Saturday, April 7, 2012

Cambodia - Tuol Sleng (Security Prison 21)

S21 or Security Prison 21 was a movie adaptation of Tuol Sleng. I haven't watch the film but I was able to visit the actual place in Phnom Penh. To give you a brief history of the place, it used to be a High School turned into prison by Khmer Rouge. Most of the prisoners were intellectuals, government officials and soldiers of previous regime, monks, etc. Later, Khmer Rouge regime turned on its own ranks and thousand of its party members and their families were also tortured and executed at Tuol Sleng.  

Inside Tuol Sleng, these rules are to be followed strictly.

Presently, there are four (three-storey) buildings inside Tuol Sleng. Building A has large holding rooms where the bodies of last 14 victims were found.

Inside building B are mainly photos of the victims.

The students used this gallows in front of building B to stretch and tone their bodies but after converting the school into prison, the prison guards/interrogators used this gallows to hang the prisoners arms bound at the back until they lost consciousness. 

Building C was transformed into single holding cells made of bricks and woods. The victims defecate and urinate inside their cells using improvised metal tins and jerry cans. They can't even drink without asking permission from the prison guards otherwise, they would be beaten severely. They were always shackled to the wall or concrete floor.

an old school black board

Building D contains mainly memorabilia including the instruments of torture. A video presentation is also being shown at 10 AM, if I remember it correctly, at 3rd floor of this building.

a Buddhist altar surrounded by skulls and bones of the victims
torture tools

video room in building D
more picture of the victims

Out of an estimated 17,000 prisoners, there were only seven known survivors. However, only three of them are thought to be still alive. They survived because of their skills which were put in use by the prison staff. One of them is a mechanic while the other is a painter or artist.

I had a golden opportunity to meet two of them. It costs me 10 USD for each photo shoot and some memorabilia. These two now stand as witnesses against the genocidal acts of Khmer Rouge regime.

Bou Meng - artist
Chum Mey - mechanic

When the invading Vietnamese troops discovered S21, they found 14 bodies inside building A. They buried them inside the prison compound. They were the last victims before the S21 staff fled from the prison compound

During its first year, S21 executed prisoners were buried near the prison compound. Later, when there was no more space for burial, the prisoners and their families were sent to Choeung Ek (The Killing Field), 15 kms from the city, to be executed.

The whole compound was surrounded by electrified barbed wires to prevent the prisoners from escaping while the barbed wires of building C were used to prevent the prisoners from committing suicide by jumping from the 3rd or 2nd floors.

If you will visit Tuol Sleng first before Cheoung Ek, you can't help but ask yourself why they need to execute also the children. I learned the answer from the narration from the audio set I used in Choeung Ek. Khmer Rouge believed that to kill the weeds you need to remove its roots. In other words, to prevent revenge, the kids need to be executed as well.

I went to this place by tuk-tuk and paid 3 USD per trip. Fortunately, the tuk-tuk driver decided to wait thus I paid him another 3 USD for the trip back to hotel. I spent around two hours inside the compound and paid 2 USD entrance fee. To add, this place is not ideal for kids.


  1. Felt a chill up my spine! One of my most memorable museum trips, ever. Sigh.

  2. Same here... I even asked my colleague to try his best to visit tuol sleng & choeung ek this vacation while there is chance to meet the remaining survivors.

  3. Hi, I'd like to know how many minutes from the city center to S-21?


  4. I think around 15 minutes. You're welcome & for thanks for dropping by.