Choeung Ek Killing Fields
One of the most popular locations to visiting in Phnom Penh is Choeung Ek Killing Fields. Sadly, this is the location of one of the most horrible atrocities that the world has ever seen. It is that history that is drawing people to the location, much like many go to Auschwitz when they visit Poland. The sad inhumanity that was displayed makes for a place where people need to see the location and walk its grounds to understand the magnitude of the horrific events that have occurred there.
Cheung Ek Killing Fields was once a large orchard where fruits were grown, however, once the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975 it was changed forever. This former orchard became the location of the largest mass grave in the history of Cambodia. More than one-million people were executed by the government during this time, and many of those who were tortured and killed found their bodies being dumped in the Cheung Ek Killing Fields.
The Khmer Rouge fell in 1979 but, after a new government took over, they began the process of unearthing these mass graves. Nearly 9,000 bodies were discovered, many of which were political prisoners who had been housed at the Toul Sleng Detention Center.
What You Will Find There Today
Today, there is a large monument at the Cheung Ek Killing Fields which commemorates those who lost their lives during this period of unbridled atrocities. There is a large Buddhist Stupa that is present when you first arrive. The stupa is made of glass, and houses over 5,000 skulls of the victims that were found in the graves. During the day the encasement is opened so that tourists and visitors can actually see the skulls up close.
You can also walk right along the mass graves and still see bones that have been discovered. The pits have human bones lining them that are visible to tourists, which you should be made aware of. This is not a site for the weak of stomach. This is something that the Cambodian Government wants people to remember what happened here, and they want to leave an indelible mark on visitors. In fact, the government strongly encourages visitors to Phnom Penh to visit the site.
In 2005, the government announced a 30-year agreement with JC Royal Co to continue to develop memorials in the area.
What You Should Know
As mentioned before, this is not a site for people that are squeamish. This is real history on display and can be quite unsettling for some.
You should also be aware that you must dress appropriately when attending the Cheung Ek Killing Fields. They do not allow men to wear shorts or tank tops, and women cannot wear short skirts, shorts, or provocative clothes. This is an area that they expect reverence from visitors, and so you should be respectful of this place.
For those who would like to learn more about the events here, there is a movie entitled The Killing Fields which presents a dramatized version of the events here.