***WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT***
In 1975 Pol Pot, a Cambodian national who dreamed of a utopian peasant society, brought his politics to a boiling point. He and his communist party, the Khmer Rouge, took control of Cambodia and went after intellectuals, killing doctors, scientists, students and anyone who disagreed with his vision of a communist Cambodia. Cut-off from the media, the outside world had no idea of the extent the Khmer Rouge’s quest for total submission had gone to until it was too late.
During Pol Pot’s four-year rule (1975-1979), records show at least 1.5 of 7-8 million Cambodians were killed under his command. Many historians say the body count is much higher as more bones resurface every year after heavy monsoon rains wash away the dirt. Most prisoners had no clue why they were being arrested and when they didn’t follow the rules (shown below) or admit to treason, the torture began. Some were held for days and weeks, until they confessed to things they didn’t do in hopes of reprieve. Once confessions were gained, they were shipped off to the killing fields.
The most infamous detention center from the reign of the Khmer Rouge was called S-21 where locals say only 7 of over 20,000 prisoners lived to tell of the horrors. S-21 was a high school-turned-prison. The security center got its code name from S for Santebal, the Khmer word meaning “state security organization” and 21 for the walky-talky number of former prison chief Nath. Today it remains as a tourist attraction where travellers can see the terrible fate that fell on Cambodia during those 4 years.
Some may think it’s morbid to want to visit a place like this but I believe that if you want to understand a country and its culture, you need to know where they come from. A people can be most appreciated when you can see their darkness and their light.
All S-21 tours offer a trip to the S-21 detention center and then out to one of the many killing fields where the bodies of Cambodia’s finest minds were murdered and dumped into mass graves.
If you have read this far you can see that this is not your average tour. It’s horribly sad and quite frankly, physically sickening. The gravity you feel walking through these buildings and fields is thick with sorrow but gives birth to a new perspective and respect for a nation that is so emotionally scarred. If you’re spending a few days in the capital city of Phnom Penh I highly recommend this somber historical tour.
~Bus fee with hotel pick-up and drop-off = $15USD
~Entrance fee to S-21 = $6USD ($3 entrance + $3 English audio guide)
~Entrance fee to the killing fields = $6USD ($3 entrance + $3 English audio guide)