Ba Chuc Tomb

Top choice memorial in Ha Tien

Ba Chuc’s memorial, 75km from Ha Tien, stands as a ghastly reminder of the horrors perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. Between 18 April and 30 April 1978, the Khmer Rouge killed 3157 villagers here, leaving only two survivors.

The memorial consists of two parts: the ossuary housing the skulls and bones of more than 1100 victims and the memorial room next door, displaying wrenching post-massacre photos.

It's possible to organise a tour from Chau Doc (US$30) or a xe om from Ha Tien (400,000).

Between 1975 and 1978 Khmer Rouge soldiers regularly crossed the border into Vietnam and slaughtered innocent civilians. Over the border, things were even worse, where nearly two million Cambodians were killed during the period of Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea regime.

In the ossuary, resembling either an onion or a lotus flower bud (depending on your outlook), the skulls and bones are divided by age group (including the minute skulls of toddlers and babies) and gender. This collection resembles Cambodia’s Choeung Ek killing fields, where thousands of skulls of Khmer Rouge victims are on display, but as it's clean, sterile and well lit, with a spot to leave offerings in the centre, it appears almost cheerful compared to what confronts you next door.

The memorial room showcases the weapons used by the Khmer Rouge (knives, bayonets and cudgels) and sticks used for torture, particularly of women. Many of the Ba Chuc victims were tortured to death. The photos are for strong stomachs only.

The bottoms of walls at the Phi Lai Tu Temple behind the memorial room are still stained dark with the blood of the slain; more than 300 villagers were slaughtered inside. The Vietnamese government might have had other motives for invading Cambodia at the end of 1978, but certainly outrage at the Ba Chuc massacre was a major one.

Ba Chuc is 4km south of the road running parallel to the Cambodian border between Ha Tien and Chau Doc, somewhat closer to Ha Tien (75km). Renovations began in 2011 for completion in 2018 to mark the 40-year commemoration of the massacre.