When A Tourist Attraction Feels All Wrong

Outside the city of Battambang, Cambodia one of the highlights is to visit the killing caves. During the 1970s, during Pol Pot’s rule of the Khmer Rouge government, these caves outside town were used for murder.  For whatever reason, what I read online gave me the impression this would be a historical visit worth adding to this stop.

For a small entrance fee of $2, there’s a hike (or drive) up this hill to a Buddhist monastery and temple.  But nearly halfway back down the hill off the road, back behind another pagoda, young boys will guide tourists down into a cave.

Once below he pointed to the hole above and explained, unphased, how Khmer Rouge fighters tricked folks into coming up to this area before throwing them down into the cave. Some were fortunate enough a slit throat first with a sugar palm leaf.  Others were left to dehydration and starvation with their broken bones if they survived the fall.  He pointed to the box of bones, encouraged picture taking and patiently waited for his tip, all while two even smaller barefoot boys wrestled and played on the cave floor.

I’m all for historical sites, learning about the good and bad of each country’s past, present and future…but this was too much for me.  Maybe others don’t have the same reaction did – this has an average of 4 stars on tripadvisor after all.  It was in poor taste, in my opinion.  Nothing felt right about the visit or how it was presented.  Cambodia has a sorted past and this is part of it. It’s their reality.  I’m just more surprised in myself for not thinking twice about paying to see death.

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4 Responses to When A Tourist Attraction Feels All Wrong

  1. Lennart says:

    Hey Dawn, what a bitter aftertaste… interesting read though. I am planning to travel to Cambodia in September as well, however might not want to go to the killing caves now…

    • Dawn says:

      Lennart! Hey buddy. Yeah, there’s killing fields to visit near Phnom Phen too. Maybe read some more reviews online before deciding if it’s for you or not. I clearly don’t have the stomach for it!

  2. Darren says:

    I always had a weird vibe in Cambodia. They have a gnarly past and a questionable present. Hopefully, things will brighten up in the future. The young kids asking for tips (forced to get tips) rubbed me the wrong way. I think it’s important to see places like this for what they are though. Traveling ain’t always pretty.
    Good post

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