14.06.2006 30 °C
Greetings Greetings Greetings one and all... So today we met a man that had been shot 6 times and stepped on 3 landmines, leaving him sans gall bladder, sans leg and sans one eye, and gained a nail in his other leg and shrapnel in his arm... yes this is Cambodia!
Cambodia is without doubt infinitely more fun than Thailand and certainly stranger! We arrived here after a mammoth haul from Bangkok ending up in the Cambodian border town of Koh Krong or something like that.. after a bus ride and then a taxi ride we arrived at the architectuly (not a word? it is now) underwhelming village of hat lek which we had been reliably informed would have guesthouses to stay in... instead we found a ramshackle street of huts leading up to a chainlink fence, a man with a gun (border control apparently) and no one who spoke English. No English in Thailand means you're definitely out in the sticks! But no matter we decided we should cross the border now and stay in Cambodia in stead, only a passport photo is required and I didnae have one. Many hand signals later and a few idiotic smiles going in both directions we ended up being stood against dirty bed sheet while some random hut dweller took a few snaps of our gormless mugs and 2 minutes later produced 4 snapshots of us all for the princely sum of a dollar.. a photo me machine at Waterloo station wouldnt even give you a kick in the nuts for that much (physical limitations aside)! So armed with our new mug shots we headed out of one country and into another. Along the way we picked up an entourage of about 20 taxi drivers each offering "helpfull" information as they tried to get our business. However after only 10 minutes in Cambodia I was back in Thailand having been told we needed Thai Baht for a Cambodian visa (you what?!), dollar was not good enough apparently and seeing as Cambodia as about 20 cash machines in the entire country and Thailand has about 1 for every person it was off to try an explain my self to an unamused border guard... hmmm as it turns out the reason for the demand for Baht involves a cunning (see criminal!) way of obtaining extra cash for the border guards due to rubbish exchange rate!! Oh well... anyway into Cambodia and the first thing we noticed is the lack of a road as such. After being spoiled in Thailand and Malaysia it was back to dirt tracks and pot holes with a vengance!
Cambodia holds the awesome tag line of being the most mined country on earth (Laos its neighbour as the title of most bombed country in earth... this part of the world rocks..literally), suffice to say Mulliner went into overdrive on the mine detection front.. so far none detected except at various museums! The country is considerably more rustic and rural than other places we've been and also a lot more pleasing on the eye. The people are a little different and seemingly quite friendly but also very distanced, often you smile at someone and unlike in Thailand where you get blown back by the size of the smile in return, here you often get a look completely devoid of emotion, its quite odd really! But anyway enough with that.. so what about the places we've been... well Koh Krong is a bit of a nowheresville although apparently its popular with bandits...awesome! We left the next day.. we decided to voyage East to the beach resort of Sihanoukville. Sihanoukville is mainly a port town with some beaches the main town is functional and has the charm of frenchman which considering the number of french in cambodia is hardly surprising!! The beaches were deserted save for a few random types, ourselves included. The beach where we stayed had the sand and general charm of Bognor Regis only with more shacks and perhaps even less people... we even found a syringe on the sand.. paradise indeed! Theres also a rather high number of tokers.. i.e. those with an afinity to smoking weed. Having spent time on a beach in Thailand (white sands and turquoise sea anyone) and seeing as these beaches are about 4 hrs away by boat, i'd say you have to be high to stay in Sihanoukville for the beaches and seeing as thats all there is to do there (unless you're interested in shipping) I say to thee cross the place of your list of places to go, save the cash and go sit on a deck chair in the garden with an icecream that wont make you ill! Hmmm so we left a day later and headed for the supposed guns, girls and drugs capital of South East Asia.. Penom Penh..
well it mioght have been once (thats still less than ten years ago) but its calmed down a bit now. We both liked it though.. its a small place citywise with about a million residents buts its history along with the rest of Cambodia is a nailbiting and horrifying as the come. We took in both the Killing fields and a museum which was a secret prison during the Khmer Rouge days (1975-79).. The killing fields a place about the size of half a football pitch saw the deaths of about 19,000 people mostly former inmates of S.21.. these people wernt gunned to death or gassed, they were chained together in long lines killed by men armed with hammers who reduced their heads to pulp and then chucked them in shallow pits.. its hard to describe how brutal it must have been.. at the killing fields site their stands a glass walled pagoda containing the skulls of almost 9000 people from children to the elderly.. the remains of which have been disinterred from the site.. so far only half the site as been excavated. You wander through the leafy quiet place poluted only by scraps of cloth and dried sticks.. only after a minute you realise you're stepping on the clothes of the thousands who died here and the sticks are their bones piled in small mounds besides trees which have signs telling you what they were used for.. such as the death tree where they literally beat children against it holding them by their legs and swinging their bodies and their heads into the trunk.. or the 'magic tree'where they slung a microphone so the moans and screams of the men being executed could be heard by everyone. The whole place is so choked up with terror and pain its completely overwhelming and everywhere you look its horrorfying, teeth lie on tree stumps, morbid reminders of what lies beneath your feet.
