Once you enter any touristic area of Phnom Penh, you will see signs plastered everywhere – “visit the Killing Fields!”, tuk tuk driver’s offering their best bargain for a Killing Fields/Tuol Sleng (Genocide Museum) combo, and other forms of loud advertisements.
We once had a friend visiting us in Cambodia who was somewhat bothered by the blasé (and sometimes even bright) attitude surrounding the ads for the excursion, criticizing that he felt as though he was being sold tickets to an event or festival. Though we can admit it’s easy to misread, the truth of the matter is that the Cambodian people have an inspiring and admirable outlook towards visiting the Killing Fields. The general consensus is that though the Khmer Rouge was undoubtedly one of the most heartbreaking events in history, it is absolutely necessary for people to be aware and educated on the topic.
We personally believe the rest of the world should take a page out of Cambodia’s book and understand the importance of educating the world on their history. We cannot sweep the tragic events under the rug, no matter how traumatizing. The saddest truth is: this is real – and though we cannot change the past, we can work towards a better future.
Below you will find our tips for when you visit Killing Fields.
If you are going to Cambodia, we really suggest that you don’t miss it.
Book a tuk tuk driver the night before
Book a driver near your hostel/hotel and settle on the price the night before. This way, you won’t need to haggle first thing in the morning. $15-$20 USD for a tuk tuk to take you there, wait, and take you back is more than enough.
Plan to visit early (before the sun)
As we know, Cambodia gets hot. In dry season, it will be sweltering hot around 10am. In wet season, you’ll usually get a downpour around 11am or 12pm. That’s why, regardless of the season, we recommend that you get to the Killing Fields right when it opens – around 8am.
The entire experience is already heartbreaking and uncomfortable as it is – so the last thing you want is to also be fighting the intense sun beams and humidity as you walk through the fields.
The majority of the tour is outside, so don’t plan for any A/C. Get there before the sun gets unbearable – and make sure to pack water.
Just as you would at any other important site, we advise that you dress respectfully. In Cambodia, this means that means covering both your shoulders and knees.
You will still be allowed entry regardless, but as a general rule, this is the simplest way to show respect.
You don’t need to read up before you go
In fact, one survivor we spoke to advised against it. The audio tour is included in your admission price, and is filled with everything you need – including the history of the Khmer Rouge from start to finish, as well as poems, songs, and stories.
You will hear true, first hand experiences from the tragic time as the entire audio tour is created by survivors. It is very well done, and it is important to hear the stories from real people who actually experienced the events.
If you would like to read up on the Khmer Rouge before you visit the Killing Fields, be sure to read books written by survivors.
Make sure to eat breakfast
… and use the bathroom before you visit. The great thing about the audio tour is that you can go at your own pace. Personally, we spent a few hours there. We really wanted to take our time and pay our respects.
Make sure you are fed and comfortable before the tour in the case that you are there for longer than expected.
Be prepared for a heavy experience
Though this may seem obvious, many people we’ve spoken to will admit that they underestimated how heavy the tour is. If we have any advice, it is to leave your problems at the door, bring tissues and allow yourself to feel any sadness that comes over you.
It’s OK to not do Tuol Sleng right afterwards
If you decide you are up for it, then carry on. That said, if you decide you feel too sad, angry, or ill after the Killing Fields experience, you do not have to push yourself to go to the Genocide Museum immediately after.
Many people that we’ve spoke to, in fact, have said they wish they didn’t do both in the same day.
Trust your gut and only take on as much as you can at one time.
Don’t plan anything else for the rest of your day
We would not suggest signing up for a beer pong tournament on the same day. Think about how exhausted you may feel afterwards and plan for that.
What we did? Stayed close to friends and spent the rest of the day relaxing at the pool. We wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Making a trip to Phnom Penh? Read: 15 things to do in the capital city
Looking to get some shopping in? Find our guide to the MARKETS in Phnom Penh
OR if you prefer to watch (not read), find our Youtube Channel above.