Young Pioneer Tours

In The Shadow of the Khmer Rouge – Kampong Chhnang Airport

As part of our latest Cambodia Dark Tourism Tour, we decided to cast our net a little further afield by visiting Kampong Chhnang, and in particular Kampong Chhnang Airport and prison caves.

These two places are about as far from the beaten track as you can get and are accessible through the duality of Google Maps, old information from CAM-DC, as well as good old fashioned hitting the ground and asking directions.

Doing this though led us to two very worthy Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot era attractions.

On the Khmer Rouge Trail

When it comes to dark tourism, there is fairly scant information available online. This is for a number of reasons, but principal among them is that, quite fairly the government of the Cambodian Peoples Party are keen to brush it under the carpet.

This though would be a mistake and thankfully CAM-DC, or the Cambodian Documentation Centre are strenuously trying to avoid. After all a country that forgets the mistakes of its past is in real danger of making the same ones.

CAM-DC have thus not only mapped a number of sites within Cambodia, but have also preserved many. This includes Anlong Veng, where they are currently creating a boost to tourism there with serious renovations of a number of the Khmer Rouge sites there.

Kampong Chhnang Airport

Kampong Chhnang Airport, which amazingly still has the airport codes of (IATA: KZC, ICAO: VDKH) is an abandoned airport in the rural province of Kampong Chhnang. Its history is a bleak one with its building starting in 1975 withy help from Chinese advisors.

Said help continued all the way up into the formation of Democratic Kampuchea and until the fall of the regime in 1979.

The construction was done via forced labour in horrendous conditions, with many of the 10,000 perishing and being buried, or left to rot at Kampong Chhnang Airport. Currently no one knows exactly how many people died, but locals were still compiling about the smell of rotten bodies two years after the event.

And as for Chinese involvement? This is not only documented, but is well remembered by local people, both at the airport and in the nearby prison caves. At the time China was for all intents the only friend of the Khmer Rouge. Quite the irony that they are now so close to the Cambodian Peoples Party government of Hun Sen.

Visiting Kampong Chhnang Airport

Visiting Kampong Chhnang Airport is no easy feat, with it being 3 hours from both Battambang, as well as Phnom Penh. Further making it difficult is that despite the runway of the airport being in great shape, there are only dirt roads leading to it. You will need a good vehicle to get here.

Once you do find your path you will see the entrance is guarded by a solitary solider with a rusty AK-47. You see whilst the airport has been derelict since 1979, the perfect runway would make it a great place for Thailand, or Vietnam to attack.

Said runway goes it a circle making it essentially tow runways that total around 8,000 feet of paved road. Not only this, but there is also empty fuel tanks, a traffic control tower, a full runway onto the airport, as well as other peripheral things that mean that even today it could be converted into an actual airport.

Whether the government plan to do this, or not is yet to be seen, but one would not be surprised to see the Chinese back here again with their cheque books.

And the Prison Caves of Kampong Chhnang

Just five to ten minutes drive from Kampong Chhnang Airport is another undocumented Khmer Rouge site, namely the Prison Caves of Kampong Chhnang. Said caves are quite literally only reachable by asking directions from locals, locals who often times lost relatives there.

After we found them a diminutive local walked us up the hill and told the story of how Chinese advisors had “helped” lead the forced labour into removing rock by hand for the airport, as well as building the three roomed prison cave.

Sadly on our adventure it was flooded to such a degree that you could not go down and check it out. There was though still the eerie stench of death coming from the opening of the cave.

Yes it take some time to get here, but for those of us with an interest in Khmer Rouge history this was well worth the journey.

You can check out our Cambodian Dark Tourism Tour here.

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