Phnom Penh adventures..

Well, I'm now in Siam Reap, home of Angkor Wat, testament of the Cambodian peoples former glory... the town is disturbingly clean in places, and really doesn't seem to fit the rest of Cambodia's "image".  However this entry is about Phnom Penh and what I did over the last 2 days there.

Killing Fields

So lets see.. right, it was a drizzly day on the 11th when I got up at 9:30am to head out to see the killing fields, which is about 14km's out of town.  You pay $2 US to get in, and effectively what you get is to see a number of exhumed mass graves where the Khmer Rouge dumped the bodies of people after they were either shot, or more often, bludgeoned to death - often these were people who had been undergoing torture at the S-21
facility - but more about that later.

At any rate... Around the various pits are descriptions, such as the delightful sign stating that "this was the tree children were beaten against" and there are small urns of human
bones.  Aside from that there is a large Stupa (which basically looks like an Obelisk) which is split into multiple layers, each layer containing many skulls - sorted by age and
gender, in total there are almost 9,000 skulls on display - most showing the evident head trauma that brought there lives to a fairly brutal and now doubt traumatic end.

While standing in the rain I ended up talking to a Khmer man who was there... most of the conversation centred around his family (almost every Khmer person has a tragic story about this period that directly involved there family) - and he introduced me to
his rather practical viewpoint, in that he felt it was a very dangerous time.. but he didn't seem to persue the psychological issues, I say practical in that it seems like one of the only ways you could "get on with business" after a genocide that didn't even end before some of my generation were born.

S-21, Genocide Museum

After that I got back on "Pauls" bike - the driver from the guesthouse - and he took me to S-21, which was originally a school until converted to a detenion and interogation centre to
be used by the Khmer Rouge - first off I will say that this is a wonderful "museum" - I found in really interesting wandering through the compound which is split into four buildings, the
first and the third are basically just displaying the rather depressing compound where people were held - with disturbing fuzzy black and white plates of the last victims of S-21
displayed on the walls of each room/cell (there were 14 people found dead in S-21 after the K.R were overthrown, who are now buried in the middle of the compound).  The other two rooms are dedicated to displays of the thousands of potraits taken over
that period of people brought here to confess there crimes - generally under torture, and often measuring into the hundreds of pages (there confessions that is), as well as a number of photo studies with accompanying stories prepared by the dccam
(documentation center of cambodia) http://www.dccam.org/. All very interesting.

As for how it all made me feel... to be honest I wasn't disturbed or peturbed, genocide though unpleasant is a subject I've always found interesting..  but I did become quite curious to know how other people reacted to the sights and generally unusual atmosphere this place exudes (some of the rooms have permanent blood stains on the
tiles) - and thankfully that's no too hard as each room has a journal where people can share there thoughts... some less thoughtful people even shared their thoughts on some of the walls of the other prison buildings, which is pretty disrespectful, but meh.. what can you do?

So, I spent about 3 hours all up in the museum - flicking through journals, staring at black and white photos and reading stories from the era, and formulated a categorisation for peoples reactions:

  1. Angry (30%)
    1. With comments such as "we will never learn!"
    2. "Polpot was a murdering fuckhead"
    3. The germans haven't learnt


  2. Apologetic (20%)
    1. I'm sorry
    2. We let this happen, why?"


  3. Supportive (20%)
    1. Cambodian People are amazing to get through this.


  4. Dismal (20%)
    1. We will NEVER learn :(
    2. The germans haven't learn't (this was a popular comment from a number of german tourists...??)


  5. Philosophical (10%)
    1. "We are all the same people"


  6. Practical - only the locals.. percentage wise I dont think it has much mileage
    1. Such as the cambodian man, ie. it was dangerous, now it is not dangerous.




Now, out of all the quotes presented from various people only one seemed worth quoting here, which was from the Goralcyzk family in Poland, and it simply said:

I am from poland, the land of Auschwitz - The famous polish
poet gave a motto: "It was people who gave other people this
fate."

Which to my mind pretty much encapsulates exactly how I felt about the whole thing.

Wat Phnom

I did some other stuff that night, but it's all fairly boring (dinner in town, watching sex tourists doing sex tourist things etc.) - and awoke the next day early and went for a walk to Wat Phnom, a temple on what is known to be the highest *snigger* point in the city of Phnom Penh, at a whopping 27 metres... Walking around this monument you get set on by limbless beggars and small street kids wanting money, but if you make it around to the other side you can sit in the park and feed the monkeys that live in the trees above, or as I like to call them, rabies at arms reach.

