A Travellerspoint blog

Cambodia

sunny 23 °C

Well I'm now leaving Cambodia and I have to say I loved the place. It really was the people that made my visit though. They are incredibly friendly and always upbeat. They are very like the Irish in that they are always up for for a joke or a bit of banter. I'd say about 90% of what they say to you is taking the piss!

From the moment I arrived when my tuk tuk driver asked me how I was in Irish to when I left I had such great fun with the people. Even the kids who went around selling books and bracelets were quite funny. One girl in Angkor Wat was trying to sell me some bracelets (rather tasteless ones at that) but I was having none of it and said "No thank you I don't want any". "Why not" came the plaintive reply! "Ah I just don't like them." So then the clever girl came up with another tack - "Do you have a girlfriend?". I replied in the negative and only to be told "Do you know why not - because you won't buy my bracelets". Then she walked off leaving me speechless and unable to reply (rare enough that happens).

The other great prank I've seen them pull on tourists cracks me up every time. Basically if they are seated behind a tourist they grab your calf and made the most realistic dog noise you're ever likely to hear. They did it to a friend of mine in Siem Reap and the poor girl nearly broke windows with the scream she emitted. I love the fact that they trade on the fears of tourists of dogs (all dogs in foreign countries have rabies, it's a well know fact!!). My friend wasn't right for about 10 minutes after the shock of it all! Myself and the barman (who executed the prank) had to be helped off the floor due to the convulsions of laughter. For some reason or another my friend didn't see the humour that we did - funny that!

It really is amazing how good natured and easy going the Cambodians are considering the hardships they've been through. I would thoroughly recommend the country as a place to visit - I certainly didn't get to see all I wanted to see while I was in Cambodia and that is always a good comment on a country!

Posted by ronanm32 15:31 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

More shady border crossings

The power of a "magic" ticket

sunny 26 °C

So far all the border crossings since the Latvian/Russian border have been routine if a little tedious and boring however the Laos/Cambodian border was a little shady to say the least.

However I'm delighted to say that though a serendipitous decision of mine in Phnom Pehn I avoided the majority of the border hassles! When I was organizing my journey to Laos I decided against paying for just a trip to the border town ($9) in Cambodia and instead paid a little extra ($15) in order to go all the way to Don Det in Laos. It sounded like it would be a easy job to arrange travel into Laos from the Cambodian border town but I thought sod it - at least this way I save myself some hassle ( how true that would turn out to be).

The journey to the border town of Stung Trung was meant to take 10 hours and in true Asian bus travel estimations it was way off! Firstly I was told I'd be picked up at 06:30 and the bus would leave at 07:00. Naturally there was no one there at 06:30 and I wasn't picked up until about 07:15. I wasn't overly worried as I'm used to travelling in Asia now and knew that the 07:00 bus probably wouldn't leave until 08:00. I was wrong - it left at 08:30. Naturally enough the bus broke down 3/4 of the way there so we all unloaded and sat on the side of the road to wait for another bus. Nothing too unusual there, what did strike me as unusual was that 10 minutes into our wait the two chickens that had travelled with us were killed! I'm not really sure why, they weren't making too much noise. I began to get a little worried when I saw that as I was wondering how long they expected us to be waiting if they were beginning to get dinner ready! I was stranded in the middle of the Cambodian wilderness and chickens were being murdered in cold blood around me. I felt we were only a few smalls steps from the makings of a Hollywood horror film ;-).

Thankfully we only had to wait about 2 hrs before another bus came along and brought us to Stung Trung. Here I stayed the night and the next morning a mini bus came to pick me up and bring me to the border. However I was the only one on the bus and we had to wait for more people (no bus in Asia leaves until its full). This was pretty cool though as myself and three Cambodians went and had breakfast at this shack at the side of the road. All was cool until some chicken decided, without provocation I might add, to attack me. This caused much merriment among the locals as I naturally attempted (in the most undignified of manners to avoid this assault). I have no idea what I did to warrant such an attack from the chicken, maybe the chicken felt I was implicated by association for the murder of two of its brethren the previous day. This coupled with the fact that they seem to run kamikaze missions whenever I'm driving a motorbike leads me to believe that all chickens are evil and I don't like them!

