Dark tourism is defined as an individual traveling to places that was historically associated with death and tragedy. I love history and personally want to feel the emotional impact of a tragedy to get an understanding at what happened, why it happened, prevention and a reminder of how cruel humans can be.
I hired a personal driver from my hotel, The Katari for $15.00 USD who drove me 30 minutes outside the city to the fields. Once we arrived a young girl around the age of 6 years old came up to my window and began begging for money. My driver immediately became enraged and yelled at the little girl to get away. He told me that parents encourage their children to beg tourists for money instead of being in school, a sad reality of poverty.
To get into The Killing Fields, you pay a small fee of $5.00 USD and can get headphones in multiple languages including English. It is a self guided walking tour with 18 stops. You learn the history of each stop, and have time to explore. You are greeted with this beautiful building in front of you but it is not the first stop of the tour as you walk to the right of it.
The Killings Fields is an area where close to 2 million people or roughly 25% of Cambodia’s population was killed and buried by the Khmer Rouge regime during 1975 to 1979. After taking power The Khmer Rouge’s main mission was to revamp Cambodian Society turning it into an agrarian economy focused primarily on massive increases in rice production. Cambodia was transferred into a rural, classless society in which there was no rich, no poor, and no exploitation.
To accomplish this, the Khmer Rouge abolished money, free markets, schooling, religious practices, private properties, and foreign clothing styles. All public schools, pagodas, mosques, hospitals, universities and government buildings were shut down or turned into prisons, stables or granaries. They believed many citizens had been influenced by outside ideas and executed people they saw as educated or not “pure” including doctors, lawyers, police, military and anyone who wore glasses because they were deemed “smart”.
Inside the above building visitors will find biographies and a headshot picture of the victims that was taken before they were killed. You see pictures of famous artists & movie stars who fell victim to the regime. Typical men and women’s uniforms hang on the walls to give you a visual of what victims are forced to wear. You learn about the Khmer Rouge regime and how they came to power, held captive, tortured, killed and forced their own people into manual labor.
When it rains there are still bones and articles of clothing that will come up from under the ground. The most memorable article of clothing I saw was purple shorts that belonged to a small child a few years old.
There is some tranquility in the air.
When coming to the last stop of the tour, you are brought to the beautiful Stupa seen at the entrance. When you walk up to the building you are instructed to take your shoes off as a sign of respect. Behind the curtains are 17 stories of human heads uncovered at the Killing Fields.
Each skull has a colored dot on it letting you know how the person was potentially killed. Some had been shot, beaten or hit with foreign objects.
The Khmer Rouge was taken out of power by Vietnam forces in 1979. Cambodia approached the United Nations to conduct a trial for the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge in 1997. Since 1999, The Government of Cambodia has worked with the UN for the prosecution of crimes committed and in June 2007 the Khmer Rouge Trail became fully operational. The trial has received criticism for spending nearly $300 million dollars over 11 years and only having three convictions.
The leader of the Khmer Regime, Pol Pot died under house arrest in 1998. There were three senior leaders who were arrested and tried in court, all receiving life in prison. At trial one of the leaders named Duch admitted that he ran the Khmer Rouge’s notorious S-21 Prison and apologized for the crimes against humanity, accepting blame for the extermination of 15,000 people who passed through the regime’s main prison, Tuol Sleng. Duch faced charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture and premeditated murder for his role in the regime.