.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001, so why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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4 Comments

  • Mary Phillips

    The movie sticks in my brain, especially the escape of one of the prisoners.

    May 30, 2017 - 2:38 pm Reply
  • Woody

    Thank you for bringing me this so that I got the chance to learn about what happened without having to go there. What an awful awful place it must have been.

    May 30, 2017 - 3:58 pm Reply
  • Mary Phillips

    I once watched a movie called The Killing Fields. Some of it has stayed with me since I watched it. Will we ever learn enough to be kind (to put it mildly)?

    October 25, 2019 - 12:10 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Sadly, I’m not sure if we ever will. Thanks for reading Mary and taking the time to comment.

      October 25, 2019 - 12:59 pm Reply

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