A Travellerspoint blog

Choeung Ek Killing Fields & Tuol Sleng (Security Prison 21)

sunny 32 °C

After breakfast we met up with Lot and headed out to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. It’s a former orchard about 20km south of Phnom Penh where the Khmer Rouge executed around 20,000 people between 1975 and 1979.


The Khmer Rouge was the name of the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea which seized power in 1975 after it defeated the former government’s forces. Not long after Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge took power the genocide, torture, and widespread famine began. The Khmer Rouge intended to turn Cambodia into a self-sufficient, classless society. They closed schools, hospitals, factories, and completely removed finance and currency. Major cities were completely evacuated with the entire populations sent to working camps. Anyone rich, popular, well educated (wearing glasses was enough proof) or had the ability to undermine the new regime was executed on the spot or taken to a number of torture camps and prisons - which often resulted in forced confessions of treasons – resulting in execution.

In 4 years of harsh ruling the Khmer Rouge was responsible for 2 million deaths, and Choeung Ek is just one of many sites that were dedicated to this atrocity. Most of the people killed here were from Tuol Sleng prison (which we will visit after the killing fields).

As you walk around you can see all of the mass graves that have been uncovered, some that held 8,000 bodies. From the clothing they recovered from the mass graves they can tell that some were specific to men, women, soldiers, and women with their babies.

^^ Bones, Clothes, & Graves

There is a giant tree that they claim was used to smash the newborns and small infants heads on to save on ammunition; a truly disturbing thought.

^^ The Killing Tree

As you walk around the grounds you may notice teeth and other bone fragments, as well as clothes just under the surface of the ground – new bones and clothing rise up after the rains, and we were visiting just after some rain. At one point I saw a bit of white poking through the dirt, I started digging thinking it was a small fragment, but soon realised it was much too big to dig out – possibly a pelvis.

^^ Excavating bones

^^ Clothes rising from the recent rain

^^ A woman's shirt I pulled out

There is a memorial stupa set up within the grounds that contains over 5,000 skulls as well as various other bones; they are arranged by sex and approximate age. Many of them have been smashed in from behind – usually by a hammer, pickaxe, machete, or shovel, or have single bullet holes through the top.

^^ The shrine to the victims



It was definitely an eye-opening and disturbing look into Cambodia’s history, but I think it is important not to ignore these sorts of confronting truths, as to make sure they never happen again anywhere in the world.

Our next stop is Tuol Sleng prison, where many of the people executed at Choeung Ek spent their last days.

Tuol Sleng prison wasn’t always a prison, in fact before the Khmer Rouge won the civil war it was a high school in central Phnom Penh. Four months later it was renamed Security Prison 21 or S-21, and classrooms became cells and torture rooms.

^^ The rules of Security Prison 21

^^ Once a place of learning - now haunted by death


^^ Entrance to the cells


^^ The classrooms were divided into many cells

The people sent here were repeatedly beaten and tortured until they confessed that they were traitors as well as name their family and friends, which would then result in their arrest and torture. In fact if a family member or friend of yours was arrested it was almost guaranteed that you would be arrested not long after, and destined to confess all of your family and friends as traitors as well.

^^ Barbed wire on the upper floors to prevent suicide

The staff at S-21 documented almost everyone who passed through the prison with a personal dossier and photograph, although the photographs were separated by the dossiers so many of the faces have no names to match. Several westerners were also captured and brought to S-21, many of them sailors who accidentally drifted into Cambodian waters and were captured as ‘C.I.A spies’ – to which most of them confessed after many weeks of torture.

^^ Recovered photos of the people who passed through S-21

We have had a fairly intense day today, we learnt about many atrocities and hardships. I will never forget Tuol Sleng Prison or The Killing Fields, and I hope the world never lets this sort of thing happen again.

