Phnom Penh, the capital and largest city in Cambodia, is a city rich in culture and history. The main purpose for our visit to Phnom Penh, however, was to dig deep into the Khmer Rouge, the terrifying period of Democratic Kampuchea, and the Cambodian genocide. This trip was to visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) and the Killing Fields.
On April 17, 1975 the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh. This was Year Zero, and it plunged Cambodia back into the dark ages. The regime was overthrown on January 7, 1979 by the Vietnamese Army. During the period of Khmer Rouge rule, at least 1.7 million people died. For three years, eight months, and twenty days the people of Cambodia lived through unspeakable horrors. They are still in the process of recovery.
In preparation for our trips we read as much about the history of the area as we can. Two of our favorite books for this trip were The Lost Executioner: A Story of the Khmer Rouge by Nic Dunlop and First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung.
Note: The main currency in Cambodia is the US Dollar. Their national currency is the Cambodian Riel but it is used only for small change. Even the ATM machines give out US Dollars.
From the Airport – We took the hotel shuttle bus to NagaWorld Casino.
Checked into NagaWorld Casino (104 USD per night) – We opted to stay at NagaWorld, the only casino in Phnom Penh, due to the ongoing garment worker protests. At the time, the protests were limited to weekends and we hoped that if they escalated and prevented movement within the city we would have easy access to entertainment and food.
NagaWorld is a luxurious hotel with many amenities located on-sight. The free breakfast buffet was one of the best we have had anywhere. There are twelve excellent restaurants in the hotel with prices ranging from budget to very expensive. Much like a Las Vegas Casino Resort, the drinks are complimentary when you are gambling and there is live entertainment.
Historical Phnom Penh Small-Group Tour, including Genocide Museum and Killing Fields (43 USD each) – We were picked up at 8AM at our hotel for this half day tour. In total, there were only four of us on the tour.
The first stop on to itinerary was S21- the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Our guide was excellent. He was very knowledgeable and spoke very good English.
In 1976, the Khmer Rouge renamed the Tuol Svay Pray High School S-21 and turned it into a torture, interrogation and execution center.
Over 12,000 people were tortured and executed.
After the very sobering tour of S21, we were driven out to the Killing Fields.
The number of prisoners executed at Choeung Ek on a daily basis varied from a few dozen to over three hundred. Mass graves containing 8,895 bodies were discovered at Choeung Ek after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime.
Returned to Cheung Ek Killing Fields for a more in-depth visit – The Killing Fields are only 15 kilometers from Phnom Penh, but the roads are bone-jarringly rough, extremely dusty, and congested. Rather than take a tuk-tuk (15 USD) for the trip, we hired a nice, air-conditioned SUV with driver (25 USD). The price of admission to the Cheung Ek Killing Fields with an audio tour is 6 USD each. It is very informative.
Choeung Ek memorial stupa – The stupa is filled with more than 5,000 human skulls.
In the afternoon we headed to the Mekong River for a private boat ride (20 USD).
Grasshopper Adventures Islands Of The Mekong Bike Tour (39 USD each) – This half day trip meets at the Grasshoppers Adventure Shop at 8 AM. We really enjoyed this relaxing and informative tour. It was an easy 25 KM bike journey through the Mekong Islands.
Returned to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (2 USD each) – We took a tuk-tuk (3 USD one way) to S-21 to spend time digging deeper through the rich resources and historical information. One of the highlights of the day was that we were able to meet with and talk with Chum Mey and Vann Nath, two of the few survivors of S21.
We took the hotel shuttle in the morning to the airport for our return flight.
While we greatly enjoyed our trip to Phnom Penh, at times it was very emotional and heartbreaking. We learned a tremendous amount about the history of Cambodia, the hardships that the Cambodian people underwent during the reign of the Khmer Rouge, and the present-day challenges that they continue to face. Most importantly, we came to respect the unbelievable resilience of the Cambodian people…
- Time of Year: December 2013
- Length of Stay: 6 Days, 5 Nights
- Total Trip Cost – 2 People: 1140 USD*
- Cost Per Day / Per Person: 95 USD*
- Visa Information: E-visa
*Excluded from the cost analysis:
- International Airfare – International airfare is not included because fares vary depending on your starting location.
GPS Coordinates: Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
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Phnom Penh International Airport @ 11.546051,104.847733
NagaWorld Casino @ 11.556012,104.937039
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum @ 11.549597,104.917532
Choeung Ek Killing Fields @ 11.484398,104.901988
Dock to hire boat @ 11.575196,104.927249
Grasshopper Adventures @ 11.570437,104.929233
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You can copy and paste the latitude and longitude into Google Earth, your browser, or into your GPS.
*Disclaimer- ALWAYS verify locations, transportation routes, GPS coordinates, etc. Errors are made, routes changed, sometimes we are just plain wrong. No one knows what you like more than you. If the trip is worth doing, it is worth doing right! Do your homework.