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Posted by on Mar 28, 2012 in Asia, Cambodia, Explore

Cambodia’s Horrific Past: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum & the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh

Cambodia’s Horrific Past: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum & the Killing Fields of Phnom Penh

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

During the Khmer Rouge regime’s rule of the country from 1975 to 1979; overly 1 Million people were tortured and murdered. The number of dead increases to between 1.7 to 2.5 Million when taking into consideration deaths resulting from diseases and starvation during the Pol Pot’s reign and the Khmer rule. The population of Cambodia was only 8 Million. That is 1 in 4 lives lost.

Suspicion of connections with the former government or with foreign governments, being a professional or an intellectual, or simply being of another Asian ethnicity were all reasons individuals were arrested and executed by the Khmer Rouge.

choeung ek killing fields

My friend Jeannie and I spent the day visiting both the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, The Killing Fields, and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

tuol sleng genocide museum

Visiting these two sights is difficult. It is hard to stand there knowing about the sad history of torture, suffering, and death. Thinking all the lives lost in these locations and knowing that the torturers killed or would be killed. Nearing the end of the genocide, murder only increased, and most of those who were killers were also killed. It is a sad reality when a country kills itself and its innocents. Children were not spared.

tuol sleng genocide museum

The buildings at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum are preserved as they were left in 1979 at the end to the Khmer Rouge rule. Tuol Sleng ironically translates to “hill of the poison tree.” To workers assigned by the Khmer Rouge to the Tuol Sleng neighborhood, S-21 was known simply as konlaenh choul min dael chenh – “the place where people go in but never come out.”

Choeung Ek was in essence a burial ground for those arrested and tortured at the Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison in Phnom Penh. Most victims were shipped from S-21 the fifteen kilometres South of the capital at night by truck, blindfolded, and some were even made to dig their own graves before they were bludgeoned to death. The Khmer Rouge refused to “waste” precious ammunition on the victims. It is a terrible history to hear through audio guide.

tuol sleng genocide museum

Choeng Ek’s grassy fields mark the site of the ‘Genocidal Center’. You can walk around the fields and fiew the mass graves. The site is littered with human bones, teeth, and cloths which surface during strong rains.

The majority of the bones and skulls were excavated and put into the Buddest Memorial Stupa, built to commemorate the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives lost. The Stupa houses  the remains of 9000 victims, unearthed in 89 separate graves discovered at the site. The skulls are divided by age group and bones are separated into body part.

These locations serve as a grim reminder of the past and an opportunity to learn about significant historic events and how a country moved forward from them.

I learned a lot on this day. I will not forget.


    • I agree. They were kind. It was hard to see the people physically affected by the war on the streets begging. I wish there was more of a system in place to aid them. It’s a lot to demand and perhaps a foreigners outlook on the situation. But everything else is moving forward and the country is incredibly resilient.


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