see + do
Cambodian Genocide Museum and Killing Fields, Phnom Penh
Choeung Ek Commune, Dangkor District
Tel: 855 23 355 371
Street 113 and Street 350
Tel: 855 23 300 698
Concierge.com's insider take:
This pair of Phnom Penh sites, Tuol Sleng prison and Choeung Ek killing field, vividly commemorate the abuses and the victims of the nightmarish 1975–79 regime of the Khmer Rouge, during which an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians—20 percent of the population—were executed or perished from disease or famine. At Tuol Sleng, the Khmer Rouge converted a former high school in the south-central suburbs into an interrogation and torture center. Of its estimated 17,000 prisoners, only a dozen were spared death; one of the survivors, artist Vann Nath, chronicled the horrific electrocutions and waterboarding sessions in graphic paintings now displayed at the museum. More haunting are the black-and-white mug shots taken of each prisoner, including young children; doomed detainees gaze at the camera with looks of fear, fatalism, anger, and even nervous grins. After "confessing," they were trucked 10 miles south of the city to an old fruit orchard in rural Choeung Ek commune, beaten to death with hoes (bullets were considered too expensive), and buried in mass graves. Eighty-six of the site's 129 death pits have been unearthed, and the bones of their 8,985 victims are now housed in a vaulted, glass-sided charnel house. The wooded grounds are oddly tranquil—until you learn the executioners smashed babies against the trunk of a flame-of-the-forest tree. Troubling, yet unforgettable, the site is marred by a tacky gift shop selling the usual tourist-oriented bric-a-brac as well as banned wildlife items like tiger teeth. The two sites can easily be toured in a half-day; it's best to visit Choeung Ek first, in the cool of morning.—Christopher Cox
Choeung Ek open daily 8 am to 5 pm.
Tuol Sleng open daily 7 am to 5:30 pm.