The first thing people said to me after I told them I would be travelling to Phnom Penh was that I had to visit the Killing Fields. My response: a concerned look followed by a mumbled, “I’m not so sure I want to visit somewhere so sad on my holidays”. Most people followed up by telling me that, despite it being difficult, the whole experience was exceptionally well-done and moving. After getting a similar response from so many other travelers, I knew that I should stop Googling “should I visit the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh?” and just experience it for myself.
If you’re asking yourself “should I visit the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh?”, the answer is a simple yes.
Before I actually went to the Killing Fields, I wanted to educate myself about what actually happened in Cambodia between 1975 – 1979. What I gathered was that the Khmer Rouge came into power (and were SOMEHOW accepted by the UN) after the Cambodian Civil War and replaced the “military dictatorship of the Khmer Republic”. They saw educated citizens as a threat, and (to make a sickeningly unfortunate and long story short) thus began the Cambodian genocide. (More information here).
After paying the entrance fee, I was given an audio guide (they have them in a variety of languages) and was told to press 1 when I was ready to begin the tour. I really appreciated that I could go at my own pace with the audio guide; if I wanted to pause between sections, replay a section, or listen to an additional audio excerpt, I could.
The tour began and ended at the Choeung Ek Monument, which was the only structure standing throughout the Killing Fieldsbecause all of the other former buildings were torn down by angry and upset locals after the killings stopped in 1980. It’s eerily real, authentic, and chilling as you continue to walk around the site, led by your audio guide. I found it really difficult to put in words what I felt during this experience, so just trust me when I say that it is well worth your time to visit the Killing Fields.
What to expect at the Choeung Ek Killing Fields
- Expect your heart to break a little.
- Expect to spend a lot longer inside than you may have anticipated.
- Expect to be absolutely shocked and disgusted when you realize this happened LESS THAN 40 YEARS AGO.
- Expect to be touched by the desperately sad but beautifully true stories you hear.
- Expect and accept the fact that you will cry.
- Expect to appreciate how thoughtfully and carefully this site was put together to enlighten and educate visitors.
- Expect to be speechless.
- Expect to be guided through mass graves, the “killing tree” (the most difficult part of the tour for me), empty land where buildings once were, various bones, and ripped clothing of the victims.
- Expect to feel off for a few hours after you leave.
Getting to the Killing Fields & Entry Fee
While many hotels can offer a taxi or tuk tuk to the killing fields, your best bet is to flag down a tuk tuk yourself. I paid about US$10 for a tuk tuk to take me there, wait for me to tour around, and then take me back to my hotel. The entrance fee for the Killing Fields was US$6.
Click here to learn more about what happened in Cambodia between 1975 – 1979.