Creepiest ‘Dark Tourism’ sites around Asia

The eerie scene in the aftermath of the earthquake and subsequent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that hit Japan in 2011. Source: Shutterstock/Olivier Bourgeois

THE ethical implications around dark tourism – visiting sites that have seen human tragedy – is still a little fuzzy. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with visiting say Auschwitz Concentration Camp, or any other site of past tragedy, it’s all about intention.

There has been many an incident of misplaced selfies or jumping-star photos in the least appropriate of settings – selfies at Grenfell Tower in London is a recent example. But if you are able to exhibit a sensitivity to the surroundings and appreciate the significance, then visiting these sites can be moving and poignant.

Here are some sites around Asia-Pacific that will give you chills:

Yingxiu Township, China

In May 2008, a massive earthquake shook the mountainous region of Sichuan Province in southwestern China. An estimated 90,000 people were killed by the 7.9 magnitude quake, as entire villages and towns were obliterated. Millions more were displaced from their homes.

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A memorial sculpture now stands at the epicentre of the earthquake. The large granite clock reads 2.28pm, the time the first tremors struck. You can still visit the collapsed middle school in Yingxiu Township. The striking lopsided building exudes an eerie energy.

The Killing Fields, Cambodia

In 1975 the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia, initiating a bloody genocide that ultimately claimed the lives of an estimated 1.7 million people.

The extermination camp dubbed “the killing fields,” is located just outside of Phnom Penh and is a peaceful place today. Visitors can learn of the horrors that unfolded here with an excellent audio tour that relays stories from the people who were there decades ago.

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Fragments of bones and scraps of clothing can still be found under foot, littered across the site. More than 8,000 skulls, arranged by sex and age, are visible behind the clear glass panels of the Memorial Stupa, which was erected in 1988.

Fukushima, Japan

Trespasser looks through items in an abandoned Fukushima supermarket. Source: Keow Wee Loong / Facebook

We all remember the scenes of heart-breaking devastation coming out of Japan following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that left 16,000 dead. That same tsunami swamped the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, causing a mass exodus from surrounding areas.

Although radiation levels at the site remain at a high level – residents of the exclusion zone have not been allowed back to their homes – you can now take a tour which will carry you into the heart of the disaster. You can be guided around Namie – a town, five miles north of the plant, whose abandoned homes and vacant buildings are testament to the catastrophic fallout of March 11, 2011.

Cu Chi Tunnels, Vietnam

Daily, hundreds flock to Cu Chi, the underground network of tunnels that stretch 250km from Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City and served Viet Cong fighters during the Vietnam war.

The staggeringly narrow tunnels make for some uncomfortable scrambling for those brave enough to enter the original ones. There are one that have been widened slightly so tourists are able to get a taste of what the soldiers and their families experienced.

It is a truly remarkable site and a perfect snapshot of history. Buried deep under the soil, the rebels had carved out schools, homes and kitchens. They essentially lived their lives underground to evade detection. An estimated 45,000 are believed to have died defending the tunnels.