Choeung Ek is the best known of the 300 ‘killing fields’ used by the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 to 1979 to slaughter several million of their fellow countrymen. A visit to Choeung Ek is a harrowing experience not suitable for children, but nonetheless, it’s an important historical site preserved to remind the world of the horrors of genocide.
- Cost: $6 USD including audi0 guide
- Opening hours: 07:30 to 17:30
- Travel costs: Around $10 for the return journey by tuk-tuk
About Choeung Ek
When the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh on the 17th April 1975 they set about ‘purifying’ Cambodia of people they felt were odds with Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot’s vision of an agrarian utopia. This meant riding the country of ethnic sub-groups, such as ethnic Vietnamese residents of Cambodia, and anyone with an education, or even a pen or a pair of glasses. Knowledge of a foreign language was also considered a threat to the new Khmer Rouge regime. These various classes of people totalled, according to some estimates, up to 3 million people out of a total population of 8 million. Children and babies were included in Khmer Rouge list of those to be dealt with over a period of nearly 4 years until the Vietnamese invaded, capturing Phnom Penh on the 8th January 1979.
Bearing that figure of up to 3 million people killed by the Khmer Rouge is key to understanding Choeung Ek. Choeung Ek, like the other killing fields in Cambodia, is part of an industrialised process to kill people in large numbers similar in extent and ruthless brutality to the Nazi regime’s final solution to kill Jewish people in their millions. Whilst the Nazis used gas, the Khmer Rouge used far the far cheaper and less technologically advanced method of hitting people over the head with agricultural implements, and then cutting their throats. The 9,000 or so excavated remains at Choeung Ek (out of a total of around 20,000 bodies believed to be buried at the site) bear these types of injuries. Even more harrowing is the method used to kill babies and young children, which was to hold them by their legs and swing their heads into a tree. The bodies of children and babies have been discovered in mass graves next to the tree used for this purpose.
A stupa in memorial to those who died at Choeung Ek was built in 1988. On each side of the stupa are perspex panels allows visitors to see the approximately 5,000 skulls of the victims which are stored inside the stupa. In addition to the remains of the apparatus of genocide, and excavated graves of the victims of this bleak chapter in Cambodian history, is an interesting museum displaying artefacts discovered at the site along with pictures of the perpetrators of the genocide and information about the very few Khmer Rouge murderers who ever went on trial for their crimes against humanity.
Location of Choeung Ek
Choeung Ek is located 12.2 km by road from Phnom Penh Railway Station.