When most people think of a trip to Cambodia, they think of a beautiful tropical landscape with verdant rice paddies and ancient Buddhist temples. But Cambodia also has a startlingly dark past. Underneath the sparkling green jungle and behind the tourist attractions of Angkor Wat and the Bokor National Park, Cambodia bore witness to a deeply violent event. From 1970 until the early 1990s, the Khmer Rouge army, under the orders of dictator Pol Pot, plunged the country into a catastrophic civil war that left more than 2 million civilians dead, as well as famine and destruction of nearly all the country’s industry.
Many of the victims of the Khmer Rouge were buried in shallow, mass graves. These sites have been turned into memorials for the victims, and are now known as the Killing Fields. They are open to the public and serve as valuable ways to remember the past.
How to get there
The most famous memorial site is located in the village of Choeung Ek. Here you can visit the Buddhist memorial and also the museum, which provides historical information about the Khmer Rouge. It is 17 kilometers outside of the capital, Phnom Penh, and can be easily reached by taxi or mototaxi.
Why you should visit
Visiting the Killing Fields is a powerful experience. They stand as a reminder of what we as humans are capable of doing to other humans, and also of what we as a species are able to overcome. The Killing Fields stand as a memorial not just to those who died, but also to a dark and dangerous time in a remote corner of the world. It is important for all of us to be aware of the horrors of the past so that we do not repeat them in the future.
When visiting the Killing Fields, it is not uncommon to find bones and scraps of clothing in the dirt. Visitors are asked to notify a guide if they find bones or teeth. In the park, you should also maintain a calm demeanor and not disturb other visitors.In addition, this conflict left Cambodia’s economy completely devastated. Even today, many of the country’s residents subsist on less than 1 USD per day. While Cambodia is a popular destination with those who like to travel on the cheap, you should try to donate some money to a reputable local organisation that is working to rebuild the country, or make sure to tip for good service. While this may seem like a drag, it will only cost you a little bit more. If you need to, you can raise a bit of extra money by selling electronics on musicMagpie or by budgeting more carefully before your departure date. Though Cambodia is showing signs of recovery, it is important to have respect for its past so that the country can build its future.