The killing fields: an experience in black and white.

memorial at the entrance made of some of the skulls of the victims

Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot’s regime)

The Khmer Rouge army, led by the bloodthirsty dictator Pol Pot, invaded Phnom Penh in 1975 and started dragging people out of their homes for no reason other than to fulfill his vision of turning Cambodia into a group of mindless followers. People were ambushed, thinking they were going to work with the Khmer Rouge only to find out that they were led to their peril and buried in what is now known as the killing fields.

Visiting the killing fields was indeed a black and white experience: a place of dark times and horrific massacres that left a deep scar in the heart of all Cambodians and continues to leave a mark in the heart of any person that visits the monument.

The ugly reality  

Walking through the killing fields, between the green trees and sprawling lake that reflected the shining sun, we started to lose perspective of nature’s beauty with every step; the natural beauty and color of the place was tarnished by remnants of the horrific past . The Khmer Rouge Soldiers had turned these natural elements into killing machines, twisting the reality as we know it. They used tree trunks to kill babies, smashing their heads in. They used Palm tree branches as saws to cut the throats of innocents. Passing through each killing spot where people had been dragged and slaughtered, seeing bones, scraps of clothes and teeth scattered everywhere, we became speechless and in tears.

Our heartbeats raced, our palms got sweaty. We couldn’t speak to one other; we were speechless in horror and disbelief. We wandered in silence listening to the audio recorder, to the stories of hell’s survivors.

Survivors’ testimonials

close up showing the cracks on the skulls indicating the method of killing

“They would tell us we are going to work, that my dad had to leave me to go plant the rice fields.

He never came back!”

scarp of clothe of one of the victims of the killing fields in phnom penh

“We knew after a while…we knew when we heard the loud music that they were not just putting it on for our own entertainment. It was a camouflage for the screams and begs of the mothers not to kill their children, it was the screams of the people being slaughtered, of women being raped before getting murdered in front of their children.”

tree turned into a killing machine by the khmer rouge

“They ignored the cries of the babies being smashed against the trees in the most horrendous ways that no normal human being can imagine and they even used the branches of the tree to cut people’s throats “

lake that turned to a mass graveyard of many victims of the killing fields in phnom penh

“The lake still hides a lot of bodies that weren’t removed, in the hopes that they are resting in peace in the calmness of it.”

teeth remains for the many victims of the killing fields phnom penh

“These are the teeth of tortured and murdered people, they have been collected from all over the killing fields.”

first stage of the killing fields in phnom penh

The guards’ house at the entrance, monitoring and receiving people before executing them.

skeleton of one of the victims buried in the killing fields in phnom penh

“We found later on a hut full of chemical substances that used to be scattered over the dead bodies for faster decomposition, so no one would suspect what was happening. It was also a way to make sure people were dead since some of them were buried alive!”

skulls of some of the victims collected and left as a memorial

“Victims were told to kneel down and then they were clubbed on the neck or head with tools such as cart axles, hoes, sticks, wooden clubs or whatever else could serve as a weapon of death in an effort to save bullets.”

bones remains of the many victims of the killing fields in phnom penh

“For years we found bones floating on the surface, after every rain…”

man begging from behind the wires in the killing fields that looks like a ghost

After walking through most of the killing fields, we spotted this man outside the fence. We thought for a second he was a ghost. We were immersed in a distorted reality after everything we had seen and heard.

memorial bracelets left by visitors of the killing fields

A spark of hope, a memory that will hopefully be a lesson to the whole world. These bracelets, left by every visitor, are a memorial symbol for all the people who lost their lives.

With a heavy heart we finished the tour, realising the ugly truth that this was not a horror movie featuring a psychopath serial killer. This was real, a preserved memory for an entire nation. After this experience, we couldn’t help but feel love and respect for the Cambodian people and appreciation for their courage and phoenix-like spirits. After all that happened, smiles light up their faces and love fills their hearts.

I got your backpack

Beatrice and Elie the Lebanese couple who decided to quit their desk jobs and pursue a life on the road. Extreme sports lovers, yoga practitioners, life philosophers, and adventure hunters, they hope to inspire and motivate people throughout their travel stories.

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