The Killing Fields, Their Resting Place

After visiting the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, we headed to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. It is only one of the 300 killing fields discovered in Cambodia. The genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge disposed their victims in mass graves.

After about minutes from Toul Sleng Museum by tuktuk, dirt roads led us to a rather peaceful area of Choeung Ek. It was surprising that a few kilometers from the city, typical rural surroundings replaced the urban elements of Phnom Penh–water hyacinth farms, wooden houses on stilts, rows of palm trees and coconut trees, ricefields, small stores of fruits and vegetables, school children walking, women doing laundry outdoors and elderly on their hammocks. I like views like this; it provides the opportunity to reflect while watching the daily lives of the local people. But what’s interesting is the stark contrast of Cambodian life in terms of lifestyle and infrastructure development considering the short distance we traveled. (This is one of the observations I noted in my post “Phnom Penh at a Glance“.)

An eerie feeling engulfed me as soon as we entered the Killing Fields. The surroundings were peaceful yet the silence of that place was painful. The strangeness of the place was interrupted by the ticketing office and the man who provided us with audio guides. After all, this is now a tourist destination meant to educate visitors about the Khmer Rouge and how they committed genocide in this country.

The Memorial Stupa

The Memorial Stupa

The remains of those who were killed in this place

The remains of those who were killed in this place displayed inside the stupa

It is important to visit the Toul Sleng Museum and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields at the same day in order to understand better how the Khmer Rouge killed their victims. Prisoners from Toul Sleng were transported by trucks to Choeung Ek to be executed. Before, the Khmer Rouge soldiers killed and disposed their victims near Toul Sleng but when the putrid smell of decaying bodies turned intolerable, they decided to move their killing fields and mass graves farther from the prison.

This place used to be a Chinese cemetery

This place used to be a Chinese cemetery

A mass grave

A mass grave

Victims knelt around these pits before they were hit on the head and kicked into their final resting place

Victims knelt around these pits before they were hit on the head and kicked into their final resting place.

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Mass graves were protected to prevent visitors from walking on it.

There were several stops where the method of execution was described in the audio guide. Realizing that this was the same short journey the victims took before they were sent to the graves, sometimes still alive, with hundreds of other people including children, was haunting. The small buildings and shacks that used to stand there for administrative and security purposes proved how systematic was the execution done by the Khmer Rouge. 

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The sharp leaves of this tree was used to cut off the necks of the victims. The Khmer Rouge saved their bullets and did not want to use it to kill their victims so the people oftentimes suffered before their lives were ended.

The sharp leaves of this tree abundant in Cambodia was used to cut off the necks of the victims. The Khmer Rouge saved their bullets and did not want to use it to kill their victims so the people oftentimes suffered before their lives were ended.

This is called the magic tree. Khmer Rouge soldiers hang loudspeakers from this tree playing revolutionary songs to muffle the screams and cries of their victims in order to calm those who are waiting for their turn. But the people already knew that when the music started playing, the killing did too.

This is called the magic tree. Khmer Rouge soldiers hung loudspeakers from this tree playing revolutionary songs to muffle the screams and cries of their victims. But the people already knew that when the music started playing, the killing did too.

Even after nearly 3 decades, remains were still there on the grounds. After the excavation of this place, these evidences were preserved. Sometimes, especially after a heavy rain, small bone fragments and teeth still emerge from the wet soil.

A tooth

A tooth

Bones

Bones

Clothes

Clothes

Visitors pay their respects to the victims by offering Buddhist bracelets tied on bamboo poles, trees, and altar. It’s the least thing we could do for the thousands of lives now resting in this place.

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I listened to the stories of the survivors from the audio guide. They shared how they witnessed the Khmer Rouge killing their families, how they escaped and survived hunger and torture. There was also a recording of the confession of Duch, the Prison Director. I walked around the small lake as I painfully listen to these stories while imagining how a certain group of people had turned this peaceful resting place for the dead into a bloody ground for massacres. I couldn’t. The activities of the Khmer Rouge during their 4-year reign surely made a dent into the history of Cambodia–a dent that needs to be filled in by justice.

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We stopped by the museum located before the exit. Photos and clothes of the victims and weapons and uniforms of the Khmer Rouge were displayed there.

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Museum

Found during the excavation of the killing fields

Found during the excavation of the killing fields. The shirt at the right side is the size of small girl.

Uniforms of the Khmer Rouge. People were forced to wear the same clothes to eliminate social division.

Uniforms of the Khmer Rouge. People were forced to wear the same clothes to eliminate social division.

As I approach the exit, my audio guide played the music the victims heard before they were executed. Until now, I’m lost for words to honestly describe how I felt at that moment. The trip to the Toul Sleng Museum and the Choeung Ek killing fields was the most depressing but enlightening part of my 3-week field research here in Phnom Penh.

Killing Fields-24 Killing Fields-27I want to end this post by requesting you a moment of silence to remember or pray for the victims of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and for justice to be served to them and their families.

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2 thoughts on “The Killing Fields, Their Resting Place

  1. The killing tree was (and still is) the most horrific of all the horrible things I learned during my visit to the killing fields. Thanks for sharing.

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