S.21 is much the same.. not quite so visceral as the killing fields but certainly very powerful.. the building was a former school turned into a torture pit. The classrooms hold iron bed frames still with shackles and other oddments where the prisoners were tortured untill they confessed to what ever they were accused of and then if they were not killed there they would be transported to the Killing Fields. Pictures in the rooms show how they were found when the Khmer Rouge were finally deposed with a dead prisoner shot through the head still shackled tot he bed.. the only difference between the picture and what you see is the absnece of the body everything else remains in place. The pictures of the prisoners line the walls like the mugshots taken of the Jews by the Nazis.. only here they are persecuted not by Nazis but there own countrymen, imprisoned for wearing glasses, for living in a city, for having gone to school or whatever, people often went there just because the KR was not sure if they fully believed in the Angkar and vision of the KR. It doesnt make sense.
The most shocking part for us was the fact that people were being electricuted and bludgeoned with hammers in these places only 4 yrs before we were born. How is it that we know so little of what happened, how is it that the holocaust is so infamous and the current rammifications still so large, and yet here next door to Vietnam where for years Western troops were engaged in the fight against Communism absolutely nothing was done to put a stop to the genocide. It seems from here that it is beyond reproach and yet it still happens elsewhere and while we learn of the horrors of the holocaust at school and honour those who died annually, we take at best a casual approach to the prevention of similar attrocities, it all seems rather superficial and in many way it insults our percieved civilization that we honour the dead and still refuse to heed the causes for their dead..errrrrrrrrrrrrr right enough with the soap box! You get the picture, its all to absurd! Right now for more jolifications!
We headed on up towards Siem Reap and the world famous ankor wat temples which are it must be said amazing! Having spent a mammoth day yesterday from sunrise to sunset taking in all the huge stone heads we could take, i think its fair to say we're templed out! So today we went to of all places a war museum and a mine museum(uh oh here he goes again!), which were it has to be said rather strange and also very good. We hopped aboard our tuk tuk and headed out to the war museum which is as the guide book says, 'a collection of war time junk', what they dont say is that the war time junk includes a Mig fighter a massive ex soviet helicopter, several tanks and APCs, a minefield and countless heavy artillery guns.. not to mention hundreds of guns, rocket launchers and grenades.. all of which are securely left on shelves without chains or anything to hold them down, so you can pick up an AK47 or M16 and have a good laugh with your mates pointing it at each other! Worryingly none of them look in the slightest way disabled.. so if you could get some ammo and yes there was ammo floating around.. you could have yourselves a firefight there and then, and yes you could of course take one home to seeing as theres hardly anyone around at the entrance/exit.. bizare! What the guide book also doesnt day is that there are free guides who are ex veterans of the army KR or otherwise who along with various disabilities accrued during their service will take you around speaking knowledgeably about the stuff they have in the museum, as with our guide he drove one of the tanks in the war!! He also gave us lessons about the different mines which included how various mines took out different bits of his body scars and everything!! Of course we all left a massive tip, its hard to believe people can go through as much as him, both his daughters died by stepping on land mines and anywhere elses I'd be tempted to say it was fabricated as a way of getting a bigger tip, but when the man has the scars and the shrapnel still insde hime and a wooden leg.. its clear hes telling the truth. This of course is the guy i spoke of at the start.
The mine museum is another interesting place and its also free (hooray), its also a home for child mine victims and is run by a mine expert who difuses the things...pretty amazing stuff really! Theres a bit of land set up as a mock mine field (its on the site of a now cleared minefield) where you can have a go at spotting the mines and booby traps, only the mines are not camoflaged in anyway but they're still so hard to spot and thats when your looking for them! Incredible.
Anyway thats abpout it from me.. apologies around, its been a little low on humour but there it is! We're off to Laos tomorrow or the next day which sounds exciting although we have to watch out fro bandits apparently! Sounds cool to me! Ah yes and of course I have been making Jennie watch lots of football, come on England and too bad froggies, nil-nil against the cuckoo clock makers really isnt a good score!! Haha, anyway fingers crossed untill tomorrow, I'm off to watch Spain beat the Ukraine! Ciao for now