Wat Thmei pagoda, located on one of the roads leading to Angkor Wat, is worth pausing at particularly if you won’t be visiting Phnom Penh. Here at this active monastery you can understand more about Cambodia’s tragic history since this now relatively built up area of town was formerly a site of killing fields in Siem Reap during the Khmer Rouge era.
The term ‘killing fields’ is often associated solely with Choeung Ek killing fields in Phnom Penh, but in fact these areas were located across Cambodia. It’s a sobering experience, and if you don’t have time for the capital in your itinerary then Wat Thmei it will help your understanding of the gravity of the country’s horrific recent past.
While there is nothing of great size to see here – the open grounds contain a large prayer hall on the left as you enter, stupas, and everything you’d expect of a typical modern pagoda – in the middle rests a single glass-sided monument filled with the skulls and bones of victims collected by locals after the Pol Pot regime ended.
Along with this haunting memorial there are also a couple of photo boards with images of just some of those who lost their lives. Without a guide you will likely not need much time to visit Wat Thmei, other than that with which to reflect, so it would be well worth doing some reading before visiting if you are not yet much informed on the history.
S-21 (Tuol Sleng Prison) and Choeung Ek are the historically important sites in Phnom Penh that will likely impart more information than Wat Thmei, since the latter in the capital now has a particularly informative audio guide. Nonetheless, Wat Thmei’s memorial will still leave an impression and despite the tour buses that stop here, it serves as a place where you can find a quiet moment to reflect and pay respect.
Wat Thmei is free to enter and there is also a small shop in the grounds. It takes around 15 minutes to reach the pagoda from the centre of Siem Reap by tuk tuk and is en route to the temples, so can easily be included at the beginning or end of a day’s touring.
How to get there
It takes around 15 minutes to reach the pagoda from the centre of Siem Reap by tuk tuk and is en route to the temples, so can easily be included at the beginning or end of a day’s touring.
By Caroline Major
Last updated on 15th October, 2013.