Day 6: Phnom Penh – Killing Fields of Choeung Ek & Tuol Sleng Museum (S21)

A night’s rest at Hometown Hotel have given me a new energy for the next adventure ahead. But need to take our breakfast first at the Homeland Guest House. Then, off we go!

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This time, it’s a tour around Cambodia’s Killing Fields and S21. I’ve heard from my british friend that this is a must see place in Phnom Penh. It’s such an eye opener on how blessed are we that we don’t need to endure the pain that they had. I just hope that no one will ever have to face this again.

The Cambodian Killing Fields – 3 years-8 months-20 days

On April 17, 1975, Phnom Penh fell under the control of the Khmer Rouge, the communist guerilla group led by Pol Pot. They forced all city residents into the countryside and to labor camps. During the three years, eight months, and 20 days of Pol Pot’s rule, Cambodia faced its darkest days, an estimated 2 million Cambodians or 30% of the country’s population died by starvation, torture or execution. Almost every Cambodian family has lost at least one relative during this most gruesome holocaust.

Pol Pot declared ‘Year Zero’ when Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. He immediately directed a ruthless program to “purify” Cambodian society of capitalism, Western culture, religion and all foreign influences. He wanted to create Cambodia into an isolated and totally self-sufficient Maoist agrarian state. Anyone who opposed were killed. Foreigners were expelled, embassies closed, and the currency abolished. Markets, schools, newspapers, religious practices and private property were forbidden. Members of the Lon Nol government, public servants, police, military officers, teachers, ethnic Vietnamese, Christian clergy, Muslim leaders, members of the Cham Muslim minority, members of the middle-class and the educated were identified and executed.

The country’s entire population was forced to relocate to the agricultural labor camps, the so-called “killing fields”. Inmates lived in primitive conditions. Families were separated. Buddhist monks were not allowed to practice their religion and were forced into labor brigades. Former city residents were subjected to unending political indoctrination and brainwashing. Children were encouraged to spy on adults, including their parents.

An estimated 1.5 – 3 million worked or starved to death, died of disease or exposure, or were executed for committing crimes. Crimes punishable by death include not working hard enough, complaining about living conditions, collecting or stealing food for personal consumption, wearing jewelry, engaging in sexual relations, grieving over the loss of relatives or friends and expressing religious sentiments.

On January 7, 1979, Vietnamese invaded and freed the Cambodian people from Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. 600,000 Cambodians fled to Thai border refugee camps. Fearful to return back to Cambodia, many Cambodians had no choice but to emigrate to the United States, France, or Australia. (source:

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Facing death: S-21 prison

S-21 was a high school when Pol Pot turned it into an important secret prison operated in Phnom Penh from mid-1975 through the end of 1978. Kaing Khek Iev (also known as Duch) was the governor of the Tuol Sleng detention center. Those that were brought to S-21 were those inside the Khmer Rouge, and thought to have betrayed the movement The families of offenders were often brought to the prison as well in order to keep the deaths of their loved one from being avenged.

Almost all of the prisoners had worked in the armed forces, factories, or administration. Upon arrival at S-21, the prisoners were photographed, tortured until they confessed to whatever crimes their captors charged them with, and then executed in Choeung Ek or the Killing Fields.

The prisoners’ photographs and completed confessions formed dossiers that were submitted to Khmer Rouge authorities as proof that the “traitors” had been eliminated. This precise record keeping resembled that of the Nazis and the Jewish Holocaust.Of the approximately 20,000 people who were imprisoned at S-21, there were only seven known survivors. At least 20 other similar centers operated throughout the country. Today, S-21 prison is now the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, a reminder to the world of Cambodia’s darkest days. (source:

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After this heartbreaking half-day tour, we need to pack our things and  cross the border to Vietnam. This will be the last leg of our Indochina tour. Good thing, we have a wonderful bus – free snack and free wifi.

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2 thoughts on “Day 6: Phnom Penh – Killing Fields of Choeung Ek & Tuol Sleng Museum (S21)

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