The road from Phnom Penh to the Killing Fields: a normal road with the regular traffic chaos, roadside shops and little foodstalls. But driving towards the Fields I found myself starting to feel uncomfortable.
It is extremely weird to realize that only very recently Cambodia suffered from a murderous regime. On the list of 20th century horrors, Cambodia ranks high.
Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime subjected Cambodia to become the realization of his communist dream: a purely agrarian-based society. He controlled how Cambodians acted, what they wore and who they talked to. Anyone with the slightest sign of intellect was seen as a threat to him. Being a doctor, a teacher or just someone wearing glasses was enough to be suspected as a traitor. And being killed… Between 1 and 2 million Cambodian people during this terrible regime.
After 40 minutes (15km) your TukTuk will turn left and you will soon arrive at the Killing Fields site. A site you have surely heard or read about.
We were a bit nervous. Is the story of the Killing Fields not too horrifying for our kids? Are they old enough to handle this?
You buy your tickets. Everything still looks normal: TukTuks waiting for customers and little shops selling the much needed bottles of water and cans of Coca-Cola. Maybe some Pringles for along the way?
All changes when you switch on the audio guide and start listening to the explanation and the dreadful stories of survivors. Welcome to the Killing Fields….
Walking around the Fields
All visitors of the Killing Fields are silent. It is a meaningful silence. A silence showing respect to the tens of thousands of people who have lost their lives here.
Visitors are provided with an audio guide (available in many languages, even in Dutch) containing explanations of the various parts of the Killing Fields: the truck stop, the storage of weapons, the office of the executioners and the cruel mass graves.
The guide also offers stories told by survivors: how trucks with exhausted, innocent people arrived in the middle of the night or how families were separated to never see each other again. It even contains an example of the music that was played to hide the screams of dying people.
I look around to watch people. How in the world could ordinary people transform into monsters that kill people in a blink of the eye?
This is a story that needs to be told and I encourage you to scroll down and look at the pictures.
One of the many mass graves. In total more than 20,000 Cambodians were killed at this particular Killing Field called Choeung Ek. Choeung Ek is one of more than 300 killing fields found throughout Cambodia….
Bracelets left to pay respect to the people who died at the Fields.
After heavy rains, human bones and victim’s clothes are still unearthed.
The audio guide not only explains about the Fields, but also offers stories of survivors and even confessions by the chief of the Killing Fields, Duch.
One of the most terrifying places. In order to save on bullets axes, knives and bamboo sticks were used to hack people to death. Little children and babies were smashed against a tree. This tree.
People that were brought to the Fields in trucks were taken to pits that were dug in the grounds. After being brutally murdered the bodies were thrown in the pits, one on top of the other…
Inside the Memorial Stupa you can find thousands of skulls that were taken from the mass graves. The origami cranes are the symbol of peace. Let’s never forget.
The sight of all these skulls in a glass shrine is almost surreal.
Should you visit with kids?
You have to make your own decision. Children from the age of 9 or 10 can very well handle difficult parts of our worlds history, although not every child is the same. Our son was quite impressed, where during the week after our visit he continued asking questions about Pol Pot and his regime (“Why could this man have ever gained power??”).
One important remark. The audio guide does contain horrific parts where it is explained how people (including children and babies) were being killed. Consider to agree with your kids that you start the audio guide 2 minutes before they do. Whenever you hear a story unsuitable for your kids, you can still take action.
How to get to the Killing Fields?
Every TukTuk driver in Phnom Penh can bring you to the Killing Fields. They will wait for you and bring you back to the city. The visit will take you at least two hours.