Cambodia 2014: Choeung Ek Killing Fields, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

The nationwide genocide by the ruling Khmer Rouge in the late 1970’s is still fresh in the annals of Cambodia. Scott and I visited a couple of memorial sites while we were in Phnom Penh.

The Choeung Ek Killing Fields was the site of a mass grave, where prisoners of S21 would be transported to for execution. The site also used to be a Chinese cemetary, so we’d see a few burial mounds that weren’t part of the mass graves. Scott and I shared an audio guide, since he happened to have his earphones with him. I ended up with the headphones that came with it, although I’d have preferred to use my own too- those headphone weren’t the most comfortable, especially since the tour lasted for about two hours (ow my earsss). The audio tour also included quite a number of extra excerpts, so I was glad that Scott and I were on the same page all the time. It did make walking a bit of voting process between the both of us.
This stupa was the first thing we saw upon entering the site, housing the skulls of the victims. Visitors were required to remove their shoes before entering.
Skulls and skull fragments of the victims at the stupa.
We stopped by the museum before leaving the site, where we saw a few displays explaining the various torture and execution methods through the skull fractures.
Biographies of the victims on display in the museum.
Photograph of one of the mass graves when it was uncovered.
The illustration depicting how this tree was used was just… I thought the dark patch on the tree trunk slightly above the head level was a little odd, and wondered if that was blood, until I saw the illustration in which a prison guard swung an infant by its feet to bash its head at what I think was that very same spot. Also, these colourful bracelets are everywhere, signs of people leaving something in memory for the tragedy that happened here. Scott also noted that the small stone on top of this sign was a jewish practice for the dead.
We ventured down this peaceful path that not many people seemed to walk through. It was so idyllic, with the foliage and nature seeming to shield us from the aftermath of the horrors that occurred on the other side of those trees. Chickens roam freely in the site too; we saw a few cute chicks following their mother to forage for food along this path.
More commonly known as S21, the high-school-turned-prison-camp Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum gave new meaning to the opinion on a school being, well, a prison. It got close to home when I climbed up the stairs with Scott to the second level and was hit with a sudden wave of nostalgia at the style of the stairway, reminding me of my days in primary school.
The modified school grounds was a depressing sight – every classroom empty save for a metal bedframe or three, the ends of each corridors affixed with metal gates, the stains and dereliction which permeates the present, a leftover from the rape of what such an institution embodied.
Every prisoner was required to have their portrait taken while sitting in the contraption in the photo on the extreme left. In the foreground were all the childrens who had the misfortune of being family to whomever the Khmer Rouge wanted eliminated. It was a sobering day.