Feels weird writing this, but tomorrow we are off to the zoo.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 06:23 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia phnom_penh s21 khmer s-21 genocide bones communist stupa killing_fields khmer_rouge choeung_ek execution 1975 kampuchea mass_graves killing_tree infanticide tuol_sleng_prison Comments (0)

Phnom Penh

storm 31 °C

Our first impression of Phnom Penh is a good one. We found a nice café on the riverfront called Metro, which provides free wi-fi, daily newspapers in English, and some of the swankiest food at rock-bottom prices.

Phnom Penh has got all of the fanciness and silver service of a capital city but at the Cambodian price – which is extremely reasonable; meals range from $2 - $12 and spirits $2 - $4, overall very good bang-for-buck.


^^ Afternoon storm rolling in

After the first night we switched hotels for a cheaper option and met a friendly tuk tuk driver called Lot. After some sweet talking on his behalf we decided to hire him as our driver/tour guide for the next few days.

That afternoon we just strolled around the riverfront and admired the beautiful palace from the outside.


^^ The palace from outside

It wasn’t long before the day had passed us and we found ourselves in the back of Lot’s tuk tuk heading for a shadow puppet show. The show was pretty funny; we couldn’t understand a word but the outlandish laughs’ that the characters had was infectious enough to have us chuckling along.



^^ Behind the scenes

We like Cambodia!

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 04:26 Archived in Cambodia Tagged palace cambodia phnom_penh waterfront phnom penh puppet shadow_puppet_show puppet_show Comments (0)

Goodbye Laos

View Travels on KyleMac's travel map.

Laos offered us some of the most unforgettable adventures of a lifetime. Whether it be frolicking with the elephants in Luang Prabang, or gliding through the rainforest canopy on The Gibbon Experience outside Huay Xai.

The landscape is ever changing with rolling rainforest covered mountains in the north and sharp limestone cliffs in the south. You are always guaranteed a great view from the bus windows and I never got bored staring out watching the people work their fields.

The people are most definitely the best thing about Laos; the backpackers you party with in Vang Vieng, but most importantly the local people, that seem to have all the time in the world for you. They are the most friendly laidback persons we have met and after spending a month here the Laotian motto of ‘No worries’ really rubs off on you.

Laos was heaps of fun and a great country, I’ll definitely be back!

My total cost of 1 month in Laos = $1,120.60

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 07:05 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Kong Lo Cave & The Mission to get into Cambodia

sunny 39 °C
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If you have stumbled on this page after googling ‘How to get to Kong Lo Cave’, the bullet points below give you all the information you need. Below the bullet points is our adventure of Kong Lo Cave.

• Buses leave from the Southern Bus Station at 5am, 6am, & 7am to Lak Sao – around 70,000 kip.

• Around 7hrs drive from Vientiane you will hit a tiny dirt road village called Ban Khoun Khan, this is where you have to hop off. If you wait until the bus stops driving any further you will probably be standing at the Vietnamese border scratching your head wondering where it all went wrong.

• You have a few options once you get to Ban Khoun Khan, you can either do the cave tour the same day or chill out and do it the next day. We decided to do it the next day as we were fairly tired after the bus ride. This is where your next option arises. You can stay in one of the guesthouses/hotels in Ban Khoun Khan (if you’re looking for air-con/hot showers) or do a homestay in Kong Lo, we did the homestay and it was great.

• Kong Lo village is about 90 minutes’ drive away, so you can either hire a motorbike or take one of the many tuk tuk’s. We hired a motorbike for 50,000 kip per day.

• There is only one road to get in and out of Kong Lo village so there is no chance you will get lost.

• If you chose to do the homestay just organise it with one of the friendly locals in the town, they are all just chilling out and signs point you to the houses that are keen for guests. It should cost around 50,000 per person, although you will probably want to give a bit more after your stay.

• To get to the cave entrance you just keep driving on the main road past the village for about 5 minutes – you can easily walk there from the village.

• Once at the cave entrance you just pay one of the cheery boat owners and they will take you through a cave you won’t easily forget.

Now for our story…

The Lonely Planet book that we had been using to help us find what adventures and activities to pursue during our trip so far was a 5 year old, $4 photocopy that we purchased from a boy in the street during our time in Hanoi.

