CHOEUNG EK MEMORIAL (THE KILLING FIELDS)
Most Phnom Penh residents were delighted to greet the communist soldiers (the Red Khmers, better known as the Khmer Rouge), on April 17, 1975 when they entered the capital. They were happy and excited that the civil war was finally over. Their happiness was short lived. From 1975 until 1979 when Vietnam forces entered Cambodia and ended the Khmer Rouge reign, the dictator Pol Pot, supported by mainly poor peasants that comprised the Red Khmers forces, killed over 2 million people through execution, starvation, forced labor, and disease. That constituted 25 percent of Cambodian population at the time.
The Killing Fields are a memorial site where many mass graves were found when the regime fell. Many prisoners were transferred from Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh to these fields for their final execution, so in a way, it may make sense to start your tour at the Tuol Sleng Museum before going to the killing fields. The ticket to enter this memorial is $6 with a very good audio guide, $3 without it. We recommend taking the audio guide as it will provide a lot of useful information about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, as well as this site. The memorial is about 16 kilometers /10 miles away from Phnom Penh, so for $16 we booked a tuk-tuk for four persons to take as there and back, and then to the Tuol Sleng Museum and the National Museum.
It is surreal at times walking along what seems like a peaceful park, and listening to what one human being can do to another. Two stories really stuck with us- seeing a tree on which babies' heads were smashed before being thrown into a pit with their parents, and the horrible revolutionary music that played to cover the screams of the prisoners, which was the last thing the prisoners heard while being slaughter by the guards in their revolutionary zeal.
The actual memorial to the victims is a glass tower filled with skulls and other bones from victims who were buried here in mass graves. It is well labeled by gender and the age group. The skull tower memorial reminded us a lot of the Skull Tower in Nis, Serbia where the Ottoman Turks built a tower from the skulls of Serbian soldiers who rebelled against the Turks in 1808, as a warning to any potential future rebel.
The saddest part of the visit was realizing that this is not the only place where such horrible crimes happened- just remember the Holocaust. On one hand it became really hard being an optimist when it comes to the future of the human race. On the other hand, the visit served as a good reminder that we all only this one life to live, and that we should enjoy every minute of it.