Wat Thmey, otherwise known as Siem Reap’s Killing Fields, is a site of loss and hope.
Many people who visit Cambodia don’t fully grasp how horrific the country’s recent history is until they get here. And, unless they visit Phnom Penh and head to S21 and The Killing Fields, they may just think of Cambodia as another developing country. However, it is much more than that.
In 1975, the Khmer Rouge took hold of Cambodia. Over the next three and a half years, they reduced their citizens to nothing, stripping them off their dignity, forcing them to migrate to different ‘zones’ in Cambodia, losing contact with their families and having a direct impact on the death of over two million innocents, which represented 25% of the population at the time.
The bodies of the deceased were often dumped together in fields, pagodas and schools. There are many of these ‘Killing Fields’ all over the country. One significant Killing Field in Siem Reap is at Wat Thmey. This pagoda was used as a Khmer Rouge prison to house thousands of prisoners (note: prisoners were mostly innocents who were ‘tried’ on crimes they didn’t commit, and later were Khmer Rouge soldiers who were accused of treason). These prisoners were killed and buried inside two pits and six water wells located about 250 meters south of the prison. It is estimated that around 8,000 people were murdered at this pagoda during the Khmer Rouge regime.
In 1995, when Wat Thmey was renovated, a substantial amount of bones and skulls of the victims were placed in a memorial stupa. These are on display so both locals and tourists can visit and remember the tragic history of Cambodia.
Nowadays you can find a photo exhibition at Wat Thmey, a combined project from US Aid and the Documentation Center of Cambodia. This exhibition shows photos of the forced transfer of Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge period. The vision of this exhibition is that visitors are actively engaged in the study, reflection and memory of victims and survivors. There are four other exhibitions at four other locations around Cambodia, so the memories of those who died during the regime and during the forced relocations is kept alive.
Although it may be confronting, I would highly recommend a visit to Wat Thmey. This horrendous history needs to be remembered, and we need to pay respect to those who pointlessly lost their lives.
|Opening Hours||Daily from 6am to 6pm|
|Location||Road to Angkor Wat (across from Charming City), Siem Reap|