Anyway I digress due to my irrational (actually it's completely rational as they are out to get me) hatred of chickens (live ones that is ;-) ). I rocked up to the border and was informed that I had to walk across the border and another bus would pick me once I showed my ticket. It is at this point I must introduce you to my magic ticket. Basically I had a piece of paper that said "Phnom Pehn to Don Det and onward to Pakse" "Paid in Cambodia". To be honest I was a little dubious about this and considered quite a few times that I was being scammed. Still it had got me so far let's hope it got me a little further. However this little scrap of paper (which I had gotten wet and torn more than once) despite not looking all that convincing was to get me from the centre of Cambodia to the centre of Laos for a pittance!

The border was essentially two huts in the middle of a deserted road in a forest about 200 metres apart on small road. There was NOTHING there which meant that once you crossed the border you were at the mercy of the 2 buses that were waiting to bring to anywhere remotely nearing civilization.
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Remember how my magic ticket had got me to the border well I showed it to a bus driver and he with no hesitation indicated I jump onboard his 'VIP bus' (his words, not mine ;-) ).
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There was this English lad who paid 15 dollars to get from the Cambodian border town to the border and then had to pay another 10 for this bus to bring him away from the Laos border - Sickener! With my magic ticket I knew I could go anywhere!

The other shady aspect of the border crossing was the "stamping fees" you had to pay on both sides. Basically you had to bribe both border guards to let you across. I had heard of this and was prepared. I demanded a receipt - no go! I pleaded I had no dollars - no go! I claimed I was informed by their embassy that there was no "stamping fee" - no go! Basically I was going no where without stumping up the cash. At least I was able to use Cambodian Riel to pay the fees (even on the Laos side) which meant I was able to use the remaining notes I had which were worthless outside Cambodia (they aren't worth much in Cambodia either as everyone uses US dollars).
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Anyway despite the shenanigans at the border I headed into Laos on my VIP bus armed with my magic ticket!

Posted by ronanm32 14:37 Archived in Cambodia Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (0)

ECCC

Bringing mass murders to justice

overcast

One of the benefits of returning to Phnom Pehn was the fact that I could make a return visit to the ECCC (Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia) which are essentially the U.N. sponsored trials of the various Khmer Rouge leaders. The first person ever to be tried for their crimes during that heinous time is Kaing Kek Iev, more commonly known by him nom de guerre Deuch. This man was the former head of the infamous S21 interrogation centre in Phnom Phenh and during his reign there he was directly responsible for the torture and death of about 20,000 people. He is being tried for "Crimes against humanity", "Genocide" "Torture" and "Homicide". Being able to witness this trial is akin to being the viewing gallery at the Nuremburg Trials for the head of Auschwitz, Rudolf Hoss. It really was like watching a part of history unfold before your very eyes. I was captivated by the sheer spectacle of it all and was enthralled at the fact that I was only metres away from a mass murderer!

For those of you who don't know the Khmer Rouge as the name given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, the totalitarian ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. It was an ultra marxist group who tried a radical social engineering experiment which caused the deaths of approximately 3 million Cambodians during it's four year reign. Pol Pot the leader of the movement attempted to create a utopian agricultural based economy with no modern urban or intellectual core. In power, the Khmer Rouge carried out a radical program that included isolating the country from foreign influence, closing schools, hospitals and factories, abolishing banking, finance and currency, outlawing all religions, confiscating all private property and relocating people from urban areas to collective farms where forced labor was widespread. The purpose of this policy was to turn Cambodians into "Old People" through agricultural labor. These actions resulted in massive deaths through executions, work exhaustion, illness, and starvation. All Cambodians were expected to think about nothing other than the work they were given and all intellectuals or enemies of the state were brutally interrogated and murdered at one of the numerous Killing Fields.

It was fascinating to watch the various lawyers argue over legal technicalities and to hear testimony from former interrogators from the prison. The first day was excellent theatre as the lead defence and prosecution lawyers lay into each other over the concept of giving self incriminating evidence. The prosecutor was trying to get the witness to be more forth coming with his evidence and instructed the witness there was little chance of he himself being prosecuted in the future (why not I don't know as he was the chief interrogater in the camp and thus would have had alot of blood on his hands). The defence counsel was haven't none of this and reminded both the witness and the court about the right not to self incriminate. This objection developed into a heated topic and even the president of the court (there are 5 judge) had to intervene in the strongest of terms and reprimanded both the prosecution and defence counsels for giving misleading accounts of the topic and warned them not to repeat this issue again.

