Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia, rich in beautiful history, culture, and tradition. However, between 1975 to 1979, Cambodia experienced the most painful and heartbreaking experiences. Two million people died from starvation, execution and disease during the Khmer Rouge regime. Cambodian people were tortured, beaten, and forced to work many hours a day yet received only a small amount of food. To truly understand this history of Cambodia, you are strongly recommended to visit the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. Toul Sleng Genocide Museum was the largest prisoner’s camp, which detained, tortured, and executed hundreds of thousands of innocent Cambodian people. It is a museum that is located in the Central part of Phnom Penh city, which also acts as evidence of the brutalities of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 to 1979.
Toul Sleng Genocide Museum
History of Toul Sleng Museum
Before the arrival of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1975, Toul Sleng Genocide Museum was a former high school in the central of Phnom Penh, known as Toul Sleng High School. When the Pol Pot’s security forces took over Phnom Penh city, and they transformed the former high school into a prison and they renamed the former high school as “Security Prison 21” (S-21). In Toul Sleng, the security workforces detained and tortured innocent prisoners. Later on, they sent those prisoners to Choeung Ek to be executed. Most of the victims in S-21 were from the Lon Nol regime, which included soldiers, government officials, as well as doctors, teachers, etc. In 1979, the Vietnamese army discovered the prison when they successfully won over the Khmer Rouge Regime.
Life in prison
When prisoners first arrived at S21 prison, they were photographed, asked to give detail autobiographies, and made aware of the regulations in the prison. The guards took all the possessions of the prisoners. After that, the S21 guard sent the prisoners to their cells. There were small cells for individual prisoners and large mass cells. Prisoners were shackled their feet to the walls or the concrete floor if they were in small individual cells. And for prisoners in large cells, they were shackled their feet too long pieces of iron bar. No bed, no mat, no blankets. Prisoners were forbidden to do anything. If they happened to disobey the rules or orders, they would be beaten by the guards. Prisoners only received a small amount of rice porridge or watery soup twice a day.
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From 1976 to 1979, S-21 imprisoned approximately 17,000 people. When Vietnamese forces discovered the prison in 1979, there were only 12 known prisoners alive and five of them were children. The prisoners were kept alive because they had skills that were useful for the security forces.
Torture and extermination
There were severe torture and extermination in S21 prison. The torture was designed to make prisoners confess to whatever crimes they were charged. Prisoners were beaten and tortured with electric shocks, searing hot metal instruments, hanging, suffocated with plastic bags, pulling out fingernails, all kinds of unimaginable tortures.
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10 security regulations
Prisoners were made aware of the following ten regulations when they first arrived at S21 prison.
- You must answer accordingly to my question. Do not turn them away.
- Try not to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that, you are strictly prohibited to contest me.
- Don’t be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.
- You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.
- Don’t tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.
- While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.
- Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting.
- Don’t make pretext about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your secret or traitor.
- If you don’t follow all the above rules, you shall get many lashes of electric wire.
- If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.
Exploring the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum
Toul Sleng Genocide Museum has four main buildings, ranging from Building A, B, C and D. The first you should look for is building A were the large cells. Building B displays black and white photographs of S-21 victims, which were all executed. Building C was small cells for prisoners, and building D holds other memorabilia such as torture instruments. You can also see a lot of paintings showing victims being tortured, which were added after the end of the Khmer Rouge regime. There are several documentary videos offered at the museum that can deepen the visitors’ understanding toward this tragic event, including short movie “The Killing Machine” showing at 9:30 am “Behind The Wall of S-21” showing at 3:45 pm and there are other programs at the museum, such as dialog forum “Survivors’ Voice” which is shown at 2:30 pm.
Opening Hours: 8 am – 5 pm daily
- Foreigners (adults) : 5 USD
- Foreigners (ages from 10 to 18 years old) : 3 USD
- Audio guide : 3 USD
- Mail : Info.email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone : 023 6 555 395 / 077 252 121
Location: St 113 corner St. 350, Sangkat Beoung Keng Kang 3, Khan Chamkar Morn, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Note: Photography is permitted but for personal or research use only.
Attraction near the museum
Around 1.7 km from Toul Sleng Museum, there is a pagoda known as Wat Langka. It is one of Phnom Penh’s five original wats, which was established in 1422 as a temple to store Holy Writings and a meeting place for Cambodian and Sri Lankan monks. During the Khmer Rouge reign, Wat Langka was served as a storehouse, which explained why it was not destructed. Today, Wat Langka is an important place for Cambodian Buddhism as well as a great tourist attraction. Wat Langka is like a world apart from the outside world. Wonderful, stunning temple that was spared from the destruction is the main attraction among the tourists. Moreover, you can even join one-hour meditation sessions held by monks in Wat Langka on Monday, Thursday and Saturday at 6 pm.
- Location: Sihanouk Boulevard, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Phsar Thmei / Central Market
Phsar Thmei is one of the most iconic architectures in Phnom Penh, and it is around 3 km from Toul Sleng Museum, was the work of famous Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann. Phsar Thmei is officially known as Phsar Thmei, or Central Market (in English). It is a cross-shaped building with a huge dome hall in the center. You can find everything here at Phsar Thmei from jewelry, clothing, souvenirs, to electronics. In addition, you can experience local dishes at affordable prices in Phsar Thmei. There are many many food stalls in the market, which sell lots of Khmer authentic food. If you want to get refreshing in the hot afternoon, some fresh fruit juices and fruit shakes are the best choices for you, which can be found on a small store on the west side of the Phsar Thmei facing the Kampuchea Krom Blvd.
- Opening hours: 7 am – 6 pm daily
- Location: St.128 Kampuchea Krom Blvd, Sangkat Phsar Thmey 3, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
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Phsar Toul Tom Poung / Russian Market
Phsar Toul Tom Poung was so popular among foreigners, especially among Russian people in the 1980s. That is why Phsar Toul Tom Poung also known as the Russian Market. This Market is only 1.3 km from Toul Sleng Museum. Different from Phsar Thmei, Phsar Toul Tom Poung is not as nice, and it is much more like a Cambodian traditional wet market. If you want to buy anything, just go to Phsar Toul Tom Poung. There is a wide range of items, including clothing, souvenirs, antiques, paintings, kitchenware, silk scarves just to name a few. Phsar Toul Tom Poung closes at 5 in the evening, however, you can still hangout around the market, and that is the time where the famous Khmer street food comes out and serve you.
- Opening hours: 6 am – 5 pm daily
- Location: St.163 (Poland Republic Blvd) corner St. 440, Phnom Penh
To truly know about a country, you first need to know about its history. Toul Sleng Genocide Museum is an evidence of the tragic past of Cambodia, showcases about the darkest history of this Kingdom. You might have been told about the Khmer Rouge regime and how brutal it was, however, visiting the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum will give you an unforgettable experience and deepen your understanding of Cambodia. Spend a few hours there, you are not going to regret visiting Toul Sleng Genocide Museum.