About Choeung Ek Killing Fields
Choeung Ek in Cambodia is a former orchard which served a sinister purpose during the reign of the Khmer Rouge: it became known as The Killing Fields, and it is estimated that over 17,000 men, women and children were killed and buried at the Choeung Ek Killing Fields.
History of Choeung Ek Killing Fields
Located around 17 kilometres south of the Phnom Penh city centre, Choeung Ek was used as a ‘re-education camp’ by the Khmer Rouge, the communist party which ruled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. Over 1.7 million people were murdered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge over the course of the time they were in power: the regime carried out a campaign of mass genocide against anyone suspected of belonging to several categories of supposed enemies.
Prisoners were held and tortured at the S-21 prison, before being transported to the former longan orchard. Approximately 17,000 people are believed to have been killed and buried at Choeung Ek. In 1980, the remains of over 9,000 people were exhumed from a mass grave – many of their remains (including 8000 skulls) form the centrepiece of the memorial site at Choeung Ek, in the form of a Memorial Stupa,
Many of the graves remain untouched out of respect, but fragments of bone, teeth and bloodied cloth can be seen on the site. 9 May is marked with a memorial ceremony every year at the stupa where Khmer Rouge survivors and their relatives, officials and Cambodians come to pay their respects and remember what happened.
Choeung Ek Killing Fields today
There’s no denying a visit to Choeung Ek is bleak: the extremely informative and often harrowing audio tour is well worth listening to, although it’s worth thinking about the appropriateness of the material for children and younger teenagers. There’s a particularly grim account by an ex guard and executioner at Choeung Ek. The site is a memorial, so dress and act respectfully – particularly avoid taking photos of the human remains on display if possible.
The small on site museum focuses on the wider history of the Khmer Rouge and attempts to bring them to justice later. It’s worth spending time here prior to visiting if you don’t already know some of Cambodia’s wider history.
Getting to Choeung Ek Killing Fields
The site is helpfully well signposted – it’s about 10km south of central Phnom Penh. The journey should take about half an hour by taxi (and slightly longer by moto-taxi) – most taxis will do a round-trip over half a day for about $10, although you might have to bargain with them. Some shuttle buses, including the Hop On Hop Off tour, operate routes to and from Choeung Ek.