After all the questioning by the defence, prosecution and civil lawyers (there are four separate civil cases going on too) Duch got up to give his statement as is his right. What we got was an impassioned plea from the accused to the witness not to deny his part in the atrocities of the past and to give more information about the fate of their former professor (his wife and child were in the court). We also had that same witness break down in tears but unfortunately still kept denying all knowledge of exactly what happened. It really was harrowing and yet captivating at the same time. It was amazing to see victims and perpetrators of heinous crimes all in the same place and opening up old wounds.

It really is something I am delighted to have seen. I only heard about it in passing and made a special effort to get out to the trial as there are really no advertisements about it. It was great to sit in the public gallery with your headphones (it is all translated into English, French and Khmer as required) and watch history and justice unfold before your eyes - a rare privilege.

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Posted by ronanm32 17:13 Archived in Cambodia Tagged educational Comments (0)

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

Rain Rain go away........

rain 18 °C

After Siem Reap I intended on hitting Sihanoukville for some R&R on Cambodia's premier beach resort.

Unfortunately the fact that I am travelling around South East Asia during the rainy season hit home hard as soon as I arrived in Sihanoukville. I had been lucky up until this point with the weather, only having to endure the odd shower in the afternoon and often these showers only served as a welcome break from the humidity.

However the rain I endured on hitting the beach town was of biblical proportions. You really could not venture out into the typhoon like rain for a second such was the force of the downpour. It also didn't stop for a single second while I was there. Indeed we spend a full day in our beach hut looking out into the rain and drinking ourselves silly (a pretty productive and enjoyable day all in all. We bassically sat waiting to see a white bearded man pass us by in a large wooden ark - it was just that bad. It was certainly a day for the small stool!

The next morning I decided to cut my time short in Sihanoukville and attempt to get the 12 o'clock bus back to Phnom Pehn. Since my passport was currently in the Laos Embassy I figured I might be able to get back early, pick up my passport and then start to head north to Laos. There was no point sticking around Sihanoukville with the rain and since I had forgotten that most offices close on Saturdays and Sundays (weekends mean nothing when you are travelling) I decided I should take a chance with the bus. After all it was only a 4 hr journey to Phnom Pehn and we made the reverse journey in just short of 4hrs. I would have plenty of time.

6 and half hours later I arrived into Phnom Pehn............... Ah the joys of bus travel in Asia!

Posted by ronanm32 16:55 Archived in Cambodia Tagged bus Comments (0)

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Wat to Angkor Whaaattt :-)

sunny 19 °C

Well as my previous post showed there are few words that can describe the wonder of the temples of Angkor in Cambodia. These magnificent ancient wonders are simply astounding edifices to gaze on and indeed to wander through.

These temples were constructed around the same time that the Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals in Europe were being constructed. They were constructed by the God Kings of the Khmer empire who at this time ruled an empire that covered much of present day Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. This empire was one of the richest and most powerful empires in the region at the time and had trading links with other countries and empires as far away as Europe. It slowly began to fall into decline (like all empires do) towards the end of the 15th century and Siam (Modern day Thailand) began to come to the fore in the region.

Siem Reap itself is quite a pleasant town and has quite a buzz around the place. There are lots of bars and restaurants all clustered around the eponymous “Bar Street”. At night the place comes alive and is filled with people eating and enjoying the atmosphere in many of the lively bars such as the famous (or should I say infamous) Angkor Whhhhhaaaaaat bar! All the bars have various happy hour (which really are poorly named as they last for several hours) offers which mean that there is a very “lively” atmosphere in the area that lasts into the early hours!

The other cool thing I did (again done on a whim) was to go quad biking into the Cambodian countryside outside Siem Reap.
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I went out just at the end of Monsoon downpour which meant that the dirt roads which I was to be travelling on turned into a bit of a quagmire which is all the better when you are seated on 500cc of quad bike power :-)!
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It was tremendous fun plowing through puddles and throwing the bike around the small lanes and dirt tracks of the beautiful Cambodian countryside.
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It was also fantastic to get outside the tourist zones again and travel through rural Cambodia and see the various rice paddies and farms that support the tiny villages dotted sporadically outside the town of Siem Reap.

It's a much more realistic view of Cambodia that the tourist traps of Siem Reap.

Posted by ronanm32 16:48 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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