For four years, the people of Cambodia lived through an absolute nightmare – hell even.
Between the time period of 1975 – 1979, an estimated 1 to 3 million people were killed; murdered at the hands of the leader of the Khmer Rouge whose name will send shivers down the spine of anyone who knows of his wrong doings.
Pol Pot exterminated and devastated the lives of so many people during his attempt to turn Cambodia into a peasant-run agricultural state.
His quest was to transform the country into a self-sufficient state that was free of any foreign domination or influences.
The Khmer Rouge killed absolutely anyone that they believed was a threat to their overall goal.
Educated and intelligent people were brutally murdered, those who spoke a different language were exterminated, innocent women and children were slaughtered.
Not one single person in Cambodia was untouched by the genocide that resulted in a QUARTER of the entire country’s population been wiped out as a result of forced labor, disease, starvation and execution.
The Khmer Rouge forced hundreds of thousands of people out into the countryside where they would be made dig their own mass graves.
It’s here that the soldiers forced their victims to kneel down in front of a pit with their hands tied behind their backs.
Some were stabbed, others had their throats slit, and some had their skulls cracked open by the force of a blunt weapon.
Others were buried alive.
These mass graves are now referred to as The Killing Fields.
We recently visited the village of Choeung Ek, this is a small village outside of Phnom Penh where the best known example of the Killing Fields can be found.
It’s here that approximately 8,895 bodies were discovered and exhumed in 1980. Today, the site is a memorial and educational center that contains a total of 129 communal graves, 43 of which have been left untouched.
The admission fee of $6 into the Killing Fields includes an excellent audio tour that is available in several different languages.
I thought an audio tour was very apt and fitting, as everyone just wanders around deep in their own thoughts; there’s no tour guides waving flags in the air or shouting in an attempt to be heard by their whole group.
The audio information is both informative and chilling to say the least.
It includes stories from those who survived the Khmer Rouge, and also a disturbing account from a Choeung Ek guard and executioner who was responsible for the senseless and brutal murders of thousands of men, women and children.
Visitors to the Killing Fields will see fragments of human bones and teeth scattered around the pits, a memorial Stupa that houses over 8,000 human skulls, a tree that soldiers used to beat babies heads against; all of which are stark reminders of just how cruel and evil human kind can be.
The day at the Killing Fields was difficult and somewhat distressing, it was hard to comprehend the torture and absolute terror that these victims must have felt and witnessed.
Some people don’t see the logic in visiting such places as the Killing Fields, they say “why would you want to go there and see those things?”
I think it’s important to visit sites such as these as it recognises the victims that were killed there, while giving visitors an insight into the history and people of that country that they are in.
We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to these atrocities that happened in the past. We should recognise them for what they were, and hopefully learn from them to ensure that horrific and harrowing massacres like these don’t happen again in the future.
It’s absolutely astonishing to think that every person over the age of 40 in Cambodia has lived through the Khmer Rouges reign of terror; some were injured while others lost their entire families.
As it’s so recent, the trauma they lived through in those years is still very raw and evidence of it can be seen throughout the country.
If you’re in Cambodia, a visit to the Killing Fields is essential.
Yes, it is difficult to hear and see what went on, but it’s a must if you want to get a true insight in to the history of Cambodia. Once you’ve done this, you’ll have a greater understanding of the country that it is today.
How To Get There:
The Killing Fields at Choeung Ek are situated approximately 17kms south of Phnom Penh. The best way to get there is to take a tuk tuk from the city center.
The driver will take you to the S-21 Prison and then on to the Killing Fields. There is no time limit in either of these places as your tuk tuk driver will be happy to wait for you, the price is usually between $15-$20.
Have you been to the Killing Fields? How did you feel about your visit?