Travel Horror Story: Meeting Ghosts in a Genocide Museum

Travel Horror Stories is a column in which travellers submit scary, traumatizing, crazy or just flat out annoying tales from on the road. This Travel Horror Story is brought to you from Jim McIntosh at Holes in My Soles. Check his site out! If you would like to share your horrific experience, please email

Meeting Ghosts in a Genocide Museum



In strange, intimidating, or new situations, or when needing to make a decision I try to use my perceptive abilities, by practising a form of quickie meditation, blanking out my mind, ignoring any outside influences, and seeking that immediate inner intuitive response. Over the years this ability to sense influences in my surroundings, or happenings to loved ones has been a rather interesting journey. There are stories to tell…this is but one of them.

An early morning’s visit to S21, Tuol Sleng, Phnom Pehn, Cambodia, January 2008. Few tourists around, so I picked a room in the ground floor of the middle block, where prisoners were brutally tortured, chained to the iron beds in the centre and waited until I was alone.
And I meditated.
Soon I was almost overcome with an overpowering


The gallows or strappado outside the centre block

feeling of pain, anguish, despair…feelings that seemed to come at me rather than from inside me. All the torment and despair of hundreds of people, as if I was experiencing all the residual anguish and pain imprinted in that room. I knew those were not my feelings, they didn’t belong to me. This was from outside me, coming at me, almost overwhelming, but in a strange way not threatening, and as if some thing or things wanted me to understand what they felt.

Then things started to form, a host of shining, shimmering spherical orb shapes, as if faces were forming…and those feelings were being communicated to me from them. Then they started to elongate, and my thought was “These are pre-human forms.” So I freaked out, I really was not prepared for that and snapped out of the trance. Immediately all the anguish and pain subsided.


View of the grounds

I expected to feel pain, despair etc, but not to see things forming! Then I found myself wandering into every other room, on each of the 3 floors of that block. Each individual brick cubicle. Why? So I stopped, meditated and asked myself “Why are you doing this?”
The immediate impression was “You are searching for something.”
I turned and walked out to the stairwell area at the end of the building, and for some strange reason found myself looking under the stairs, and came upon the graffiti on the wall. Most people will miss this.

When this was a school, nobody died.
When this was a prison, nobody learned.


Kay and Jim riding the Bamboo Express, Battambang

I breathed a sigh of relief as this was what I felt I had been searching for. Some tourist had written this upon the wall. I never knew it was there, but felt I had been sent to read it by some unseen but compelling guiding presence, as if it was their only way of being able to communicate.
Some people say that spirits or ghosts are the personalities imprinted on a place from traumatic events…I don’t know. But whatever happened leaves me wondering if those who died there have left part of their souls within that place.
And the overwhelming impression the shapes left in my mind was that they want Tuol Sleng kept for a reminder that this should never happen again, otherwise their suffering has lost the last remaining shred of any meaning.
If you visit Tuol Sleng treat it not just as a museum, but with respect as a lasting reminder that the genocide should never happen again. The souls of those that died there can only rest easy if we never allow this to happen again. You will not visit and be unmoved.

Written by Ross French