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Cambodia Remembers: A Day at the Killing Fields

Skulls1 Cambodia Remembers: A Day at the Killing Fields

Piles of skulls from the thousands of victims buried at The Killing Fields

Ten miles outside of Phnom Penh lies Choeng Ek, also known as the Killing Fields. Today it’s a memorial commemorating the suffering and lives lost under the Khmer Rouge. Yesterday, it was the place where men, women and children were brought by the truckload before being executed and dumped in mass graves in the ground.

Mass Cambodia Remembers: A Day at the Killing Fields

A sign marks the spot of a mass grave of 450 victims

I was overcome with such emotion walking the grassy fields of a place where the bodies of thousands of victims lay. A sign marks the spot where the truck arrived, full of blindfolded prisoners. A sign marks the spot where more than 450 bodies were found in a mass grave. No sign is needed to mark the spot where piles of children’s clothing were found. The miniature t-shirts and pants tell the story.

Tree Cambodia Remembers: A Day at the Killing Fields

The 'Killing Tree,' against which babies' skulls were crushed

One memory that I can’t get out of my mind is the site of the ‘killing tree,’ against which young babies were swung and skulls smashed. They were then dumped in the hole in the ground that stands before it.

Pagoda Cambodia Remembers: A Day at the Killing Fields

A Buddhist pagoda houses thousands of bones of the victims

They’ve built a Buddhist pagoda at the center of the memorial to house the thousands of skulls uncovered here. Most of the skulls have a crack down the middle or dents in the side. Prison guards rarely wasted a bullet on these prisoners and often beat them to death instead.

Children Cambodia Remembers: A Day at the Killing Fields

Curious Cambodian children peak through the fences of The Killing Fields

We walked in silence around the perimeter of the grounds, lined with a wire fence and children begging for small change. Just feet away from us lied the unearthed mass graves of countless others. I began to wonder where was the talk of this genocide in my history lessons? Why don’t more Americans know more about what went on here – that three million people died in Cambodia and the United States, in a roundabout way, was involved in the crisis that lead to the Khmer Rouge takeover? Why hasn’t more been done to bring the perpetrators to justice? Many still walk freely. Only now are some finally being prosecuted for their horrific crimes against humanity.

I couldn’t help but leave The Killing Fields silent, solemn and deeply-affected by images that will stay with me forever.

If you’ve been inspired like I have been, I can’t recommend enough reading the memoir First They Killed My Father and watching the film The Killing Fields.

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Comments (2)

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  1. roundwego says:

    @Matt – Thanks for the heartfelt comment. Cambodia left a mark on us. It’s hard to put into words what we experienced there but hope the photos do a bit to capture the moments. We appreciate the continued support and enthusiasm on our travels! Hope to fully connect soon.

  2. Matt says:

    Your commentary during yours and Ryan’s adventure has been consistently insightful. The honest reflections about the conflicting awe inspiring beauty, history, struggle, and tragedy of the places you have travelled to have been a pleasure to read and makes us feel almost as though we’ve gotten to debrief with you (at least a little bit). Looking forward to hearing more online and live eventually.
    Matt