Phnom Penh, Cambodia: The Killing Fields

Dear Lunch Table,

There’s a Killing Tree at the Killing Fields. The tree is stained with blood. Babies were smashed against this tree until they died. I really don’t know what else to say . . . babies were smashed against a tree until they died.

Perhaps one of the worst genocides in the history of our world occurred in Cambodia during the 1970’s. Three million people, nearly half of Cambodia’s population, were killed in less than four years. Pol-Pot, a communist leader, and his followers, the Khmer Rouge, are responsible for these deaths.

S21, once a high school, was converted into a prison. The playground was transformed into a torture chamber. The classrooms transfigured into cells. Death conversed through the hallways. Prisoners – and by prisoners I mean Cambodian children, grandmothers, brothers, and daughters – were tortured until they falsely admitted to being traitors. Once the prisoners confessed, they were loaded onto trucks and shipped off to the Killing Fields.

Today, there are a lot of happy, smiling people in Cambodia. I watched schoolchildren laugh with one another. I saw friends mingling over meals. I loved the energy in Phnom Penh, but I couldn’t help wonder what the atmosphere would be like if three million more Cambodians were roaming the streets.

Genocides never go away. Today in the Killing Fields, smashed skulls and bloody clothing still bubble up to the surface, barely visible under dirt and footsteps. But the remnants of genocide is there, staring into the souls of the living.

What is it going to be like in Syria thirty years from now? Are they going to be smiling? Are they going to be missing half of their population too?

I miss you guys,


Interesting Fact: The Khmer Rouge reigned from 1975 to 1979. Due to their actions, in 2009 70% of Cambodians were under the age of 30.

Things Worth Seeing:

1)   S21 – Once a high school, then a prison/torture chamber, and now a museum, S21 provides the facts about what happened during Pol-Pot’s reign. Be prepared for feeling quite emotional, but the tears are worth it. I definitely recommend a guide for this museum.

2)  Killing Fields – With audio guides playing, many people were walking around in a somber state (myself included). I still have a pit in my stomach after seeing the Killing Tree, but the Killing Fields is definitely a place to visit. You will never be able to ignore a genocide.

3) FRiENDS the Restaurant – This is a training restaurant run by former street youth and their teachers. They serve delicious food, and the atmosphere contains a lot of positive energy.

Things I Didn’t Care For:

1)   National Museum – I didn’t really care for the National Museum very much. If you have a lot of time in Phnom Penh it’s worth visiting, but otherwise I thought S21 and the Killing Fields were more informative about the history of Cambodia.

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About KJ

I, KJ Davidson-Turner, have willingly given up the trauma and drama of Junior year and my lovely friends at the lunch table (I'm going to miss you guys!) to travel to unknown areas of the world and experience the cultures of these unfamiliar places.

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