For such a vibrant and happy place, Cambodia has a terribly dark recent history. I was only in Cambodia for two days, prioritising S21, the Killing Fields, and Angkor Wat Temples and what interested me more than the 900 year old history at the UNESCO Heritage site, Angkor Wat; was the sheer disbelief I had when I discovered that the gruesome and horrifying past of Cambodia only happened 40 years ago.
The Khmer Rouge was one of history’s most horrific regimes. Over a brutal four-year period in the late 1970s, they killed a quarter of Cambodia’s population, under the dictation of Pol Pot’s; in a mission to create an agricultural society. People of Cambodia were sent to work in labour camps; the regime turned a once ordinary high school, into something which is more unhumane than we could imagine. During time in harsh labour camp, Cambodian’s had their food rationed, with led to many citizens dying for starvation; whilst others were tortured and killed.
It is believed that 1.7 million Cambodian’s lost their lives during this time.
Tuol Sleng (S21) Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek genocidal centre are two of those former prisons, which now stand as a remembrance location in Phnom Penh. It was here that prisoners were sent after their arrest, interrogated, tortured and forced to live in tiny brick cells.
Up to 20,000 inmates pass through these doors, most of them were sent to Choeung Ek and excuted.
Throughout each room of the musuem, black and white portraits line the walls. Men, women and children all suffered here, and the Khmer Rouge kept detailed records of each prisoner, which is also displayed throughout.
I recommend hiring a guide to gain a direct insight into some of the stories behind the photographs. You can also read the stories of Chum Mey and Vann Nath, two prisoners who survived Tuol Sleng through their skills, and the two men can often be found in the courtyard talking to visitors.
It may seem like the Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre is subject to dark tourism, but it is important to learn and know the history; not just from our home countries, but all around the world.
S21 MUSEUM – THE DETAILS
Cost | £5 GBP includes audio guide tour. A guided tour £5 GBP
Opening hours | 7am – 5.30pm
Location | St 113, Phnom Penh