Perhaps the true must-see of Phnom Penh, Tuol Sleng is an incredibly harrowing tour into the horrific and not-so-distant past. Now a museum and reminder of the sadism and depravity of Pol pot’s regime, Tuol Sleng will perhaps make you sick to your stomach. It is an overwhelming experience from which you’ll leave changed, but a visit is an important sign of respect. Once a former high school turned prison, Tuol Sleng was where 20,000 Cambodians, including everyone with any formal education, were tortured before being killed; either burnt alive while chained to the electrified beds and walls, or slaughtered at the nearby ‘Killing Fields’ of Choeng Ek.
The building has been kept as the Vietnamese liberators found it, minus the charred remains, and will help you understand why Cambodians have shunned education for generations. With the fanatic pedantry typical of despotic regimes, the adolescent captors and torturers took a photo of every prisoner upon their arrival and at their death. Row upon row of these portraits display absolute terror on the victim’s faces and will make you wince and weep. Alongside the wall-high map made from the skulls of the dead that represents the three million Cambodians who died in this era, the photos will make you understand from where modern Cambodia has risen and continues to rise.