*This post will be upsetting to most readers because it describes a place where atrocities were committed. None of it should have happened but history continues to be repeated.
After an emotional morning at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, our trip through Cambodian history continued to The Killing Fields. I was a bit apprehensive but with Kate by my side, I took a deep breath and walked through the gates. At the end of a flower-lined path is a tall, Buddhist Stupa- a memorial to the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. This regal structure holds the skull of 5,000 Cambodians- a small fraction of the 1 million people who were killed on this site.
I expected this site to have the same heaviness as Tuol Sleng but I felt a difference here. The site is thoughtfully ‘curated’. The Killing Fields were not left alone to testify to history- the memorial tower surrounded by bright flowers and shady trees lets you know; what happened in this place will not be forgotten. No one lost here will be forgotten.
The most exceptional piece of the experience is the audio tour where people tell their own stories about Choeung Ek in their own voices. This doesn’t make the experience less sad but I was grateful not to be left with my own thoughts.
The audio narrates each numbered stop along a path that meanders through the site.
The thatched roof (pictured above) shelters the area where a mass grave of children was found.
I left a friendship bracelet on the bamboo fence pictured below.
After 1979, graves were emptied and the bodies reburied but due to the quantity of graves, not all were able to be excavated.
Even 40 years later- bones, teeth and pieces of clothing continue to work their way up out of the ground after a heavy rain.
After a few hours, it was time to head the 11 miles back to our Phnom Penh hostel.
The road work and traffic slowed our pace but Kate & I weren’t in the mood for cheery traveler banter. We shared a ride with a couple who had purchased a touching book called, “First They Killed My Father.” (You can purchase it on Amazon.)
This book offers a look into the privileged life of a government official’s family in 1975 – when the Khmer Rouge evacuate Cambodia’s capital city. I read out loud for an hour- everyone was mesmerized by the story and I didn’t stop reading until our Tuk-Tuk pulled up outside the hostel. Read a bit for yourself:
There is so much more to say about this day, but I will leave you with this happy glimpse into 1975.
I had to give my post a warning too. It’s pretty dark stuff and by the end of the day it leaves you with heavy thoughts. What did you think of the book?