Needless to say the prices that it quotes and several other things are either wrong or completely gone, but we have been using it as an aide to help us form a rough guide on the overland routes we would take and see the sights that it highly recommends.

Kong Lo cave was mentioned in our book, but literally as a 20 word sentence that pretty much just said ‘Big cave in the middle of nowhere’. But we did some ‘googling’ and thought it sounded pretty cool. The only problem that it was a bit off the beaten tourist track and although you could get to it through a travel agent in Vientiane, it was a blatant rip-off, and they smashed the huge journey into a massive 1 day event that pretty much meant you would see the cave for an hour and the other 18 hours would be spent in a bus. Not something we were too keen on.

So we were up at 5am riding the tuk tuk out to the bus station with the plan to catch the 6am bus. Unfortunately we lucked out in the tuk tuk department as the one we picked could only go 10km/hr and had to stop to pour water all over the steaming engine. Long-story-short we ended up catching the 7am bus.


During the bus ride we met a crazy Czech entomologist who was planning on walking through the jungles of Laos alone before they were ripped down by illegal loggers. He was a bit sad when we told him we were Australian because he thought all of the Australian rainforest would be gone before he had a chance to wander through them, I told him there was still plenty left but I’m unsure if he believed me or not.

When we arrived in Ban Khoun Khan it was stinking hot, at least 39 degrees with super high humidity, and the thought of an air-conditioned room over a homestay was tempting, but we decided to stick to our guns and head to Kong Lo village for the night.

We hired a motorbike and stopped in at the Tourist Information centre (on the main highway – just outside the village) and organised to leave our big backpacks there overnight and just take daypacks, which was a huge help. The crazy Czech guy was also there but he was planning on doing a 2 hour return hike to a nearby waterfall, we considered joining him but as there was only about 3 hours sun left in the day we decided to start heading for Kong Lo village.

^^ Fueling up the bike

The drive to the village was AMAZING! The landscape was breathtaking and within 5 minutes we were sooooo glad that we had hired the bike and could go at our own pace.



Black, rumbling, thunder clouds rolled across the top of towering mountains with sheer cliff faces.


Farmers and their children rested inside thatched bamboo huts that dotted the countryside as they let the day’s heat pass.

We passed houses that had been extended several times with different materials; brick, wood, iron, bamboo, and even mud; marking either a good years harvest or a growing family.



Buffalo fled the sweltering temperature by immersing themselves in the cool waters of the fields.



^^ Crossing the bridge

As you can see from the photos the peaceful drive from Ban Khoun Khan to Kong Lo village is worth the visit alone.

Once we arrived in the village we found a homestay and relaxed by the riverside as the village children splashed around and gave daring glances and smiles at us. The kids were super cute and even though they didn’t speak a word of English Kirby still managed to have a game with one of the young girls.

We were really bummed out that we didn’t buy a Laotian phrase book because it would have been invaluable during the homestay, as the family we stayed with spoke only a few words of English. Although, by the end of a long day the hunger in our eyes needed no words and we were treated with a fried rice feast.

^^ This door was decommissioned after the house extension

^^ Our bedroom

The next morning we were up early as the dawn orchestra of farmers and their buffalo headed back out to the fields. After breakfast and a 5 minute ride down the road we found ourselves staring at a beautiful oasis. Water trickled down out of the black cave mouth and pooled in a crystal clear swimming hole, full of fish!



We found a boat man and headed into the cave. The boats are moored just inside the mouth of the cave, although I think when it’s got more water flowing through it they keep them on the bank of the swimming hole.


As you enter the cave it’s a mixture of excitement and foreboding doom. I don’t think anyone likes heading into pitch black, especially a place that looks a bit like the entrance to the underworld. Although it’s not long before all bad feelings are replaced with awe, it’s amazing inside. Giant stalactites and stalagmites reach for each other in a process that can take millions of years, especially in a cave this big. Some parts of the cave are so high/deep that the combination of temperature change and no wind makes huge walls of fog sit under deep sections – really cool. There was one small area of the cave that had mounted spot-lights which allowed you to walk through a short section of the dimly lit cavern.

