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Visiting The Killing Fields In Cambodia

Posted by Abbey Krzymowski on 5/26/21 12:43 PM

ILP Asia

Did you know there's a place in Asia eerily similar to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp in Europe? The site has been respectfully conserved so that you can visit today and learn for yourself what happened during the horrific events of the 1970's. 

Cambodia is the country of your travel and adventure dreams. You can visit Angkor Wat (an incredible World Wonder), immerse yourself in local culture while exploring Siem Reap, or enjoy a day at a waterfall. Many of the locals (especially those working in the tourism industry) speak English, making it easy to explore. Plus, it is not entirely saturated by tourism or even modernized like many other locations which allows you to see a part of the world that you've most likely never seen before. 

Wanting to spend a semester in Asia as more than a tourist?
Learn About Volunteering As An English Teacher In Thailand

But even with its stunning waterfalls and amazing ruins, there are devastating events in Cambodia that actually happened not that long ago. The Cambodian Genocide occurred in 1975-1979, which may have even been in your parents' lifetime. While visiting any country, it will make your experience so much richer to learn about its history. This particular piece of history had a major, devastating impact on Cambodians. And just outside of Phnom Pehn sits a memorial site where you can learn more. But before you go pay your respects at the mass graves, we highly recommend understanding the events. 

What Happened?

To make a long story very short, Pol Pot was the military leader during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, who authorized the murder of 1/3 of Cambodians in just four years. Can you even wrap your brain around that? One third of the country. Essentially anyone that he felt deemed a threat to his position was killed. This included teachers, doctors, and business owners, even those who wore glasses. Anyone who spoke a foreign language or held a passport was murdered. Anyone with soft hands was murdered. Anyone who wouldn't do the killing was killed.
There wasn't much distinction between who should be killed and who should be spared — if there was any question, they were killed. Pol Pot taught and believed that it was "better to kill an innocent by mistake than to spare an enemy by mistake." That was his philosophy.

What Are The Killing Fields?

It is estimated that 2.5 million Cambodians were mass murdered and buried here in a short 3-year period. Today you can visit the location and walk the grounds where everything happened. You'll learn about the events as you tour the area and hear personal stories from some who escaped. It is a life-changing experience, to say the least.

Similar to the concentration camps in Europe that you're probably already familiar with, the people brought to this area were not aware that they were there to be killed. Because the victims were buried so recently in shallow graves, pieces of bone still wash up to ground level when the rains come. Even now, workers continue to periodically clean up the bones from those who have passed on throughout the paths that you'll walk as you explore the area. 


Where Is It?

The Killing Fields are located about 9 miles south of Phnom Pehn, Cambodia in a place called Choeung Ek. These fields were once an orchard, and then a Chinese cemetery, before being turned into the Killing Fields by the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot. There are similar mass graves throughout the country, but this spot was the largest, most horrific, and therefore the most famous.  

How Do I Get There?

Wanting to spend a few days in Cambodia? There are some things about getting a Cambodian visa that you should definitely know as you're planning your trip. Read through this blog post

Fly Into Phnom Pehn

The nearest city is also the capital of the country. Luckily Phnom Pehn has an international airport and a fairly straightforward visa process making it easier to travel here from other countries.

If you're coming from Thailand, we have tips for booking flights from Bangkok, check out this blog post

Once You Arrive In Phnom Pehn

Booking a driver in Phnom Pehn is pretty easy, or you can visit the Killing Fields through a service. This Hop-On-Hop-Off Shuttle will pick you up, take you to the Killing Fields, the Genocide Museum (Prison S21), and bring you back for a total of $15 USD. The tours of these spots are self-guided so entrance fees are not included, but will only cost you about $8 total. Here's another one that includes a tour guide but the $23 you'll pay also doesn't include the entrance fees. 

You can also arrange a trip with a tuk tuk driver to drop you off, wait, and bring you back, but honestly the prices really vary depending on who you ask. Some say $10 for a return trip, but others have said $20+ so it just depends on your bargaining skills and your tuk tuk driver. Don't forget you need to tip too.

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Ticket Info

Bring small currency to pay for entrance fees. At Prison S21, you'll want $5 for the entrance fee and $3 for the audio tour. At the Killing Fields, you'll want $3 for the entrance fee and $3 for the audio tour. Their prices are all in USD, and in Cambodia they do accept US cash!

What Should I Expect?

Most tours are a half day, so keep that in mind when organizing your day. You'll likely either do a morning trip or an afternoon, and plan for around 4-5 hours in total, including transportation.

As you can imagine, this is a very heavy experience. You can purchase an audio guide when you arrive and they'll provide you with headphones. We highly recommend getting that. As you walk the grounds, you can hear what is significant along the way, and it's a great way to become informed, but also be able to go at your own pace.

And as always, remember to be respectful and understand you're touring a memorial site. You can do that by being quiet if you need to have a conservation, and by dressing conservatively. 

Interested in learning more about volunteering in Asia
and visiting places like the Killing Fields?

International Language Programs organizes experiences for American volunteers to live abroad for a semester and learn about new cultures, site-see, and help children learn English. Cambodia is one of those beautiful countries that our volunteers love to see.

Click that button to leave your info and we'll be in touch. Our ILP representatives have all volunteered abroad before, so they can answer any questions you have and love talking about their experiences. 

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Topics: Asia

Hey friends!

We are ILP, a Utah-based non-profit org that has service abroad opportunities for college-age volunteers. We love travel so we're sharing all our tips for making the most of your time living abroad + seeing the world, and how to do it all on the tiniest budget.

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