Angkor Watts is inspiring

February 24, 2004

Took another boat trip up the Mekong Delta from Phom Penh to reach Siem Reap, the home of the famous Angkor Watt Archaeological site, it was a beautiful day and the journey was relatively quick about six hours. Angkor Watts is the one place that every traveller raves about, even the weird, nonchallent, lowroller airheads rave about it! It did not disappoint at all, infact I’d say it was the most awe inspired place I’ve ever been, the visual impact being simply undescribable. The park encompasses dozens of temples including Bayon, Banteay Srey and the legendary Anchor Watts scattered around a huge beautful wooded park, it was like something from another world, the trees are just fanatstic and you could here the noise of birds and monkeys running around.

What also made this a truly fantastic day was the fantstic tour guide I hired; Sam was extremely knowledgeable about all of Angkor Watts and also Cambodia history and very funny, the temples are too far apart to travel by foot so we shot around on his motorbike as he continued his insight ful dialogue. Withpout going inot the details of differing monuments Anchor is simply a place you must visit, it ranks along the Pyramids and Taj Mahal as one of the true wonders on the world.

Sam and I also had a 2 hour chat about the Khmer Rouge/ Pol Pot and current political status, his whole family had been murdered in the killing Fields just outside Siem Reap in 75 so he was very opinionated and we passed by the field on the way home although thankfully we didin’t stop, it was really interesting to actually speak to a Cambodian about this because so far none would talk, maybe its my current barnet status, not sure.

At sunset, Sam dropped me off at the top of the highest peak in Anchor, the famous spot where all the travellers and tourists meet to watch the sun set, it was really beautiful. Great memories and I will be back.


Today I visited Hell

February 18, 2004

I was apprehensive about going to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Not because I was scared of being robbed at gun point, although apparently that is common enough but I was worried about what I would see at the Killing Fields and particularly the genocide Museum, Security 21 or S21.

Visiting the Killing Fields and S21 is not enjoyble but it is important to really understand the Khmer Rouge regime and Cambodia’s recent tragic history.

S21, was the main political interrogation and torture centre located in the centre of town run by the increasingly paranoid Khmer Rouge leadership. Here confessions and accusations were extracted under such duress that in no way could they be considered valid. Children would falsely betray their parents, lovers their partners and low ranking political prisoners senior party members – anything for the torture to be over. For most, it ended at the notorious killing fields – only 7 people of the 20,000 survived.

One of the survior stories that caught my attention, as Nick and I wondered around the converted school, the same as it was from the day it was liberated by the Vietnamese in 1979, was the survival of an amazing artist called Van Nath, who Duch the prison commander had kept alive to paint portraits of the leadership and Pol Pot, he is one of only 3 survivors still alive today.

The museum displays graphically how those who entered S21 were tortured and confessions of the enemies were extracted, alot of Pol Pot’s former colleagues were eventually killed here including about two thirds of the original interogators. The regime was harsh beyond belief. Amongst the cruellest of guards were the 12-16 year old warders. Without a strongly ingrained morality and given positions of total power over their captives, their actions became bestial. Prisoners were regularly questioned and tortured with a variety of techniques, from fingernails being pulled out to electrification and suffocation. Important political prisoners were kept in their own 2 1/2 foot by 6 foot cell, feet shackled to an 2 foot iron bar. As horrible as this sounds it was infinitely preferable to the treatment of the bulk of S21’s residents. They were kept 60 to room, that in a different time taught classes of 25. Here there were just two iron bars, each the length of the room. 30 people would be shackled alternatively to each bar, feet touching feet. No bedding, sound or movement was allowed.

These are Security Regulations which are gruesomoly displayed as they entered their cells;

‘You must answer accordingly to my question – don’t turn them away. Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that. You are strictly prohibited to contest me. Don’t be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect. Don’t tell me either about you immoralities of the essence of the revolution. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you do something, you must do it right way without protesting Don’t make pretexts about Kampucheas Krom in order to hide your jaw of traitor. If you don’t follow all the above rules, you shall get many many lashes of electric wire. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge’

From my interest in Hypnotherpy, the visit confronts me with a really uncomforatble thought; about how human beings can unwittingly become cogs in machines whose inventors and managers politely disdain any knowledge or responsibility, like the untried KR leaders who are alive today. I questioned my guide, who informed me coldy of the deaths of her sister and parents but was reluctant to discuss the issue. The glaringly obvious fact you pick up from coming here and reading about this is the role of the supposedly civilized countries in enabling Pol Pot to come to flowish, come to power and retain a seat on the UN, there would have been no support for Pol Pot or KR if the US hadn’t bombed the fuck out of the country in the first place.

Sorry if I sound so profound, this is what the Cambodia is recovering from today, I’ll try and make the next entry a little bit more upbeat, goodnight.

Boat trip to Cambodia

February 18, 2004

It was now appoaching the end of my of my Vietnam phase, I’ve really enjoyed this fantastic country and felt sad to leave and will surely return, this country will rival Thailand for tourism in the next 10 years. Decided the only exit was down the Mekong Delta on the 2 day boat trip to Phnom Penh.

The bus left early from the main backpacking thoroughfair in downtown Ho Chi Minh, as usual there were traders and blaggers surrounding me as I tried to board the bus still trying to sell me stuff, anything…’hey mister, what your name..what do you want..’. The tour involved a mixture of bus and boat trips down the Mekong where we crossed the border on the second day. Met some great people on the bus, two Australians, Clare and Emma and Nick a teacher who had been teaching in Egypt for 4 years, we sat at the back exchanging travel stories, laughing, bemused at the fact that no-one really knew where we heading. We boarded a boat in the afternoon, this part of the Mekong was very different from laos, the river banks were packed with shanty townd and huts piled on top eachother overhanging the river. The currents was slow and the river narrowed and widened throughout the day.

We stayed overnight at a guest house ain small little shanty town on the border, Nick and I had our beers heads on and decided to get some ales, headed off on some crazy tuks tuks to try to find the local expat bars, after 20 minutes weaving in and out of traffic they delivered to the worst Kareoke bar in town, the drivers smiled in smug way as if they had fully understood our English, a flashback appeared in head from Laos of that humiliating moment when I’d taken to the stage and the compere had cut the music as a jumped around like Mick Jagger, we declined and headed off to a locals bar and proceeded to drink ales and laugh our tits off till the early hours, the friendly locals ushered us to join their table, they were on a bender to end all benders, as they smashed their empties on the ground they all roared with laughter and we followed. Day 2 was great fun, met some more excellent travlers on the boat, a mixed rabble of lash heads from Holland, 2 Scottish girls and a hilarious bloke from Wigan who couldn’t stop effing and blinding about being ripped off in Vietnam.

Arrived in Phom Penh at about 6 p.m and checked into a really amazing guest house overlooking the main,cheap as well, 4$ a night. It was instantly obvious that this was a really unusal city, some of the streets were beautiful but elsewhere there was stark evidence or real poverty everywhere. i thjought in my mind what it must have been like in 1975 when Pol Pot entered the city and proceeded to empty the whole population in 2 days into teh surounding countryside on the premis that it was temporoary, families who were in the wrong parts of towns on thet day were insantly split up for years. Nick, Emma and I went out for an excellent meal in town, a beautiful french colonial restauarnt, the first time ages I’d had wine and chicken, we stayed till the early hours outside the front porch and I showed the waiting taxi drivers waiting outside a bit of Clapham air guitar as David Gray played in the backround. Great memorable day