• Mark

The Killing Fields

Every visit to Cambodia requires one to look at its history, to reflect about the very recent rule of the the Khmer Rouge, and to take in how they destroyed a generation, a country, millions of lives, and on a somewhat smaller note the city that was once dubbed the "Pearl of Asia".


Cambodia can be a nice quiet vacation, a chance to see Ankor Wat and some temple ruins and move on, but I don't see (understand) how that could be done without visiting its darker side. There is so much history here, so much sorrow, and so much about what happened that really needs to be absorbed and contemplated. It boggles the mind, Tina and I hold long conversations about how it happened, how it could happen again, how it had previously happened in the past. One can quickly swirl into a mindset of despair thinking about Cambodia's history, and to follow that up we booked a trip out to the killing fields, a tourist site, a memorial, a site of mourning and reflection.

Choeung Ek Stupa to remember those killed

Ten years ago we were in Phnom Penh, and we did all of the sites except the National Museum and the Killing Fields. The fields are a distance out of town, so this time we booked a private car, the A/C in the ride is nice and we think it would be a little too far for a tuk-tuk, but a lot of people get there that way. We got to the site, paid the entry fee and were surprised that it included an audio guide. An audio guide is something we normally skip - but this one is worth it. It has 18 base stories, maybe another 10 extra, each one amazing and interesting, sad, heartbreaking, and yet still showing a resilience that the Cambodians are proving to have in their dramatic recovery from this time in their history.

There's benches to sit and just listen and reflect on what transpired, it's chilling somewhat to just see other groups of people all walking around slowly through the site obviously listening and somewhat oblivious to one another. Yeah, it is a moving place. Not a lot to the site, but a lot happened and they document it well.

These pits that've sunk as bodies decay, reminded us of WW1 bomb craters

This time we only went to the fields, most tour guides and visitors book them as a package tour with the S21 "Tuol Sleng" museum, but we visited only the killing fields as we had seen the other previously. The S21 is a must do, the memories of that museum, and a movie about it that we purchased here, are more then enough - it's not something you are going to forget. If you've got a few days in Phnom Penh, I'd suggest spacing the S21 and Killing Fields out a day or two - it's a lot of the worst of humanity packaged in a tight bundle. We skipped the Killing Fields last time because I was cheap and didn't want to pay a tuk-tuk driver $3 USD, it might have been an accidental blessing - we said we would come back, we just didn't expect it to take us ten years. Do both, that's my take away, just don't do them back to back if you can help it.


We came back from our tour and got into another one of those "what if" conversations, there's so many one-offs that lead to the Khmer Rouge coming to power, it's hard to not try and contemplate. To get out of our funk we walked over to the central market to take a look at how the original main marketplace was still running. It's busy, chaotic, and if you're looking for clothing or jewelry the place for you.


Cambodia can be a quite vacation, a chance to see Angkor Wat and some temple ruins and move on, but I don't see (understand) how that could be done without visiting its darker side. There is so much history here, so much sorrow, and so much about what happened that really needs to be absorbed and contemplated. It boggles the mind, Tina and I hold long conversations about how it happened, how it could happen again, how it had previously happened in the past. One can quickly swirl into a mindset of despair thinking about Cambodia's history, and to follow that up we booked a trip out to the killing fields, a tourist site, a memorial, a site of mourning and reflection.

The pricing great, and the way to point out how you wanted your streak done something every restaurant needs....

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