Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrPhnom Penh’s famous genocide museum is the country’s best attraction if you wish to learn more about the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Centrally located and well organised, the museum is as disturbing as it is informative and you’ll find it in much the same state it was in when stormed by Vietnamese troops in 1979.
Brief HistoryTuol Sleng Museum was, once upon a time, an understated suburban high school, which was turned into a jail and interrogation centre soon after the Khmer Rouge scrambled to power in 1975. Despite there being quite a few foreign journalists working and reporting from Phnom Penh during its entire existence as a jail, the outside world was completely oblivious to the atrocities which took place here. Nowadays, there are still a few foreign journalists, active in Cambodia at the time, who claim the reports have been either fabricated or gravely exaggerated. Perhaps, the thought that they had missed such crucial happenings right under their noses is too much to bear.
The S21 prison was used primarily to torture alleged ‘traitors’ of the cause, so the great majority of detainees, believed to have numbered 20,000, were related to the Khmer Rouge in one way or another. For each officer or soldier believed to have been a traitor, an entire family would be brought in for interrogation and eventual execution. No-one was spared. Children, women and old people were subjected to unimaginable horrors. Whoever was not executed here, would be sent to Choeung Ek, Cambodia’s most famous Killing Fields .
The only people to have ever survived S21 were the 12 individuals who were lucky enough to still be alive when the Vietnamese Army stormed through the complex in 1979. Each had a particular skill which was though to be of use, whether in painting, writing or machinery repairing. The photographer travelling with the Vietnamese troops was the first to disclose the secret of Tuol Sleng to the rest of the world. Shock and condemnation was (almost) immediate yet many in the West was still viewing the Khmer Rouge as a better alternative to the communist Vietnamese.
What to expect from a visitThis is arguably the most important site to visit in Phnom Penh, if not the whole of Cambodia, yet a visit is anything but fun. There are three main buildings to explore (in the chronological order displayed on a board out front), each comprising several rooms, including torture halls and housing cells. A comprehensive display of photographs brings the stories alive. Photos, mementos, videos and first-person accounts are numerous, incredibly touching but also quite disconcerting, so taking children along is not recommended. The displays can get a little repetitive towards the end of a visit and this, coupled with the intensity of content, means that many visitors fail to complete a full tour of the complex.
Refreshments & AmenitiesThere is a drinks kiosk within the gardens of the museum, and a lovely cafe just across the road, on the left hand side of the gate. You’ll also find a very clean toilet block on the ground floor of the third building.
How to get thereThe museum is down a suburban alley (St 113) about two kilometres from the centre. Depending on where you’re staying in Phnom Penh, walking there is a good option or, alternatively, catch a tuk-tuk for about $ 2.00 USD .
Admission Info$ 2.00 USD per person or $ 6.00 USD if you'd like to be led by an English speaking guide.
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Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Apr 10, 2015