The darkest period of recent Cambodian history occurred under the Pol Pot-led Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. During this period, it is estimated between 1.75 to 2.5 million people died out of a population of eight million from starvation, disease or execution. Many of those executed were first held at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, then known as S21.
S21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
The S21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, or just S21 as it was referred to under the Khmer Rouge, is housed in the buildings of a former school in Phnom Penh. About 20,000 people were imprisoned at S21, which was one of more than 150 such centres around the country.
During the Khmer Rouge, the school was turned into a prison for people labelled as enemies of the regime. At that time anybody of any age, male or female, could find themselves imprisoned here. It just took one accusation to have you transported to a place where almost nobody left alive.
For those that did find themselves leaving Tuol Sleng, chances were that they were on their way to be executed at nearby Choeung Ek.
Dark Tourism and History
Please be aware that there are images of scenes of torture inside some of the former cells and the site has a very sobering atmosphere. Also, the images of the men, women and children who were detained here are sobering.
That being said, in many ways S21, just like The Killing Fields of Cheoung Ek, is essential to understanding some of the horrors the country faced during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Visiting S21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Just like with The Killing Fields, most tuk tuk drivers or travel companies can take you to S21, or you can walk there. There are lots of buses filled with tourists and the narrow streets surrounding the site make parking slightly difficult at times. That being said, if you do have your own motorbike then there is limited parking inside the site.