It’s something every visitor to Cambodia must do. It isn’t easy and you come away from it feeling numbed, shocked and shaking your head in disbelief. You wonder how any group of people could cause the death of approximately two million of their own people! Pol Pot and his murderous Khmer Rouge regime controlled all of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.
The population of Cambodia, then known as Kampuchea, was only 8 million at that time, meaning the Khmer Rouge wiped out up to a quarter of their population. That’s like killing 5 million Australians. Unbelievable! The deaths were caused by murder, disease, malnutrition, neglect and mistreatment.
A visit to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, the best known of the many killing fields in Cambodia, is highly recommended. They have set up a brilliant audio tour for visitors. You are lent an audio player with a set of ear-phones. As you stroll around the grounds, you are given a great insight into what happened. All of the important aspects are explained by a survivor from the time. You simply press the corresponding number on your player as you walk around and there are lots of benches and shaded areas where you can sit and contemplate.
Among the most moving commentaries are several personal accounts from survivors: a woman who lost an infant, a witness to a killing, a rape victim, and an inspiring account from one guy who was determined to survive . The final stop in the tour takes you to the memorial ‘stupor’ where hundreds of skulls and other bones are on display. Gruesome stuff.
It’s a harrowing tour and one that brought tears to my eyes. To be in a place where so many were killed reminded me a lot of my visit to Hitler’s extermination centre at Dachau many years ago. How any human could possibly take the life of another has always escaped me. And what are the ongoing effects on Cambodia? Anyone over the age of 31 must be permanently effected. As well as the dead there are the maimed and those harmed psychologically. Every Cambodian family bears the scars of this period.
Another stark reminder are the two beggars, both missing one leg, standing outside the entrance with caps held out. Both are victims of Cambodia’s land-mines, many of which still remain.
If you would like to see/read more about this horrible part of Cambodia’s history, visit their website at the following link: