We may not all be interested in going on a full-on dark tourism adventure, but we can always take some time off our regular holiday to check out a few places. All we need is an open mind, a willingness to learn, understand and accept, and maybe a pair of good walking shoes.
Here are some famous destinations you can visit if you’re new to dark tourism.
Go on a self-walking tour of the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. This graveyard is popular for several reasons – the place is designed like a beautiful garden; a handful of famous people are buried here; and it’s old (built in 1804!).
Some of the graves to look out for include Jim Morrison’s, Oscar Wilde’s, Edit Piaf’s and Frederic Chopin’s. There is also a large section dedicated to folks who lost their lives during the Holocaust. This section may be difficult for some people to walk through as there are several sculptures that look a little disturbing.
Atom bombs – deadly, devastating, a lifetime of misery. In August 1945, two atom bombs were dropped by the United States on Japan’s Hiroshima and Nagasaki cities within a span of three days. More than 200,000 people were killed instantly as a result of the nuclear explosions, while hundreds of thousands more suffered from the long term after-effects.
It was and still is the only time that a nuclear weapon was used during war.
Hiroshima and Nagasaki are destinations that many dark tourists would include on their travel list. A trip to either city today would not be complete without a visit to these places: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and A-Bomb Dome, as well as the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. There are also many sites and buildings which survived the blasts that offer a good insight into the bombings.
Here’s another place that’s linked to a nuclear explosion, except this time it was not deliberate. Chernobyl is in the Ukraine, which, when the explosion happened in 1986, was still part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR. The town of Chernobyl was known for its nuclear power plant, one of the largest in the USSR back then.
In April 1986, engineers decided to put the reactor through a safety test … which turned out very, very badly. It is in fact the most disastrous nuclear power plant accident in history, with the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi incident running a close second.
Today, Chernobyl is not only a prime destination for dark tourists but for “regular” hoildaymakers as well, with several tour operators offering attractive packages. The area surrounding the power plant is called the Exclusion Zone – which is where you will find the famous ghost town Pripyat – but it is still accessible (though within limits) to visitors.
You don’t have to go far to start your dark tourism journey. The Sandakan POW (Prisoner-Of-War) Camp in Sabah was where the infamous Sandakan Death Marches began.
The POW camp was formed during the Japan Occupation in the early 1940s. Thousands of British and Australian prisoners, who were captured in and transferred from Singapore, were kept at the camp and forced to build a military airfield for the Japanese. However, in 1945, the Japanese decided to abandon the project and close down the camp. The prisoners were then made to march all the way to Ranau (about 260km away) in three batches; some were sent to the jungle or killed at the camp.
By Aug 15, 1945 – the end of World War II – only six men remained alive.
The camp is now part of the Sandakan Memorial Park while the unfinished airfield became the Sandakan Airport. Signs have been put up to mark the routes the soldiers took during the death marches. The route starts in Sandakan and ends at the “Last POW Camp at Pialungan, Kenipir” in Ranau.
The Killing Fields in Cambodia is a group of sites in the country where more than a million people were killed between 1975 and 1979. The mass executions and burials were ordered by the Khmer Rouge regime, under the leadership of Pol Pot.
The people who were killed were suspected spies and supporters of the old government and foreign governments, intellectuals and professional workers. The Killing Fields is just one part of the Cambodian Genocide tragedy, where an estimated 2.5 million people (some studies suggest more) were killed.
There are monuments, a memorial park and a museum set up in honour of those who died, while many of the mass graves are still visible above ground today.