Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cambodia : The Killing Fields, or the Choeung Ek Memorial

On the way to The Killing Fields after Tuol Sleng, as I sat on the moto, I thought to myself that it probably wasn't a very good idea to lump my visit to the two places on the same day.

It might be too much of an experience as after a while in Tuol Sleng I just wanted to get out of the building. Some parts of the displays had me blinking furiously to stop my tears. Yeah, it was 'bad' like that for me :(

Anyway, I am glad I stuck to my plan, as it sort of provided a continuous thread for me to learn of the country's horrifying dark past under Khmer Rouge's regime.

The Killing Fields, about 15 kms from the city, was originally a Chinese cemetery, and the regime used the site as a burial and torture ground for thousands of genocide victims from 1975-79, all in mass graves.

Entrance gate. There was a disfigured man (I assume he's a victim of war or of the regime's cruelty) asking for money near the gate.

This Buddhist stupa was built as a memorial to the genocide victims; completed in 1989 it houses thousands of skulls (8,985?) that were found within the mass graves. The memorial is also intended to remind the younger Khmer generations to never forget their country's tragic history.

From the stupa looking out to the entrance gate.

Incense-sticks and flowers are available for sale to those who wish to pray. Shoes are removed before entering.

Reminders on both sides of the stupa.

These skulls are of juvenile Kampuchean - it seems they're divided into age groups.

A close-up.

Some visitors left mementoes - paper cranes and some other things I can't identify.

The skulls were placed on multiple levels in the 62 metre high stupa - 17 levels I think it was I can't recall now. I was expecting some kind of smell since the glass casings weren't actually sealed (they were more like sliding glass on some parts) but there was none. So you can really have a good look at the skulls.

The lowest level housed the victim's clothing items dug out from the mass graves. The sign says they've been 'cleaned by deodorants in 1988', I think what they meant was that they've been sterilised?

You can see children's and infants' clothes too :(

This was the only colourful thing inside the stupa - I don't know what it is. It was hung on the door handle.

After visiting the stupa I started walking around the compound. The wooden buildings no longer exist, so they have signboards like this to identify certain significant spots or locations.

Broken headstones belonging to the earlier Chinese graves.

Stupa viewed from the compound.

One of the mass graves for 166 victims, found without heads.

Another one, 100 victims.

And another, 450 victims.

Sunken shallow pits are mass graves which have yet to be properly identified.

They look like bunkers on the fairway. Be careful to stay on the footpath.

Because you don't want to be walking over some mass graves.

This is called The Magic Tree.

Why it's named as such is not known, but they hung a loudspeaker on it to drown the sounds of torture and cries from the victims.

This was the saddest spot, I thought. It's called The Killing Tree, where the executioners simply smashed babies against its trunk, and threw the bodies into the mass grave nearby. In the visitor centre, there was a painting depicting this (which I could not get out of my mind afterwards)

A glass case which stored parts of human bones.

Reminder. Again, as in Tuol Sleng, only the guides were heard talking.

After going through the mass graves area, I decided to continue walking along the perimeter. It gave me time to recollect my thoughts.

Later I walked to the visitor centre building to see further displays (pictures and information), as well as sit in for a short video show explaining more about Cambodia and how the The Killing Fields was discovered.

The sun was shining brightly in the midday sky as I left Choeung Ek, too numb to say anything to my moto-driver. Arriving back in the city, (covered with dust) it took me a few hours of rest to get back into the right frame of mind.


  1. I'm speechless :-( I really hope I'll go there someday to see those skulls for myself. I just hope the sights of them wouldn't haunt me for too long.

  2. Sometimes we just have to see these kinds of things with our own eyes :(