Monkeys are incredibly cute, but they seem pretty bloody dangerous to me - easily angered, persistent, sneaky and very quick - I got to watch while a couple of taiwanese tourists who were attacked by one of the monkeys there - I did nothing - and was glad they didn't have their gizzards spilt out, as it would've have ruined my photos, and I'd feel somehow responsible due to my inaction.

National Museum

After that I visited the National Museum.. pretty cool, a very well presented collection of artifacts housed in a lovely old building that has a centre courtyard with a pond and chairs to sit in - really nice - though you can't take pictures, which is a shame.

After that I had lunch, bought a copy of the Bangkok post from a street kid and drank copious cold lemon drinks (the only thing that seems to quench my thirst) - the kids are depressing, and I find them far more disturbing then the genocide because the problem seems resolvable... orphanages and schools, both which already exist in Cambodia.  But the devils in the detail I guess...

At any rate, after explaining for the 20th time that I wasn't going to give the news paper back after 10 minutes so he could sell it again (they must be fast readers here :?) I got to finish my lunch in relative peace... though the profit made on one newspaper being sold could probably feed him for a day, so I'm left to wonder just what they're up to.

There's more to the story.. but I'm really hungry, so I'll post this and post some more stuff tomorrow or the day after about events after the fact (heading to see the Angkor temples tomorrow, which should be good, albeit hot work, and I'm even going to attempt to see the sun rise... up before 5am.. blurry hell).

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Hello Kompong Cham... no wait, this is Phnom Penh

Hello Phnom Penh

Well I'm in Phnom Penh now.. the capital of Cambodia.  I did
get on a bus headed for Komphong Cham, in fact we stopped there,
and I opted to pay an extra $2 US to take me to the capital
instead... I'm not sure why I changed plains... but I just
didn't feel like staying there - call it a vibe? But I just
wasn't keen, so I headed for the capital.

The bus trip took about 9 to 10 hours including stops, I
sorta phased out near the end, and dropped me in the middle of
town (or should I say city, apparently the population here is
about 1 million?) - and after that I grabbed a tuk tuk to the
Boeng Kak Lakeside district, AKA backpacker hell (and of course
I've already been offered fiky-fik/boom-boom/brown
(heroin?),marijuana, opimun and coke. 

At any rate I had a squiz at the "green lake guesthouse" - seemed
ok - so I've grabbed a $3/night room there, hopefully It's not
too hot (Cambodia is definitely hotter then Laos, but the rain
seems to be counteracting that somewhat.. go the rainy
season!)

The "hilight" of the bus trip would have to be the trip from
Strung Treng to Kratie, which is on roads which I imagine were
adequate back in the day (they appear to have been sealed once) -
but now they've decayed to an endless string of pot
holes which the bus I was riding navigated at what I
estimate to be about 30 km/hr - fun fun fun, The major
problem here is that Cambodia is very very flat... and the roads
appear to be uncrowned and the same height as the very very flat
plain... ipso factso it's a disaster.. however I think my years
of dealing with Northland metal roads on my parents "ticki
tours" in New Zealand as a kid had prepared me well ;o)

The things that strike me in Cambodia as different to everywhere
else I've been (so far) is.. horses.. they seem to be quite
common in Cambodia, and used for all sorts of meanial labour that
would fall upon the water buffalo or "japanese buffalo"
(tractor/hoe contraption) back in Laos.  The horses however
are very small, and seem to look kinda like their going to drop
dead from Exhaustion..

After I sat down and watched the sun set I chilled out a little
from my trip.. talked to a Cambodian student named "paul" (or
something that sounds like paul) for an hour or two then
meandered off to find food, eventually settling on the "Lazy
Gecko" which is just up the road - they charge loads ($4
US!) - but did serve me pork chops, nice gravey and mashed
potatoes with a tastey mixed fruit shake... I would never have
thought I could actually miss mashed potatoes, but I did!