Unfortunately you can’t take any pictures inside the cave because it’s pitch black (other than the 2 guides that have giant spotlights), so you will have to come yourself to enjoy its awesomeness :).

After about 45 minutes motoring through the mountain you see light ahead and before you know it you are ‘birthed’ out the other side. When you look back over your shoulder at the mountain you just passed through it feels like it wasn’t real.

^^ Coming out the other side


After a quick break and a drink it’s back through again. We then had a swim and watched all the butterflies dance around the water’s edge.





Kong Lo Cave and Kong Lo village was well worth the visit and anyone contemplating whether or not to deviating from the main tourist trail should just go ahead with it, because it was really cool and it won’t be long until it’s a stop for everyone’s trip through Laos.

After saying our goodbyes to Kong Lo village we took our time riding back to Ban Khoun Khan enjoying the great scenery once again.



When we arrived at the Tourist Information Centre we saw the crazy entomologist Czech man we had met the day before out the front on the phone, and everyone in the centre fussing around. We asked what was happening and it turns out that the poor guys 2 hour return walk to the nearby waterfall ended up being an overnight stay sleeping on the wet jungle floor, and he had only just arrived back this afternoon. Apparently he lost the path and before long it was dark. The staff at the Tourist Information Centre had expected him back before nightfall and had been organising a search party for him all night and day; lucky we decided not to tag along with him! The poor guy told us that it was the most hellish night of his life, but he got nice and close to all the insects!

That night we enjoyed the pleasures of hot water and an air-con room. The next morning we headed for Thaekek (not sure on spelling), the only way to get there from Ban Khoun Khan is in the back of a ute, it cost 50,000 kip, 2 sore arses, and took 4 hours. After arriving in Thaekek we took a local bus to Pakse. The bus had more roof tiles and bags of rice than people, and the constant stopping to drop off these supplies to various villages made the trip 9 hours. When we finally arrived at Pakse it was 10pm so we just found a cheap guesthouse and collapsed.

^^ Pakse

The next day the plan was to catch the bus to Si Phan Dom, but we overslept and when we arrived at the bus station it had already gone! This meant bad news because we only had 1 more day left on our visas! So tomorrow we have to get into Cambodia.

On the tuk tuk back to town we passed the local market place and a local man hopped on going the same way. He had just purchased a bag full of snakes and some perfume. Without warning he whipped out the perfume bottle and covered me with it. Sprayed me in the mouth and eyes and all over my shirt, and then turned to Kirby and unloaded on her, so strange haha. We just cracked up laughing as we sat there drenched in his hideous perfume that smelt like toilet deodorant! He just sat there chuckling to himself as we looked at each other in shock, in fact as I’m writing this it’s making me crack up, just one of those weird unexpected things that happens while travelling in a foreign country that catches you completely by surprise and the only response you can muster is bursting into laughter.

That afternoon we just shopped for snacks because now that we are going all the way to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, it’s a 14 hour bus ride.

The next morning we were up nice and early to head to the southern bus station, it was the last day on our visa so we had to get into Cambodia. Once again we decided to choose the s l o w e s t tuk tuk in the world, and the 8km to the station took 45 minutes!

When we arrived at the southern bus station we couldn’t find the bus that was going to take us, so we asked the information desk for help, the very same people that we had spoken to the day before about catching this bus to Phnom Penh. We couldn’t believe it when they told us that we were at the wrong bus station and were meant to be at the ‘VIP’ bus station, even though yesterday they told us to come back here. Anyway after some back and forth they got the bus driver to come to this station to pick us up on his way through, thank god!

The bus trip was good; the staff even wore ties which was a bit fancy. When we crossed the border we had to pay $20 for the Cambodian visa and a $4 bribe on either side for the guards to stamp it, fairly standard from what we hear. Just across the border the driver had to stop the bus outside an eatery for an hour because the air-conditioner had ‘broken’, at which time he promptly received his free meal in return for dumping 30 tourists at their restaurant, pretty shady but all the busses do it.

