Asia · Attractions & Activities

S21 and the Killing Fields, Phnom Penh

After visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps in Poland earlier in the year I was intrigued and interested to visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, S21 (Security Office 21) prison and the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh Cambodia in November. Our hostel was located a short walk from the S21 prison in the city of Phnom Penh. We bought the ticket from the office we were surprised there was an audio tour available in the museum however you can hire a guide, which wait outside the museum to give you a guided tour. We decided not to take a guided tour as we didn’t have a lot of time however there was a lot of reading material within the museum.

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, is the location of the S21 Prison, used by the Khmer Rouge to detain and torture victims. Before the building was used as a prison it was actually a high school. It is quite haunting to think of the victims of the Khmer Rouge which only took place under 40 years ago. To this day you can still see blood stains on the walls of the rooms within the prison. Each prisoner that passed through the prison was photographed alive as well as dead. It was really interesting as well as heart wrenching to read the stories of some of the victims which are still alive to this day. Signage within the museum explains numerous stories of victims from there life before the Khmer Rouge, whilst in prison as well as afterwards including speaking at trial against the Khmer Rouge. We took about an hour to walk around the museum and read the information, it was really interesting and quite similar to Auschwitz. I understand that all of the buildings in S21 are still the original buildings and haven’t been replicated like Auschwitz, which took away the authenticity at Auschwitz. Whilst visiting the museum there were also two former prisoners there telling there stories to visitors which was really fascinating to listen to their first hand memories whilst sitting in a place that bought them so much torture.

After spending an hour at the museum we found a tuk tuk driver to take us to The Killing Fields which was about 45 minutes drive away. The drive took us though rural Phnom Penh and we witnessed the everyday life of Cambodians. When we arrived at the The Killing Fields there must have been 50 or more tuk tuk drivers all waiting and toting for business. We bought our tickets and also got a audio tour. We began the audio tour which gave detailed information about the whole area of The Killing Fields from where the victims arrived in trucks then to the building they were held in as well as where they met there death. It was harrowing to see bones coming up from the ground where victims had obviously been tortured to death. There was also a tree used to beat children with, were you can still see visible blood. We ended our visit by entering the commemorate stupa which display the bones and skulls of hundreds of victims. Each skull is labelled with a coloured sticker to show how they died. There was also a very small museum onsite with a film showing every 30 minutes however we didn’t have time to watch the video.  

 It was fascinating finding out about Cambodian history and as well as there culture which is still visible in 21st century life today. Dark tourism is definitely apparent at this murder site as there was a souvenir shop on site to take away memories from your visit to the mass graves of thousands.

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