Whilst in Phnom Penh we paid a visit to Choeung Ek prison in which thousands of Cambodians (and 7 foreigners) were tortured and killed.
This prison used to be a high school, but when the Khmer Rouge took over in 1975 it was converted into a prison to house those who defied the regime. From the moment you set foot in Choeung Ek you feel shivers down your spine as you explore the eerie buildings, there are even some blood stains remaining on the floor.
The first building you approach is where the last dead prisoners were found when the regime fell, and on display are the metal beds they were chained to and a picture on the wall showing the state they were in when they were found.
A film is shown daily (building D, 10am and 3pm) detailing the atrocities that took place, told by survivors of the regime including a security guard, and a prisoner at Choeung Ek that managed to use his skills as an artist to keep him alive.
The killing fields
We also visited the genocide centre (aptly named ‘the killing fields’) which is located approx. 17km from the centre of Phnom Penh. This is where the prisoners in Choeung Ek were taken to be killed.
As we drove in our auto rickshaw to the fields from the prison I thought about what would have been going through the prisoners minds, tied up and blind folded in the back of a truck making the same journey. As they were loaded onto the truck the prisoners were told they were going to a new house, rather than making their final journey to their grave – this was to ensure they did not cause a commotion or raise suspicion of what was going on behind the gates of the ‘killing fields’.
Today the killing field’s feel like a very pleasant, relaxing place – there are trees, a lake and birds singing, however during the Khmer Rouge rule these fields saw the worst atrocities you could dream of.
Men and women were led blind folded and asked to kneel next to their grave where they were beaten to death (in order to save precious bullets) then pushed into their graves. Sometimes they weren’t even dead, just badly beaten, and the Khmer Rouge used DDT (a chemical substance) to kill them and to mask the smell.
Babies and children were not even spared; the Khmer Rouge had a saying which condoned their killing so that they did not come back for revenge when they were older. There is a tree that stands next to a grave full of children and babies that the Khmer Rouge used to beat them to death, then they just tossed their bodies in the grave. It is beyond belief that a human can do something so cruel to a defenceless baby.
The 8,000 skulls that were found when the fields were discovered have been excavated and placed in a tall memorial located near the entrance. At the entrance you can also get an audio guide to the fields (included in the ticket price) which is very informative and interesting.
Although it may seem a rather gruesome day out, it is a worthwhile experience and good opportunity to learn about Cambodia’s past.