Sad, horrified, and shocked was what I felt during my visit to Choeung Ek Killing Fields. This historical site preserves both a dark and painful history of Cambodian and is a must-visit place on your trip to Phnom Penh.
About Choeung Ek Killing Fields
Choeung Ek is a notorious site where many prisoners from Toul Sleng (S-21) were brought here for execution. This is a mass grave of more than 20,000 victims, many of whom were women and children.
Choeung Ek is just one of the hundred fields across Cambodia. Many graves were never found.
Although the Killing Field is a historical landmark worth visiting, I still want to warn you if you decide to come here because of the horrifying feelings it brings as the event happened only 50 years ago.
How to get to Choeung Ek Killing Field
Killing Fields of Choeung Ek is about 15 km from Phnom Penh city center, through the dust-covered provincial road. On the left is a sign that says “Choeung Ek Genocidal Center.”
You can get there by tuk-tuk, taxi or bus tour. You could even cycle if you’re prepared to brave the traffic (and dust).
For tuk-tuk, I recommend downloading PassApp or Grab to book your tuk-tuk. You can hire a tuk-tuk driver for $15-$20 a day.
For the bus tour, you can enjoy comfortable and hassle-free transportation from your hotel to both the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek. Check more details here.
My visit to Choeung Ek Killing Fields
Although I’ve learned about the Pol Pot Genocide at school, it was very disheartening when I got there.
I bought the entrance tickets along with the radio tour. The radio began to play melodies of sadness, loss, and mourning. A warm voice took me through the small road at the entrance to the marked sites located in Choeung Ek.
Here, I saw the scenes where the Khmer Rouge brought people to, detained, and executed. I saw mass graves, human bones, tools, and torture methods.
I did not dare believe what I heard and witnessed 20,000 corpses buried in a few dozen hectares.
Early on, the victims were shot; later, to save on valuable bullets, they were bludgeoned or stabbed to death, and babies killed by being savagely thrown against trees, as loud music blared in the background.
The Khmer army used the most rudimentary tools, including palm tree branches, to cut victims’ necks to death.
I stood in front of the mass graves, where thousands of bodies were buried together, horrified, and shuddered when I saw human bones protruding from the ground, right at my feet.
The clothes of the victims were still on the ground!
The killing tree
Here, babies were killed by being savagely thrown against trees.
The memorial tower
I also visited the memorial tower, which was built to commemorate the unfortunate victims. This memorial tower contains more than 5,000 skulls of the victims.
Choeung Ek genocide museum
After visiting the memorial tower, I went to the genocide museum.
The museum offers an opportunity to learn about Khmer Rouge history through exhibitions.
The regime also keeps extremely horrible prison records, including photos. Many of these images are on display, showing the faces of the victims of the brutal genocide.
Visiting S-21 and the Killing Fields
Many visitors choose to visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) and Choeung Ek in one trip, either on organized guided tours or independently.
I recommend visiting S21 first, as prisoners were taken from S-21 for execution in the open fields, 12km away. To avoid heat and crowd at Choeung Ek, you can do the opposite.
Regardless of order, visiting both landmarks on the same day offers a deep but distressing understanding of the prisoners’ experience and journey.
More thoughts on Choeung Ek Killing Fields
Choeung Ek is a huge graveyard. It’s so large that people had to build a several dozen meters high tower that could only store a few thousand skulls and bones. The rest forever rest underground.
I believe that any visitor to Phnom Penh should visit Tuol Sleng and Choeng Ek. To better understand the past and the strength of the Khmer people, we can feel love and appreciation for what we have.