While talking to "Paul" we discussed various things such as the
apparent corruption in government ..."Mr Private" kept cropping
up, apparently he's done wonderful things for the
country such as selling the tourism rights to Angkor Wat to
the vietnamese, deforestation of Phnom Penh (which they now blame
for the droughts here) and Taking bribes from Thailand to not
enlarge the airport allowing for international air traffic -
wether the lad was exagerating, who knows.. but he seemed pretty
upset)

Poverty is definitely more "in your face" here - the contrast of
wealth and poverty is massive.. people drive $100K plus cars past
you in the street while just steps from this internet cafe
people are crammed into a single room like sardines,
grandparents, parents and children. 

From what I've read (and talking to Paul) - the ratio's run
something like 5 million employed, 3 million self employed and 4
million unemployed in Cambodia - with the self employed all on or
below the poverty line.. They had a riot earlier this year and
with over half the population under the age of 16 I wouldn't be
surprised if more occur in the future as the majority of
the population get to the age of voting (or realising
there vote doesn't count for much in a reasonably corrupt
system).

While we're talking numbers, apparently the infant mortality rate
here is around 9% at birth...  Joy!

Oh and I'm going to the killing fields tomorrow... so I'll
appologise in advance for any emotive trite I end up posting
around that trip, as who can say what effects seeing 8 or 9
thousand humans skulls will have on me... probably apathy, but
I'd like to think I may be touched on a more then statistical
level.

My mouse appears to be full of fluid and contains a small rubber
duck..?

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Don Khong, border crossings and Stung Treng

Don Khong

Right well I made it to Don Khong - nice spot, very laid back.. in fact maybe a little too laid back, as I wasn't able to enjoy it completely because I knew in the back of my mind that I would have to move on to Cambodia soon and didn't really have the right frame of mind to "take it slow"... basically because I'm starting to run short of time (I need to be in Vietnam by the 22nd of this month to start my tour that I booked before leaving N.Z) - It was very picturesque and after arriving there at about 2pm I ended up just sitting back and having a few beers with a British couple I met in my guesthouse, chilling out and discussing the scary phenomenon of "Dance Troupe" in the U.K.

The guesthouse was called Villa Khone Khong I think... I really liked it, and the guy who ran it was very nice - though he spoke very little english - the rooms were big, teak with shuttered windows and a dodgy looking bathroom - I think the setting was
probably romantic, though It would seem strange to muse about such things while I sat back reading a copy of catch 22 I'd swapped for another book with some other Traveler and drinking beer Laos.

Don Khong is quite a big Island (did I mention it was an Island on the Mekong) - about 18km's one way and a bit less the other way... After a big storm that night I awoke in the morning and decided that I would rent a scooter and have a look round, as
there really didn't seem much else to do (unless you count spotting the elusive freshwater dolphins in the area) - It's the first time I've ridden a scooter, as opposed to a
motorbike, it was a mighty 100cc Honda Wave.. with no clutch and and downward gear pattern.. confused the hell out of me as I grappled for an imaginary clutch lever and dropped the bike into fourth to take off ;o)

Still I think I could've used just 4th gear as it would cruise at 40km's an hour, or, at full tit...an amazing top speed of 66km's - which really isn't a good idea as the tires seemed to be going a bit.. umm... squishy at that speed.

At any rate, the rainy season has really kicked in - so my bike riding was interrupted by rain.. in fact it's raining in Cambodia as I post this..but I digress.. so at any rate I woke up this morning and decided it was time to leave Laos before I didn't have any time at all to see Cambodia.

Leaving Laos

To enter Cambodia from Laos normally requires a trip to Voen Kahm, where you get stamped out, pay a small bribe, get in a boat and cross to the other side and get stamped in... My crossing was umm.. a little less orthodox, as I got a lift with a Soldier
(with the obligatory Kalashnikov pressed between myself and him) on his motorscooter, then got a lift with a Cambodian family that he introduced me too who were driving a truck to Cambodia along a "road" that appears to be under heavy construction by the
Chinese (???) where the two border posts are only 100 metres from each other in thick trees... the road isn't sealed and was bollix, but it certainly was a bit of an adventure - albeit weird, I did feel a little anxious as other then a little bit I read on the internet after arriving in Cambodia it really does seem like this route is sorta "non-existent" and definitely not used by many if any tourists because it's by luck that you'll get a ride this way, in all I think I would not have saved more then a couple of dollars doing this vs. coming down on a speed boat, though it's probably safer then a speed boat.

