Visiting the Phom Penh Genocide Museum

After visiting the Choeung Ek fields, we get back to the city centre by tuk-tuk, ready for another touching experience. Our visit goes on with another significant evidence about the Cambodia genocide, when between 1975 and 1979 through the hand of Khmer Rouge and its leader Pol Pot over 2 million people were killed: the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum entrance, Phnom Penh
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum entrance, Phnom Penh

On August 1975 the Khmer Rouge turned the Tuol Svay Pray High School into a prison, torture and interrogation centre renamed S-21. Today the S-21 is known as the “Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum”, and here you can retrace the horrific past of the country. Nowadays, the building and the chambers are left in almost the same condition as the Vietnamese Army found them after they overran the country in 1979.

the courtyard with the tombs of the last 14 victims of the Regime, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
the courtyard with the tombs of the last 14 victims of the Regime, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

The complex consists of 4 buildings, surrounded by a high wall with a wire fence on top and named from A to D, that overlook a large grassy courtyard. Our tour starts from building A where the rooms, once classrooms for students, were used predominantly for the interrogations of the high officers accused of treason. They are furnished only with an iron bed (or more beds) with handcuffs on the extremities as evidence of the inhuman conditions in which they were forced to live the so-called “enemies” of the Regime. Not to forget,  on the far wall are hanging the grisly photographs of bloated, decomposing bodies chained to bed frames with pools of wet blood underneath. The torture devices are also present, with detailed explanations on how they were used. Visiting this place is a touching and shocking experience at the same time, but necessary to figure out the horror and suffering that the Cambodian people suffered during one of the most bloody and violent dictatorships of the whole 20th century.

a room in the building A, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
a room in the building A, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Going out of the building A we can see the tombs of the last 14 victims of the regime and a large perch sadly used by the Khmer Rouge as a gallows where the prisoners were executed by hanging. The perch was once an exerciser where the students could train their body in moments of leisure.

the perch with tombs in the backgroud, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
the perch with tombs in the background, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

The visit go on inside the other multi-storey buildings B-C where the rooms were used as single cells (ground floor), holding an only prisoner chained to the floor, or mass-detention cells holding large groups of prisoners chained to long iron bars, and where all the windows are still surrounded by a thick wire fence and iron bars to prevent  escapes.

a particular of the building C, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
a particular of the building C, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

The Khmer Rouge lay in their attention to detail and the prisoners, once reached S-21, were photographed and interrogated on their life details before being chained to their cells. This impersonal photographic archive of doomed men, women, and children is presented room by room to the visitors. In particular during the visit of building D, where you can also find a commemorative stupa and some glass shrine containing skulls and bones.

the commemorative stupa in building D, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
the memorial stupa in building D, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

On 17.000  Khmer Rouge regime ”enemies” known for entering into S-21 (but no one knows the exact number), only 7 survived due to their useful skills. One of them, Vann Nath, was an artist commissioned to paint portraits for the leader Pol Pot whereas Chum Mey was mechanic in charge of repairing engine failures.

Need to Know about Tuol Sleng Genocide Musem

The Museum is open every day from 8 am to 5 pm, and the entrance is located along St.113 (corner st. 350), Beoung Keng Kang III, Chamkarmorn, 12304 Phnom Penh. You can easily reach the museum by tuk-tuk paying around 5 / 6 USD.

Admission Ticket costs 5 USD, and it can be bought at the ticket booth at the entrance of the museum. For 3 USD, you can also get an audioguide.

Notice: visitors will be admitted only with appropriate clothing.  Cambodian culture dictates that legs and arms be covered at memorial and religious sites.

Museum Program: a live performance with traditional music takes place from  10.30 am – 11.00 am and  3.15 pm – 3.45 pm (building D). You can also watch 2 interesting documentary movies from 9.30 am -10.30 am and 3.45 pm -4.15 pm.

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