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Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng

The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng show in detail how ugly mankind can be. In fact there are many so called "killing fields" all over the country. The name "killing fields" was used in the movie with that name.

Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh Cambodia Victims in Tuol Sleng
Some of the people killed in Tuol Sleng, many of these people have never been identified

The Killing Fields were a number of sites in Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge communist regime.

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 until 1979 when they changed the name in Democratic Kampuchea (though it was far from "democratic").

Leaders of the Democratic Kampuchea

During these years there were many people murdered, an estimated amount between 1.5 and 3 million people out out of a population of around 7 million.

The Killing Fields movie gives a very accurate view of the Khmer Rouge years.

Many people were executed using hammers, axe handlers, spades or bamboo sticks and then buried in mass graves. The soldiers who committed the executions were mostly young men or women from peasant families.

Killing Fields near Phnom Penh Cambodia
The Killing Fields direct after the Khmer Rouge regime was removed,
photo made inside the The Killing Fields monument

The Killing Fields are nowadays a "must see" in Cambodia. Probably the most impressive Killing Fields can be visited in a day trip from Phnom Penh.

The visit can go together with a visit to Tuol Sleng, the former school in the middle of Phnom Penh also named S21.

Former school building which was converted into a torture camp

Tuol Sleng was in effect the Khmer Rouge slaughterhouse for anyone who was seen as an enemy of the Angkar, the government of Cambodia under the regime.

Few who went in the prison in the Khmer Rouge years came out alive. Former prison staff say as many as 30,000 prisoners were held at S-21 before the Khmer Rouge leadership was forced to leave.

Tuol Sleng Phnom Penh Cambodia

About 6000 photos were found though many were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge in the days before they were forced to leave.

In Tuol Sleng some of the cells are still in the state as if they are just abandoned by the soldiers. Pictures of victims are on the walls, hundreds of frightened faces gives you the creeps. There are drawing of how people were tortured and some of the machines are to be seen. It makes it once and for all clear what the human race is capable to.

Cell of a prisoner
Photo of a cell during the Kampuchea years, photo from inside the museum.

In the years of the Khmer Rouge most of Phnom Penh was abandoned. In fact, there were no more then about 20.000 people living in the capital in those days. Most people were deported to the country side (which is portrayed in the Killing Fields movie) for re-education.

If you visit the National Museum after Tuol Sleng, you get the opposite of the human race to see. Here you can see some of the finest Asian artworks to see, many come from Angkor. The contrast could not be greater.

Killing Fields monument
The "skull" monument at the Killing Fields

Anyone who wants to understand something of modern Cambodia has to visit Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields.

It will be a lifetime experience that will make clear how much the Cambodia people have suffered in the recent past.

When looking at photos as above, many people think of German or Japanese concentration camps. The Cambodian mid 70's history is mostly forgotten except by those who were involved.

The Killing Fields are yet another expression of how ugly recent human history is. I wish it was different. If you go to Cambodia, please visit and pay respect to the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. Apart of some of the German concentration camps I have never seen anything so horrific as the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng. Visit both in the memory of those who died.

Angkor/Siem Reap
Phnom Penh
Angkor -> Laos & Phnom Penh
General Cambodia

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Angkor is one of the most famous complexes in Asia and not for nothing. Even in the state as it is, it shows the magnificence of the Khmer culture. One can only wonder what the place must have looked like in its prime!



more Angkor photos

Old Khmer capitals entrance