Home > Travel > Dark cloud of Khmer Rogue

Dark cloud of Khmer Rogue

It’s been almost two years since I first time set my foot on Cambodian soil. I knew I will be back at some point and here I am again, landing at Phnom Penh international airport. I have only 3 days so my plan is to spend time in Phnom Penh only. I quickly go through immigration and of I go to the land of Khmer Rogue.


Cambodia is a very poor country with one of the darkest past known to human being. Four year of Khmer Rogue rule in late 70’s left big mark on Cambodian society. I previously visited the S-21 or Tuol Sleng prison but I have never been to Killing fields so mi mission is to go there and learn something more about it.


After 30 min drive we reach the hotel I check in, have quick shower, grab the camera and I am already sitting on tuk-tuk on the way to Tuol Sleng prison. As I said this is my second time but I lost all photos from my previous visit. As tuk-tuk stops at the gate I am almost immediately surrounded by beggars. Most of them are in some way disabled, especially one limping guy with his eyeballs almost popping out from eye socket. I am not sure if this is the memory of Khmer Rogue interrogation or it was just some kind of accident. He looked very scary. I handed him one dollar and proceeded to the gate.
Time wise I am here a little later than first time and there are number of tourists everywhere. There is also some kind of reconstruction going on and I immediately notice that access to some parts of the building is denied. Shame.


Sun is behind thin cloud layer but I certainly feel it’s strength. I can only imagine the conditions in prison when it’s full if inmates, crowded, with no hygiene or proper toilet. I go from room to room and trying to take some photos without any tourists in it. During my last visit I got very lucky. It is known that only 12 people survived the Tuol Sleng imprisonment. Out of roughly 17 000. Only four of those are still alive and I was lucky enough to met one of them, Mr Vann Nath. The reason he survived was that he could paint and Khmer Rogue thought it was useful skill to have so they spared his life. Instead they used his skill to depict the daily life in the prison. At the time I met him he was in a great condition. He must have been very young while in prison. I was wondering what brought him to the place that caused him so much pain. That was nearly two years ago. This time I didn’t think I will be that lucky however I thought I had a glimpse of him. Is it his ghost walking in the rooms of prison? Or was it really him? I don’t know, but I know that this time I didn’t manage to get a photo of him.


I continued with viewing and taking photos. Unfortunately it was impossible to get the photo of whole complex due to construction so I was left mostly with details. Still, this place feels very sad. All those photos of prisoners staring from the wall makes you think about humanity and how deep it fell. All of those people died in terrible pain, hunger or during torture and extermination. Torturing methods were exceptionally brutal. And they didn’t spare young ones.


These days four of top Khmer Rogue leaders are on trial charged with acts of genocide. all of them denied what happened and they even denied the very existence of Tuol Sleng and similar institutions. Except one. Kang Kek Lew alias commrade Duch who was not less than man in charge of Tuol Sleng showed remorse and fully accepted responsibilities for what happened. Man who ordered killings of thousands was the only one who asked for forgiveness….


After almost two hours I am leaving the prison. I went to hotel and grabbed some lunch. I really enjoy Phnom Penh. It’s like in old movie. You sit in a french style restaurant next to the busy street filled with bikes, tuk-tuks, people carrying on with their daily lives and you just enjoy your coffee and observe the life. I absolutely love it.


It’s wet season and about 3pm afternoon the hell broke out and started raining.Horn my tuk -tuk driver comes in time to pick me up and we are on the way in nearly flooded streets. Destination is Killing Fields just outside Phnom Penh. Killing fields are places of mass extermination and mas graves. There are many of them across Cambodia but Choeung Ek is one of the most famous one and just 15 km out of Phnom Penh. This place is turned to a museum and monument but still feels strange when you step on the ground where thousands died. There is a stupa built in the middle of the fields and it’s filled with skull found in the mass graves. They say that in bad and rainy weather there are still human remains being exposed as soil is washed away. And yes, in spite of place being cleaned there was a spot where you could see them.


There were a marked trees used by Khmer Rogue to kill children by holding them by legs and smashing their head into trunk. I am walking across in silence. There is a group of Chinese tourist who apparently don’t know how to behave on place like this. My blood is boiling so I better walk away before I do something I would regret.


I briefly visit the museum building and then I leave the place. Some maybe say it is not a good place to go during holiday however I think everybody should visit place like this to remember what happened and make sure we do everything we can that it doesn’t happen again.


Dith Pran, Cambodian journalist who survived the genocide said on is death bed. One time is way too much. It should have never had happened.

Categories: Travel
  1. Oliver
    August 15, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Great pictures Richard, as always.
    The story behind it is very similar to the nazi regime in germany and it’s concentration camps. Death just surrounds you when you are in those places. It’s sad how even after WW2 things like this are possible in our world.

    Thanks for sharing

  2. Hyun
    August 16, 2010 at 7:00 am

    I’ve seen the movie, “The Killing Field.” I didn’t remember any scene and story in detail though, the horror from its terrible scenes still remains on my mind. It is heartbreaking to see the remains of the innocent in agonies of pain. I will pray that every soul rests in peace. Thank you for sharing. Your photos are very impressive.

  3. admin
    August 16, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Yes I saw the movie last week. Pretty authentic and based on real story. Excellent. First and only Oscar for Asian actor in supporting role. That dude put on extraordinary performance and he was not even actor.

  4. Amanda Leung
    August 16, 2010 at 11:28 am

    Sad story. My friend had told me about traveling to Phnom Penh and seeing/feeling this thick cloud/mist surrounding the whole city. It had such a dark history that is so tragic and unforgiving.

  5. August 17, 2010 at 5:27 pm

    Hi Richard!

    It is an excellent travell report even your pictures are famous asu usually. Well done!

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