The Cambodian Genocide Survivor Who Touched My Life: Ceci Leger’s Journey Beyond the Bucket List

Today we will hear from Ceci Leger, a veteran of the luxury cruise industry who has journeyed to more than 70 countries. She is a global traveler with a huge heart, and ranks Cambodia as one of the world’s must-visit destinations – not just for its sights, but for its people, who are striving to heal from the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge genocide.

Although Ceci did take vivid photos of the former “S-21” prison and Killing Fields, I love the fact that she focused her camera lens on life.  


Although it may be dusty, hot and humid, the inner-strength of the Cambodians certainly shines through. Yet, it was one man’s story that particularly touched her life.

Let’s hear more from Ceci:

Cambodia is an assault on the senses. Large trays of deep fried cockroaches for sale at the village market. The constant noise of boat propellers running up and down the Mekong. Buddhist prayers broadcasting on loud speakers along the river bank. The sheer magnificence of Angkor Wat. The scorching sun and high humidity that are trademarks of Southeast Asia. And a story of profound loss and redemption that is shared by everyone you meet. Like mine, your visit to Cambodia will likely be very raw and leave an indelible mark in your heart.

If, like me, you’ve visited sites of great destruction and rebirth like Hiroshima, Normandy and Nazi Germany landmarks, your experience may have had a somewhat more distant quality, given that opportunities to interact with the few remaining survivors tend to be infrequent. Your experience of Cambodia, however, will most certainly be intensified because nearly everyone you meet will either be a survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide or a direct descendant of one.

The stories you hear will not be echoes from history books. No – they will be vivid recollections from their very own lives, when they were given the choice to kill or be killed…and often forced to murder members of their own families. They will recount the times when they ate insects and drank sewage water to survive. And how they chose to embrace Buddhism so that forgiveness would enable them to move forward. And how they taught themselves English so they could share their story with people who might help them uphold the justice of their cause.

Killing Fields - by Ceci Leger


And like my personal guide, despite utter professionalism, they will likely not be able to contain their tears as they take you to visit sites like the Killing Fields or the infamous S-21 prison where indescribable atrocities took place during the genocide – and where incidentally, you will likely encounter former prisoner, Chum Mey, one of only seven survivors out of some 16,000 killed in Phnom Penh. Mey’s peaceful gaze and soft gait remind me of Mark Twain’s quote about the art of letting go:

“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”

To listen to Chum Mey’s story or to merely stand next to him will remind you that any problems you may have surely pale in comparison… and that you are infinitely more blessed than you often realize. The short, graphic documentary Survivor will give you some perspective…

And that is the gift of Conscious Travel – the lessons it bestows upon you are exponentially more valuable than any souvenir you can buy along the way. They will last you a lifetime too, and will influence many of your choices henceforth, in ways both big and small.

Naturally, Cambodia is not the only site in the world capable of such an impact. But, what a superb place to start…

Reflections and photographs compliments of Ceci Leger – Global Travel Management Consultant

Make sure to check out my guides for How to Journey Beyond the Bucket List in Angkor and Phnom Penh!

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