The Killing Fields are considered one of the main places to visit and learn about the terrible history of Phnom Penh and Cambodia. This spot doesn't look like much at first glance, but as the audio tour slowly unfolds, it reveals the horrors that occurred on this small piece of land, not that long ago. Responsible for mass genocide and murder of 25% of the people of Cambodia between the years of 1975 and 1979, at which point they were expelled from the country by the Vietnamese, the Khmer Rouge somehow kept it's seat in the UN until 1993! An offshoot of the Vietnam People's Army from North Vietnam and led by Pol Pot, it was a communist party that believed in agricultural reform and extreme self-sufficiency, which led to widespread famine and uncountable preventable deaths. Everyone who was not a farmer or laborer was considered unsuited for the ideal way of life and, along with anyone who spoke out against the regime, was cruelly tortured and murdered, along with their entire family and friends. The stupa that stands in the middle of the complex now houses the many sculls and bones found on the premises to give the victims spirits some peace and to ensure that future generations never forget the atrocities that happened there.
The museum that stands in town and continues this story was originally a school, but was taken over by the Khmer Rouge and the classrooms were turned into prison cells instead. Gallows were constructed in the field where children once played and horror stories are told of the tortures conducted here.
There is also a bomb museum in town that talks about the carpet bombing by the US as well as the millions of mines buried throughout the country, many of which still have not been unearthed, but I was emotionally drained and headed to see the Palace instead. The field in front of the grounds was strangely deserted in the middle of the day and only pigeons and a few guards were visible.
I headed back for my hotel to wash away the day in the pool and then ventured out again in the evening for some authentic-ish burritos and a cold margarita. I don't think I'll ever forget the stories I heard on this day, but I needed to switch my brain back to lighter and happier things in order to continue my journey.