What is it like visiting S-21 in Phnom Penh


What is it like visiting S-21 the former prison camp of Democratic Kampuchea? To put it simply this is a very macabre and saddening affair, but also one of the most important if you want to understand the ramifications of what the Khmer Rouge did and its effects on modern Cambodian culture.

And while there are plenty of other things to do when you are in Cambodia, when it comes to the Dark Tourism element, few rival in importance to S-21.

To read about Phu Quoc Prison click here.

What was S-21?

Located in a school in downtown Phnom Penh this was the main prison camp for the Khmer Rouge, who at this time were running Cambodia as Democratic Kampuchea.

Technically it was supposed to be a prison camp for criminals, but was used almost exclusively for political prisoners, with only 7 surviving of the 13,000 or so that passed through the doors. Everyone from grandparents to kids were killed here, with more so taken at the Choeung Ek Killing Fields.

How do you visit S-21?

S-21 is actually really easy to visit, being located pretty much in the BKK 1 downtown region of Phnom Penh. Eerily this means that there are restaurants bars and everything else you would expect from a downtown here – including the best burger in the capital, which is walking distance.

Therefore you do not need to join a tour to go here and can just come via TukTuk, with guides available if you need.

S-21 Address (Khmer)

he Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum(សារមន្ទីរឧក្រិដ្ឋកម្មប្រល័យពូជសាសន៍ទួលស្លែង)

រាជធានី, សង្កាត់ បឹង កេងកង ៣ ខណ្ឌ ចំការ មន, St 113,

Phnom Penh 12304

S-21 Address (English);

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum


Phnom Penh


Kingdom of Cambodia

What do you see at S-21

Eerily what you see is essentially a school, but one that has had the starkness of what it was preserved. At first this is largely concentrated on showing you how people were tortured, with photos and the like.

Other rooms show photos of what the Killing Fields were like, but also of the many thousands of victims of S-21. For anyone that has been to Auschwitz, you will know what and eerie feeling this is.

At certain times of the year there are also art displays, as well as other things done to remember what occurred at S-21. At the end you are greeted to a memorial garden and often times a survivor of the camp.

Meeting a survivor of S-21

At the very end of the tour you often get the chance to meet a survivor, with a few different ones often being present. Obviously as the years go by this is something that will happen much less and less.

I personally most remember meeting Chum May one of the 7 official survivors of the camp, who lost his wife and children here, but somehow still manages to come and sell his book on most days. I obviously purchased the book and have to say it was truly amazing, particularly as it was signed.

You can see him on YouTube

Overall I have to say that visiting S-21 was and is one of the most rewarding things that I have ever done in Cambodia and is an absolute essential if you want to not just understand the past of Cambodia, but also why many things are what are they are today.

Pol Pot might indeed be gone, but his influence certainly remains.

You can join me in visiting S-21 on one of my Cambodia Tours.