29 October 2010


(I feel guilty about the next few blogs, as I cover so much in so little, but I've got quite far behind, and don't have the time, or internet connections, to do them justice.)

The train to the Cambodian border from Bangkok was basic but functional.  It cost a grand total of 99p for the six hour journey for each of us.  Prices for trains in Thailand are weird.  We took a day trip to the ancient capital of the Thais, Ayutthaya, and price for the journey there was about £6.5 each for a two hour trip.  Bit expensive, we thought, but we wanted to go, and by western standards it wasn’t too bad.  We had a seat number and air-con.

That evening, for the return trip, we bought two tickets, and had to ask the ticket booth attendant if they’d got it right.  We would be paying 63p for both of us, about 20 times less than the other train.  No seat reservation or air-con, but the train did essentially the same thing (and we got a seat anyway).  What price air-con in Thailand?

At the border, we realised I’d out-stayed my visa by 3 days, due to my illness.  Without looking at my passport, I had a feeling that I might have only got a two week allowance (whereas Audrey got a month for some reason), but I read the penalties some time before, and knew it wasn’t punitive (some countries charge well over £100 a day, Laos I think is one of them).  It was a tenner a day, which probably worked out about the same as an extension, but with less hassle.

Bus journeys in Cambodia were pretty good.  We arrived in Siam Reap, location of the famous Angkor temples and city, by the late afternoon after a three hour bus journey.  The road had only recently been finished, otherwise we’d have had a gruelling 6 hour bumpy journey to contend with.  The next morning, we were up at 4:30 so that we could get to Angkor Wat for sunrise.  Clouds wrecked that plan, making it a huge disappointment.  We spent most of the day there; I won’t go into details, plenty of people have written about them, but I have to say they were incredible.

I do have to say that we loved the Ta Prohm temple, one of the ones that has been intentionally left to nature:

Audrey had her first taste of Pong Tea Khon here.  Basically it is fertilised duck eggs.  Remember the scares stories of people who buy eggs, then crack them open only to find that instead of egg white and a yolk, they have a not-yet-fully-formed bird.  Here they do it on purpose to eat.  Tasty!

They also had a rip-off version of 7-11, called Seven Elephants:

We got out of there after one full day, as my illness in Bangkok had meant we needed to squeeze Angkor, Phnom Penh and Saigon into less than 7 full days, which didn’t do any of them justice.  Flights had been booked a few weeks earlier, which put a fixed deadline into our plans, something we hadn’t had for nearly six months.

Next up was Phnom Penh, a city that had been emptied just over 35 years ago, when the Khmer Rouge evacuated everyone to the countryside to farm.  In the mis-guided model Pol Pot had conceived, he wanted to emulate the great Khmer empire, which had been mainly based on agriculture (since it was a pre-industrial society).  Considering what he’d been responsible for putting the country through, he was not universally despised.  The locals felt that Vietnam had just a big a debilitating effect on the country.  Ultimately, though, it was the US (allied by that time with China) and Russia once again acting out wars with each other by proxy.

Considering what it had been through, it was in good shape, a thriving city of about two million.  Cambodia still has a lot of catch-up to do on neighbours Vietnam and Thailand, but it seems in much better shape than Laos (which hasn’t had nearly as tumultuous a time).  We visited Tuol Sleng prison, where many acts of gruesome torture were carried out.  It was a sobering experience, not quite on the level of Auschwitz, but still disturbing.  Human skulls with huge cracks down their head painted a graphic picture of a regime that didn’t shoot people, as bullets were precious, rather using a bamboo cane to crack open the ‘offenders’ head.

Talking to tour guides and tuk-tuk drivers, you realised everyone of a certain age had a harrowing story to tell.  It still strikes deep into the psyche of anyone over the age of 30.  Our guide at Angkor lost his older brother in Tuol Sleng (he identified him in meticulously documented photos years later) amongst others.  Our Tuol Sleng guide was in her early teens when Phnom Penh was evacuated; she marched for a month to get to her designated farm and lost her parents and some siblings, and spent years living on the streets, depressed.  Our tuk-tuk driver fought the Vietnamese against his wishes, and seen many of his close friends slaughtered.  Scarred people in a scarred country.

The other depressing thing that I noticed in Cambodia was lots of poster with slogans akin to “Protect our children, report sexual exploitation” everywhere we went.  It’s a shame that sick people from the western world seek out impoverished countries, with little rule of law, to ruin people lives.  I think we’d seen a poster to two to this effect in Thailand, and would see them again in Vietnam and Nepal.

We left at 1pm for Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).


Anonymous said...

Awesome! I love the Ta Prohm temple. And nice tie-dye t-shirt man! groooovy :-)
Andy M

Niall said...

Seriously that t shirt is hideous! What happened that nice polo shirt i got u last christmas (as george michael would say)?
Nice picture of Aubrey and the face

Anonymous said...

That's one shocking tie die man! Well seen your sense of fashion hasn't improved! What happened that lovely polo shirt i got you last Christmas?
Nice pic of Audley and the face sculpture