I think also what raised my alarm bells was the fact that the teenage kid who sat on the rear of truck with me took his shirt off.. and had lashes and ragged scars all over his back like he'd been whipped - I do not know what the hell that was all
about :( but it wasn't cool... at any rate, I dont think at any point it was a dangerous crossing - the cambodian family seemed quite friendly - just confusing as I didn't really understand alot of what was going on. *shrug*

Arriving in Cambodia

So after riding with the Cambodian family for about 2 hours I arrived in a little village on the opposite side of the Mekong to a place called Stung Treng (which is quite a big town, by NZ standards) - which is where I'm typing up this post on a dodgy dialup connection (they had to start a generator just so I could turn the computer on!).

So far I haven't seen any westerners, but I'm sure they come here - as even if you take the alternative route - which involves a getting a speed boat- you still end up in Stung Treng - maybe it's just because it's low season?

Stung Treng is at least briefly mentioned in the Lonely planet books (though it basically only points out that it's kinda pants) and I've booked a bus ride to another city tomorrow at 7am, Kompong Cham, which is no doubt a rip off at $13
US - but I really didn't feel like trying to find the bus station and sorting it out myself as I seem to have picked up some more dodgy food in the last couple of days... weee .. fun fun fun - I can't imagine travelling without Imodium now - the alternative would be too repulsive to consider... At any rate, at the new city where I can eventually catch a bus or taxi to get myself up to Siem Reap/Angkor Wat - so all seems wellish, basically after this initial bit of my travels I'll be hanging out in the bigger cities, surrounded by electrickery, good food
and technologah.

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Savanaket, Pakse and Wat Phu Champasak oh my...

[ed: excuse the lateness of the post, the internet connection  in Pakse was very flakey so I haven't been able to post it till I arrived in Cambodia]

Savanaket

I arrived in Savanaket on 4th, After an 8 hour bus ride - It's a funny little town (well not that little) with a rather more grand "mirror image" across the other side of the Mekong, where it's sister town in Thailand resides, Mukdahan.
After grabbing a room at the Nong Soda I went for a bit of a walk before the sun went down - which was pretty cool, as the crumbling french colonial architecture is best viewed with a soft and slightly more forgiving light ;o) Basically Savanaket seems to be personified by red dust, tables by the mekong serving beer and meat on a stick to locals with their Honda "wave" scooters parked near by, small children letting off home made bamboo fireworks on the riverside and lines of trucks parked by the wharf, waiting to get the barge across to Thailand (as of yet the Bridge is still not finished between the two sides of the Mekong, though it only looks to be a year or two off completion)

That night we went in hunt of the "Cafe de Paris" - apparently it's the best food in town - apparently it also doesn't seem to be open any longer - so we settled for the slightly less cool, "Cafe Paris", or something to that effect - which served fairly
blah food - but what can you expect with the "de" - the hi-light of my meal was when I got a pottle of icecream from their freezer for desert, peeled back the paper lid and discovered it had already been half eaten - thankfully the lady running the joint
replaced it ;o)

In the morning I took in the amazing sights of the Dinosaur Museum (It's worth a look because umm.. well... it's small and convenient placed?) and then went for a long meandering walk, eventually stopping by the Mekong-side and having a baked fish
with sticky rice for breakfast - shortly after I started on my meal I was accosted by a couple of Laos guys who were studying English, and who desperately wanted to practice on me - I think I ended up talking for almost 2 hours before finally making a
polite exit (though it was quite interesting, they were shocked at my age.. 25 and not married ... for shame!)

Pakse

That afternoon I jumped a bus to Pakse, about 6 hours - and then got an ok'ish single room for $4 - though the fan seems pretty ineffective against the night time heat here... slept maybe 4 hours total last night? Though it could be because of the 3
bottles of M-150 I drank that day.. which kinda tastes a bit like "Top secret" (do they still even make that stuff?... Then went out to dinner at "Delta Coffee" - where I got a nice chicken and green pepper fettucine and garlic bread... western food, tsk tsk.. It was good though.

