I was walking with tour guide Suon Chhavirak across a hilly field framed by orchid trees, just 5 miles south of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh. The verdant beauty created a chilling contrast to what came next, when Suon pointed to the ground, dotted with the human bones, teeth and clothing that still surface after rain storms.
“My father was killed here,” he said softly, as we took in the ghastly Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, one of more than 300 killing fields where the Pol Pot regime massacred between 1 and 3 million Cambodians (out of a population of 8 million) between 1975 and 1979. “We just want to know why,” he said. “Why?”
Four decades after the Khmer Rouge’s brutal reign, the fault lines suffused nearly every exchange I had while touring Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The country’s trauma is profound, and so is its magnificence.