Choeung Ek is the most notorious of the Khmer Rouge’s horrific ‘Killing Fields’, around 15km south of Phnom Penh. I visited in mid afternoon, and as I rode there in my tuk-tuk a trickle of others passed me coming from the site, the faces of the tourists inside them set in grim shock, as my own would be a couple of hours later. The centre now is a place of peaceful reflection and memorial to the thousands who were murdered there, as well as over a million (possibly two, or three..) others who were slaughtered by the Khmer Rouge or who died as a result of the conditions imposed by the regime.
The audio tour provided is very good and extremely informative; you could hire a guide if you wish but I wanted to walk around at my own pace. It’s an incredibly moving location and I had to keep my sunglasses on the whole time as I spent most of my visit with tears streaming down my face. The worst bit about it is that it’s not unique, and no matter how often we say ‘never forget’ and ‘never again’, there have been genocides since then and one look at the news will tell you that humans continue to destroy each other in the most unthinkable ways, even as I write this.
The next day, to depress myself even further, I went to the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. I had to catch a bus to Siem Reap later so didn’t have as much time there as I would have wanted, but I got the gist of it. It had been a high school until the KR commandeered it as a detention centre after their capture and forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in 1975. People were taken here and held in grim conditions, frequently tortured, before being transferred to one of the killing field sites such as Choeung Ek (there were only 12 known survivors of the thousands who were detained at Tuol Sleng).
Coincidentally, later that day I saw in the news that two senior Khmer Rouge leaders who had been jailed in 2014 for crimes against humanity, after eventually facing a trial, have lost their appeal.