The brutality of the killing fields (not for the squeamish)

Bone fragments, teeth and pieces of fabric litter the ground next to a gnarled and knotted tree against which babies and small children had their bodies pulverised until limp.

Here lies the remains of more than 100 women and children, but a fraction of the more than 17,000 Cambodians that met an equally bloody end in Choeung Ek’s killing fields.

All were victims of Pol Pot’s cruel and bloody Khmer Rouge regime.

The killing tree at Choeung Ek, CambodiaLocated 15km southeast of Phnom Penh, the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre was once a peaceful orchard and Chinese graveyard. Today it’s one of Cambodia’s best-known killing fields.

Between 1975 and 1979 Choeung Ek saw an estimated 20,000 prisoners murdered and dumped in approximately 129 mass graves.

Due to its relative proximity, many of the victims were prisoners of the infamous S-21 detention center, now the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide Crimes, where victims were often imprisoned and tortured for months beforehand.

Meanwhile, many members of the Khmer Rouge were also killed here. Murdered and dumped in mass graves just like everybody else.

A mass grave at Choeung Ek, one of Cambodia's best-known killing fields.This could very well be the most haunted place in the world. Like a hellish nightmare, human remains and clothing keep rising to the surface.

To visit the site is to be bludgeoned by the horrific tragedy that unfolded here.

Men, women and children were all savagely beaten to death to save on bullets; most were blind-folded with their hands tied behind their back.

Entire families were murdered so that no-one would be left to seek revenge. Women and children were stripped naked before execution and members of the Khmer Rouge were beheaded to serve as an example to their former comrades.

Rags and remains litter the ground at the killing fields of Choeung Ek.Invading Vietnamese troops were shocked to discover the site in 1979. Soon after, they set about exhuming the mass graves, preserving the remains and storing them in a memorial pavilion.

Nowadays visitors can view more than 5,000 human skulls and other body parts inside a 17-story Buddhist memorial stupa in the centre of the Choeung Ek grounds.

The audio guide – $5US including entry fee into the grounds – features first-hand stories from Khmer guards, survivors and former prisoners. They paint a grim but detailed picture of the atrocities that were committed here.

More than 5000 skulls rest inside the Buddhist stupa at Choeung Ek.A visit to the killing fields is an essential experience for anyone travelling to Cambodia. Tense, shocking and incredibly vivid, this is an experience that will remain with you long after you leave. And so it should.

We must never forget the heinous atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. We must remember those unfortunate souls who lost their lives here, learn from the mistakes of the past and make sure nothing like this ever happens again.

May the victims of Choeung Ek’s killing fields finally rest in peace.


About Simon Petersen 505 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.


  1. Thanks for the post on this, Simon. You wrote about it beautifully. Visiting the Killing Fields and S-21 prison was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Listening to the stories on the audio guide by survivors really brought it all together. I wrote pages and pages about it in my travel journal but have yet to re-write them as a blog post.

    • Honestly, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to write about. You can’t help but feel so much empathy for these poor, poor people, that it’s hard to put anything into words. I’m sure you’ll find the same thing when you go back to write about it for your blog.

    • True words, my friend. It was a brutal experience visiting the Killing Fields – but I’m glad I did for that very reason!

  2. It is sad and emotional when you get to see photos of the Khmer Rouge regime. But trying to learn and advocate against cruelty through blogs like yours is truly inspirational. 🙂

    • Thanks mate – it’s the hardest blog post I’ve ever had to write! I agonised over it, whether to gloss over horrid details like “the killing tree” or to describe the place how it is. I went with the latter, obviously.

  3. Some real messed up stuff went on here..

    The book “when broken glass floats” is a true story of a family who were present during it. An amazing book if you get the chance to read it. Good post!

    • Love that title – I’ll check it out! I must say that I knew very little about the Khmer Rouge and the atrocities they inflicted on Cambodia, but what I saw that day really opened my eyes

  4. I have had been here and what a sad day it was for me since I choose to be here on Christmas day itself, to gather myself again and rediscover my own humanity. I have written a blog post about this and my experience.

    I cried very hard when I was here since hours earlier, I was at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Center.

    Great post and I love the narratives you had.

    • I hear you my friend. It took me hours to recover and get the horror of the killing fields out of my head. Of course, writing this blog post brought it all back. Thanks for the comment.

  5. You have really captured the experience of the visit well here. It is a lasting, impression you are left with, and so important for more and more people to understand what went on.

    • Thanks Tash. It’s one of the more difficult experiences I’ve ever had to write about. I wanted,needed, to get across the horror of the atrocities that were committed there. And I really had no idea how bad it was until I went and saw the results for myself.

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