Diary of The Travelling Seanchai :-
Taxis, Temples and Torture
2007-01-08 to 2007-01-14
I`ve been a bit slack of late so apologies. I had a couple of mental nights in Bangkok, me and that city work way too well together. Then throw in the mad Aussie Mick and some towers of Chang and it was all starting to catch up with me! I took a bus to Aranya Prathet which is a dusty little town. The LP says that these are the best places to experience the real Asia but that`s rubbish. It`s off the beaten track because there is nothing there!
The next morning I went to the border with Cambodia and immediately a guy said that he would get me my visa (which usually can take a day) in about 10 mins for a fee. So I gave him my passport and he disappeared leaving me his old brick of a phone as collateral!! You have to have an element of trust in SE Asia but I did have a fleeting thought of how I was going to explain it to all of ye how I gave my passport away to some dodgy bloke at a border crossing!
When I walked across the border, which is a cool experience in its own right, I met two girls, one from Oz and one from NZ and we shared a cab to Siem Reap. Now if any of you have travelled around these parts you will know what this road is like (dubbed the worst road in SE Asia and believe me its up against some stiff opposition!). He drove like a crazy man as the girls peered between their fingers out the front as I pseudo calmly read a book and feigned Zen like trust in our driver! We hit another car and we saw a dog get hit aswell. At one point he was weaving either side of two cars ahead of us, there was no overtaking lane, just a gap that you had to go for!
We were welcomed by the street kids who could ream off the capital, approx population, languages spoken, president or prime minister and at least two lines in your native tongue. We checked in and after showering I went to the girls room to see if they were ready and comment on how good the shower was (they have just started their trip so I wanted to manage their expectations) and they said that theirs was ok but they didn`t like the fact that they had to hold it?! I looked in to their bathroom and realised that they had just washed themselves with the `butt gun`, the hose that the locals use to clean themselves off!! And neither of them had seen the great big shower in there!!
We had a big night out where we bumped into Milena (who I`d met in Sapa), Gennie (Bangkok), Steve (Chang Mai) and Zac (Luang Prabang). I then beat another Steve at pool 5-3 who is well on his way to an England cap in cricket, he`s a pro cricketer with Yorkshire and he`s only 23. We were supposed to get up at 4:30am to see the sunrise over Anghor Wat but drinking until 3am kind of scotched those plans! Nothing like missing out on one of the wonders of the world so you can have those few more beers at 2am!
Still we got there at 6:30am and it was amazing. The temple is surrounded by this huge moat which they had built for protection against hording masses who, when they reached it, had to work out how to now build a boat to cross it! The temple though is awesome and once the incredibly steep steps were overcome, it was just great to sit there and literally reflect for a while. There is a worldwide Internet poll on at the moment to decide on the new 7 wonders of the world. As much as I love it, it`s almost embarassing that the Sydney Opera House is in the shortlist along with this place, there is really no comparison.
We visited the Tomb Raider Temple where these amazing trees are literally engulfing the temples. We played with this little girl for a while who was about 4. She was so happy to throw and retrieve a little bead in the grass but she had to keep an eye out for her Mum as she would then have to say “You buy postcard?” just to keep her Mum happy that she was `working`
We came across a crash site and by the looks of the local guy on the side of the street, I wasn`t entirely sure that he was going to make it. On the way back, our guuy was crossing a street in our tuk tuk when a motorbike with two people on it came flying up and we all knew it was going to hit us. He pulled off a massive skid and hit us side on but somehow both him and his girlfriend stayed on their bikes. I thought they were going to come flying through the carriage and really do us some damage! But after a quick look at each other a few mumbled curses, both drivers just carried on, none of this “registration details please as I feel a healthy dose of whiplash and lawyer bills coming my way”!!
Another late night that night proceeded our 5:30am pick up for a speed boat to Phnom Penh where I am now. We sat on top of it and got soaked by the spray as we fell asleep. I woke up and decided I`d had enough and we went downstairs to roars of laughter by the other (drier) travellers! It was a good way to start up a conversation though!
I took a much needed siesta when I got in and we all went out with one of the girls friends who has been living here for 13 years. He said that it`s a great lifestyle where he hasn`t had to wash a plate or iron his clothes for all that time because he can pay others to do it! There were pictures of the relatively new king (not as bad as in Thailand where the King is literally everywhere!) who is causing some controversy because he hasn`t married and everyone knows that he is gay. The Cambodians would like him to take a wife to save face but I think it`s great that they`ve got a king AND queen all rolled into one!
