From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge, under the leadership of Pol Pot, ruled Cambodia with the intention of turning it into an agrarian state. What they actually did was to kill all intellectuals, doctors, judges and people wearing glasses, over two million in all, and turned vast tracts of the country into almost stone age conditions.
The site of the largest “Killing Field” at Choeung Ek, is one that must be visited if you pass through Phnom Penh. It’s not an easy visit, an ounce of humanity in your soul will mean you are rendered mute at the “Killing Tree,” but in honour of the many millions who suffered and died under the idealogical lunacy of Pol Pot, you MUST visit.
A Tuk Tuk from the centre of PP to the site and back cost $15, and the driver waited patiently for us outside, as it hammered down with rain for at least one full hour of our three hour visit.
But the rain…somehow…didn’t seem to matter to us. It would have seemed churlish to complain.
You are given a handset/audio guide on arrival, and you follow the numbered posts. There are precious few “things” that remain from that time, all was made from wood and so has either fallen down, or was taken by locals after the fall of the Khmer Rouge to rebuild their homes. What remains though, is a sense of chilling savagery.
As you follow the posts you become aware of small, initially insignificant things in the ground. The voice in your ear tells you that “every month the fragments of bone and clothing appearing from the ground are collected, but if you see any, please try not to stand on them.”
These small splodges of colour used to cover people as clothing, or support them as part of their skeleton. Now, after the rains fall and the earth expands and contracts, gruesome reminders of what is only a few feet below the surface are disgorged. Even though the vast majority of “death pits” have been excavated, with the remains being placed in the monument, the ground still holds many terrible secrets.
And then comes the moment that lives with you forever. As a parent, and in fact now a grandparent, it was, and still is, simply impossible for me to reconcile what I was seeing with my eyes and hearing in my ears, with the actions of human beings. The most frightening thing of all is that very few of us would have behaved differently, given the situation they were in.
This tree is now tragically beautiful with its countless colourful adornments in memory of the tiny souls who were murdered here. We must be eternally grateful it has no voice with which to recount its memories.
The visit finishes with entry into the monument, where the first picture comes from. In here, all of the bones recovered from the initial excavations are placed. The skulls are divided into age groups, gender and cause of death.
The site is evil, the visit is a hard one, the journey back in the tuk tuk was silent. But if you are in Phnom Penh, you MUST visit. Lest we forget!