To many people, travel usually means just seeing the most joyful things the city has to offer whilst ignoring the bad – and to be honest, most tourism boards around the world also does that, which is why the trip to Cambodia stuck with me similar the visit to Hiroshima, in particular it was the visit to Choeung Ek – better known as The Killing Fields.
Located about 17km away from the center of the city, the significance of this place is that is it a former orchard and mass grave of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime lead by Pol Pot, the communist leader who rose to power during the 1970s and whose party killed over 1 million of its own people during the peak of its power between 1975 to 1979.
When you first arrive at the site, the tranquility that is currently there along with the near perfect weather when we were there does not prepare you for the horrible history of this site.
One thing I would recommend highly to all visitors is to please rent one of the audioguides they offer – you wouldn’t expect this but unlike governments who want to cover up their past, the Cambodian government recognises this is part of their history and have gone to considerable lengths to educate tourists of this past – and the audioguide is actually really good.
The site is split into 2 sections, one of the actual mass graves where almost 9,000 bodies have been discovered, and one which talks about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime, my suggestion is to visit the information center first before the killing fields to give you some more context.
When you’re finished with the brief history – you should follow the guide and visit the killing fields and the mass grave sites – the place is a very solemn area and frankly there where I cried because of the thought of the innocent victims – the site is dotted with various grave sits that reminds how far some people would go to gain power and to hold onto it.
At the center of the site is the memorial tower, which also houses a lot of the victims bones and skulls; and a spot for people to pray for these victims.
Travel shouldn’t be only about spending money and buying things, and whilst food has always been important on my list – it has never taken precedent over the chance to learn about the city’s history and learn about the mistakes people have made in the past – it is through this knowledge and awareness that we remind ourselves not to go down the same path – and it is due to this that Cambodia has become very memorable to me.