Yesterday I set off to see S21, the school that was converted into a prison and torture chamber by the Khmer Rouge. Between 1975 and 1979, Pol Pot had over 2 million of his countrymen killed. (One picture there was of him and five of his mates, he`d had 4 of them executed later! With friends like that….) I immediately got a chill down my spine in this place, a really bad feeling. They ask that you don`t speak as you walk around but they needn`t have bothered, you are literally rendered speechless as you see the singular rooms where there is just a metal bed, some of the torture implements and a gruesome picture of a dismembered body that was found in this room.
The tortures were insane and I`m not going to go into them but it did leave me with a sick feeling in my stomach, I was walking in a room where in my lifetime, thousands of men, women and children were brutally tortured and killed. If you spoke a foreign language or wore glasses that was enough to convince them that you were intelligent and that meant you had to die. Another man was taken away from his village because he had a fat belly so it was assumed that he must be working with the CIA.
We have all read about the Holocaust but this seemed a lot more real but equally difficult to comprehend. The guest book where people could write their thoughts was full of questions like “How could we let this happen?” and “Why haven`t we learned from our mistakes of the past?” and then “Lets hope this never happens again” but I thought about Darfur and how it is happening and it`s happened in Somalia, Sarajevo etc and we do stand by and do nothing. I don`t know what the answer is, but it certainly made me depressed. Of the 40,000 people that passed through this prison, less than 12 survived.
To heighten this feeling of abject sadness, I took off to the Killing Fields, where they have found over 200 mass graves and 8000 bodies. There was a huge memorial with the skulls of the victims and so many of them were crushed in or had a bullet hole in them.
There was a grave of decapitated bodies, a grave for children and brutal pictures of how they were killed. It was just a little park, nothing more than that but it was where all these people arrived in a truck and then just walked to a grave and killed. No pause, no trial, just assured death.
My guide then offered to bring me to a shooting range (which I thought ironic in a sick way) but I`d had enough violence for one day. Instead I tried to do some good (and to try and pick up my spirits) and all you need to do to achieve happiness in Cambodia is to get a 50kg bag of rice and find an orphanage! Yay!!
The kids were amazing, not all of them were strictly orphans but their parents couldn`t support them so they were thrown out of the house. They don`t get any government assistance so they are heavily reliant on donations from backpackers. There are hundreds of orphanages in Phnom Penh so the travellers are spread thin so a visitor with a bag of rice made their day! It would have been easy to have felt smugly heroic for your good deed but you were immediately and sadly aware that this was just a drop in the ocean, it would feed the fifty kids there only about 6 meals each.
Karma was blessing me though as there was 5 gorgeous girls from Australia visiting aswell at the same time, playing football with the kids and walking around the farm. Some of the kids were really good at football, back heels, drag backs, the works and myself and a 4 foot kid played keep ups and headers (until I screwed it up much to his delight!) After the harrowing morning, I was in great form again and as I was being driven back on the motor bike I was beaming, waving at everyone and saying hello to my fellow commuters!
That good feeling carried on to watching Liverpool kill Watford and then a large group of us went out, played drinking games and then ended up in the only late night club worth going to, “The Heart of Darkness”!! (Say it in a Darth Vader voice for best affect!). The WWF name notwithstanding, it was a great club where the security padded you down going in as there have been some shootings in the past! And do you know what, 90% of the world know all the words to Ice Ice Baby!!
So I woke this morning too late to get out of this place so I am staying another night (The Heart of Darkness will probably get another chunk of my savings tonight!) before heading back to Bangkok on my way to the islands in the South of Thailand for some rest and relaxation, all this back packing can take it out of you!
Cambodia is such an amazing country though with a proud and artistic history (in Anghor Wat) and a brutal and senseless recent past. Everyone here my age and older has been affected directly about it and they try not to talk about it much. That`s understandable. They are so friendly here aswell, and the guys that run my guesthouse are all taking me out tonight for a few drinks. This may be my last entry!!
Oh and if you want to make a million dollars, set up a restaurant wherever you are reading this and hire Khmer cooks! The food here is among the best I have ever tasted and a massive meal will set you back a princely $1.50!
I hope you are all well and thanks to those that have written a message on the message board, I love to read them! And don`t worry Scotty, I`ll be back in the Bull soon enough mate and we`ll get those profits back up, just have the Coopers Red ready!!
Paradise at the end of the road