In 2003, thirty percent of visitors to Cambodia went to see the Killing Fields. Now they do not even rank in the top ten of the country's attractions. There are lots of new things to do. White twenty year olds can go binge drinking in Sihanoukville and throw up on its beautiful beaches. They can go to a tattoo shop and get inked in oriental symbols, back home in Cleveland they can show them off to friends as old mystic things (when in fact they say “I have leprosy, stay away”). If they have not passed out by nightfall they can watch jugglers playing with fire sticks, just as they have done a hundred times before (why is this still a thing?).
But its not just the new attractions. In 1979 hundreds of people being murdered every day, just because a political leader was a psychopath, was unusual. Today it is common place. There are dozens of on-going killing fields throughout Asia, and North Africa. All of them senseless and all of them instigated and perpetuated by psychopathic politicians. Who would want to visit a place where people were massacred twenty years ago, when there are so many fresh bodies on the ground elsewhere?
The 2003 Report From National Geographic:
The sight of 8,000 human skulls in a glass shrine stuns visitors into silence. Outside, where cattle usually graze, human bones sometimes come unearthed after heavy rains.
In Cambodia, nine miles (14.5 kilometers) from Phnom Penh, the "killing fields" of Choeung Ek have become a tourist attraction, horrifying and fascinating. Choeung Ek is one of thousands of other such sites around the country where the Khmer Rouge practiced genocide during the late 1970s.
"There are two things you must see in Cambodia," says Scott Harrison, a traveler from Australia. "Obviously one is Angkor Wat. But the other is the killing fields outside Phnom Penh."
In the chronicle of 20th century horrors, Cambodia ranks high. For much of the last three decades, Cambodia has suffered through war, political upheaval and massive genocide.
Recently Cambodia has begun to revive. Its dark past is part of the reason: Tourist curiosity about Cambodia's genocide has become big business.
"Tourism has increased by 40 percent every year since 1998," says Chhieng Pich, economic counselor at the Cambodian embassy in Washington, D.C. "Nearly all tourists that visit Cambodia will go see Angkor Wat. Over 30 percent will visit the killing fields, too."
Few sights in one country can differ more markedly. Angkor Wat, the early 12th-century temple rediscovered in the 19th century (and designated a World Heritage Site in 1992 by UNESCO), reflects a profound spirituality.
1.7 Million Cambodians Dead
The killing fields document death. From 1975 to 1979, Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge soldiers killed 1.7 million Cambodians, or 21 percent of the population, according to Yale University's Cambodia Genocide Program.
A soccer-field-sized area surrounded by farmland, the killing fields contain mass graves, slightly sunken, for perhaps 20,000 Cambodians, many of whom were tortured before being killed. The bordering trees held nooses for hangings.
A memorial building stands in the center of the killing fields. Many of the skulls inside were pulled from the mass graves.
Hundreds of Cambodians now make a living by guiding visitors through the killing fields and other genocide-related sites. Many guides tell harrowing personal stories of how they survived the Khmer Rouge, often by becoming refugees in Thailand.