And then this morning I got up and shared a Tuk Tuk with Charlotte to Wat Phu Champasak, which is about an hours trip from Pakse - the best part of the journey is getting the "car ferry" across the Mekong, as it's just 3 small boats (the centre one
twice the size of the "outriggers") with a large wooden platform stuck across it - cars drive on to the structure from the sides, and at one end is a garden shed masquerading as an engine room, and at the other end you normally get a wheel "house" with
accompanying pot plant.  I didn't get any good pictures of them, but at some point I'll post what I got.  They're pretty funny to look at ;o)

After crossing the river you end up in Champasak, and Wat Phu Champasak is about a 10 to 15 minute drive from their.

Wat Phu Champasak

So ... Wat Phu Champasak, what is it?  Well basically it's the archealogical site of a temple structure dating back to pre-Angkor times, built by the original Khmer people - It stretches in a reasonably straight line heading up a hill (with some quite tricksome stairs) and offers great views and some very precarious looking structures that will probably fall down if they have a bit of a shake.  It's overgrown with trees and a lot of it's collapsed but it really does look (and feel) great, or should I say old and grand - it's got quite an unusual atmosphere.  Interestingly it's a bit of a mix 'n match, with what appears to be animal worship, hinduism and eventually Buddhist's all making use of and extending the sites. Basically this will all sound like drivel till I post some pictures, but I thought it was pretty sweet.

Tomorrow I'm heading down to Don Khong (with a g, there's also Don Khon... which is apparently nicer, but doesn't have electrickery 24x7) to hang out for a while before crossing into Cambodia, I think there needs to be some coffee and beer drank while sitting in the sun.

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Cambodian visa's and Revolutionary leaders

Well I got up early today to visit the Cambodian embassy... two photographs, $30 US and 6 hours later I have a pretty new 30 day visa for Cambodia - all the information I'd read on the internet was a little out of date, and it appears that the border I wish to cross at is officially open, and that Vientiane does offer an express visa service of 1 day when you spend $30 US instead of $20... which is a relief, as I can now travel southwards once more towards my eventual border crossing into the land of killing fields and Angkor Wat.

After the Visa malarchy in the morning Charlotte and Myself got a tuk tuk to That Luang, basically a very large golden stupa - very picturesque - while here we also had a look at the horrendously prolific Laos artist who had his work on display, I think I counted at least 100 works... mostly oils and acrylics,but there was also some water colours and mixed media to spice things up...

After that we headed back into the central city, killed a bit of a time, then had lunch at Joma (I think that's what it's called) - basically a Zarbo's equivalent - I got lasagne and a
tastey salad.  Outside the restaurant was a lady with a cleft palate and a little baby girl of 7 months, who was very talkative, she even told me which direction I would have to
walk if I needed to get to Bangkok... though it's a little far ;o)

In the afternoon I explored the Laos National Museum.. this museum starts off with a small section on dinosaurs, then the plain of jars and similar ancient sites, very briefly covers
minority races in Laos and then jumps into the main attraction on the second floor (which dominates most of the building) - that being the french occupation, declaration of independence and rise / fall of communism (including the secret war obviously) in Laos
- the english labels are patchy but you get a good feel, and the "artifacts" they've collected are great... it's not often you get to see a revolutionary leaders 1950's style spring "chest
expander" - some of the pictures are fascinating, as you see Castro and Uncle Ho having a jolly old time with the Laos leaders.

The museum cements a view of the Laos as a progressive nation, with funny little displays of pharmaceuticals manufactured "right in Laos", as if the boxes of pills were required as proof that such a feat were possible.. and captions on pictures suggesting such wonderful things as "Disabled people are well cared for in Laos"... the "smell" of communist working class heroes and government saving face abounds, but I also could just be jaded - the people in Laos do generally seem to wish well of each other in general.

On the side.. at the guesthouse I'm staying (dragon lodge) a whole gaggle of IT students have arrived from Singapore, and are assisting the local hospital with improving their information systems and architecture over the next 2 weeks - which is interesting - I never really think that a skill set such as my own could be put to good work in an area like this... food for thought, and it does make me wonder why New Zealand IT institutions don't think of doing something like this... it would have to be great P.R, not to mention a lot of IT people would jump at the opportunity to combine study with a little travel.

Tomorrow I'll be jumping the bus to Savanaket - about 7 to 8 hours, so that will pretty much take me out for the whole day... I haven't done a lot of research on the southern destinations of my journey through Laos, guess I'll do that in transit, it's nice
to have a bit of a surprise anyway.

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