Choeung Ek – The Killing Fields – Cambodia

Today Craig and I visited one of the hundreds of killing fields of the Khmer Rouge era, now a memorial ground, in Phnom Penh.

It was a quiet and eerie place; you could somehow feel that thousands of lives had been taken unlawfully as you walked through the mass graves, even though it was a beautifully sunny day (37c!), with green grass and the sound of children playing in the school next door.

A little bit of history:

The killing fields are areas where mass graves were discovered after the Khmer Rouge regime. The Khmer Rouge was set up in 1968 and was made up of members of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, a branch of the Vietnam People’s Army. The party took charge of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and were lead by Pol Pot.

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The pits.

It is thought that roughly 1 in 4 people were executed in these camps after they had been forcefully removed from their homes. Every city, town and village stood empty as thousands of people accused of being Chinese, Thai, Cambodian Christians, intellects (speaking a different language, professors, teachers, or even if you just couldn’t see properly and wore glasses) were rounded up and sent to work.

The basic goal was to make Cambodia a self-sufficient country of agriculture, however this also included medicine. The result was millions of deaths due to an unrealistic goal set by Pol Pot. It was demanded that rice production be tripled. An impossible task even for trained farmers. No one knew how to sew seeds or tend to the crops, they were ordinary people. Malaria was also a problem and the lack of knowledge on how to produce the vaccinations caused plenty of deaths.

Bones and clothes can still be seen as you wander around.

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The Killing Fields themselves were merely mass graves for the 2.5 million people that died. Bullets were expensive so the victims would be bludgeoned to death while communist music blared out from the speakers to mask their cries of pain. Truck loads of people arrived every day from the torture centre Tuol Sleng (also know as S-21) and were executed on the same day.

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The Khmer Rouge was eventually dethroned by the Communist Vietnamese in 1979. Unfortunately Pol Pot lived to the ripe old age of 82 under heavily guarded house arrest. What a nice way to go for such a great guy…

The killing tree. Infants were killed against the tree for fear of revenge later on in life.


There was an odd atmosphere walking around the graves, and in some places still seeing the bones and old clothing of the victims lying around the grounds. Its one thing reading or seeing this sort of stuff in a museum, but when you’re actually there to see the evidence, it’s a whole different experience. A must see if you’re ever in Phnom Penh.

Commemorative stupa holding skulls, clothing and bones.

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