Why is Cambodia called the Killing Fields?

People often refer to Cambodia as ‘The Killing Fields’ but it’s not technically correct. Here’s a brief explanation why.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Why is Cambodia called the Killing Fields?

Firstly, it’s important to say here that Cambodia is not called ‘The Killing Fields’ but there is often confusion about the name.

The Killing Fields technically refers to a number of sites that were used for mass executions and burials of people killed by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rough regime in the late 1970s. Because the regime was killing so many people who were considered inappropriate for the new society that was being created, the murders needed to be cheap. They were literally done in fields, quite often, and the killers would use farming tools or swords to save bullets. The victims were then buried in shallow graves in the fields.

Since that time, about 20,000 mass graves have been found and it’s estimated almost 1.5 million people were buried in them.

The best known example of the Killing Fields is called Choeung Ek and is just a short drive from the capital Phnom Penh. Most tourists will know this site just as ‘The Killing Fields’ and that’s how it’s advertised to foreigners by many tour agencies.

A famous film made in 1984 called ‘The Killing Fields’ has also led to the misconception by some people that the name refers to all of Cambodia. The movie was set during the lead-up and the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge and the title refers to the genocide that occurred during that period.

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