The Killing Fields - Phnom Pen
This is one of those experiences that you should do. It's hard. Its really hard. While I haven't been to the concentration camps, or visited some of the African genocide locations, I would imagine its probably a similar experience. Take your tissues and be prepared to use them because you will!
- Guide - Get a good guide. Ask around, and make sure you get a guide that speaks your language and well. There's a lot that can get lost in translation if you are not careful.
- Group size - I would not advise going with a group larger than around 10. You seem to find that the larger groups are trying to keep the expereince decent for everyone so it can end up being not great. It also gets a bit too loud. This is a respectful place - try to find a local guide who will take a small group only.
- Cost - Not something you really need to be worried about. Most trips you see are within cooee of each other price wise.
- Genocide Museum - A lot of the trips will do the Genocide Museum and then the killing fields. That would be the order I would do it in. You learn about who was killed and why at the Genocide Museum and then when you come out to the killing fields it has a much greater impact. You realise this is where so many of those people lay.
- Respect: I really wanted to smack a few people the day we did these locations. People are so disrespectful sometimes. There was a group of Korean men hawking and spitting and carrying on like teenagers, and I so wanted to go over and give them a serve, but there was no way I was going to stoop to the level they were at by doing it. Seeing it was upsetting us, our guide very quietly spoke to their Korean guide who right promptly put them in their place. That's the good guide thing kicking in too.
These are just things I recommend, its different for everyone of course.
I would do the genocide museum first. If you do it this way it kind of takes you on the path that the victims went down.
It is heart breaking to see the photo's and hear the stories, but if you don't do that first, the killing fields (while incredibly immportant) just won't have the same meaning.
Our guide lead us all the way through the genocide museum, telling us stories and explaining what happened and then when we got the the killing fields, very quietly told us that his mother was buried there. It broke my heart - because by this stage you knew what she had probably been through before she ended up buried in a field. I think she was a butterfly that day. Read my blog about the butterflies here.
Viatour's ½ day tour
How much time
Take your time. You can get both locations done easily in a morning or afternoon.
Don't let anyone following rush you. There is something to be learned and seen at both locations and on occasion, you will just need a moment to get your head together. Read the signs and the rules and try to imagine you are in one of those cells with 20 other people.
After you visit these memorials its hard not to look at everyone over 40 and wonder how they were affected by Pol Pot's regime.
Just try to remember that while the Cambodians are lovely people, some still don't like to talk about it. If you would like to ask just be respectful in how you do it.
I found this great book in Phnom Penh while I was there and would really recommend it as a read.
When Slaves Become Masters