A little while later the bus dropped some British tourists off at a small Cambodian town call Stung Treng. As soon as the door opened the most heinous smells assaulted everyone’s nostrils and I might have heard one of the girls hopping off crying. It wasn’t very nice, or at least the place they were getting dropped off at wasn’t very nice.

^^ Stung Treng bus stop

Anyway we eventually made it to Phnom Penh and this marks the start of our Cambodian leg! Yay.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 06:31 Archived in Laos Tagged cambodia phnom_penh scenery laos vientiane beautiful motorbike kong sao khan lak ban pakse lo how_to_get_to_kong_lo_cave kong_lo khoun ban_khoun_khan thaekek stung_treng Comments (2)


rain 27 °C

Our day started early as we headed out to the Vang Vieng bus station. We had a choice between the standard local buses or a fancier option that the locals call ‘The VIP Bus’, it costs a little bit extra but you get air-con and larger seats. So we forked out a few extra dollars and went with the fancy option. However, when the bus came to pick us up there was only 1 seat left, which meant I had to sit in the aisle on a plastic stool. I was pretty pissed off but what can you do, we had already parted with our money and the other option was to stay another night in Vang Vieng; and we were sick of partying. So off we went. Thankfully the bus ride was only 5 hours and I didn’t have to spend overnight on the floor like we saw some people do on the overnight sleeper buses in Vietnam.

We arrived in Vientiane just after lunch and it was pissing down rain. The bus just dropped us off in the middle of the street and we quickly found a café to shelter in and get our bearings.

Vientiane isn’t really anything spectacular. As the capital of Laos it performs its function well, although there is little to do. But we thought we would stick it out for a couple of days and see if it gets any better when it stops raining.

The first night we stayed in an absolute shithole of a guesthouse because it was cheap and we struggled to find any reasonably priced alternative in the pouring rain. It was basically just a 2m x 2m cupboard in a glorified shed that shared an open roof with many other ‘buildings’ and families. However it had a small TV with an English movie channel so we watched Wolverine while the streets flooded.

The next morning the rain had turned into a light drizzle so we hastily checked out of ‘Hotel De La Crap’ and rented a couple of push bikes to explore the city and find new accommodation.


We found a really beautiful temple called Vat Sisaket, it was built between 1819 – 1824 and was the only temple in Vientiane that survived when the Siamese invaded and destroyed everything in 1828. The grounds inside the temple were beautiful and a nice retreat from the busy streets.


After that we just rode around searching for a new guesthouse. It took us about an hour before we found a nice one at a reasonable price, it didn’t have a window but it was much better than the barn we stayed in the night before. During our ride around looking for a new guesthouse Vientiane grew on me a bit. Even though it is Laos' capital city it somehow still retains the charm that the rest of Laos has become famous for. The moment you duck down the small alleys it is like you are transported to Luang Prabang and that was a nice surprise, I certainly didn't expect that from a busy city.
Because there wasn’t much to do we did a lot of eating and drinking, and it reflects in the photos we took, 90% of them over our 3 days in Vientiane were of us gorging ourselves until we felt sick, oh well we are on holiday :)

^^ The Patuxai monument is a miniature Arc de Triomphe built with the concrete that was donated by the U.S.A to build a new runway in Laos, apparently the monument was higher on the list of things to do.

The last day we spent most of it at a café, once again eating and drinking, but also planning our trip to Kong Lo Cave. Kong Lo is off the tourist track (for now) so we had to do a bit of planning around what local buses to take and which towns to hop off at.


Our last night in Vientiane we decided to eat at a restaurant called Makphet. It is run by a non-profit organisation and it teaches street kids how to cook and wait tables. We feasted well and were a bit embarrassed when all of our meals couldn’t fit on our table for two haha.


Vientiane wasn’t much to rave about but still worth the visit; tomorrow the adventure to Kong Lo village begins.

Cheers, Kyle

Posted by KyleMac 02:37 Archived in Laos Tagged monument laos vientiane patuxai arc_de_triomphe vat_sisaket makphet_restaurant Comments (0)

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