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My Trip To Australia, New Zealand and Asia

This is my Travel Blog for 2003-2005. To read it from the beginning click here. Click "Archives" to take a look back in time and to see what I was doing way back when.
Note: For my latest blogs I've now moved to www.JamesReed.org please take a look.

Thursday, 26th May 2005

Kanchanaburi AND THE END

Location: London
Weather: Warm for once
I got back to Bangkok and just missed the 1.40pm train to my final destination - Kanchanaburi. This town is reknowned for the Bridge Over The River Kwai and several other amazing attractions including Erawan, the most famous waterfall in Thailand - if you see a photo of a Thai waterfall it's almost certainly this one, allegedly. Anyways, after a long tuk-tuk ride from the train station to Bangkok's Southern Bus terminal (which is located a long way from the rest of Bangkok), I got a public bus to Kanchanaburi. I rolled into in the town late in the afternoon and checked into Apple's Guesthouse. This was a very nice place, very clean, good room + bathroom, although way more expensive than it says in the Rubbish Guide.
Anyways I decided to go for a walk and checked out the station, then got caught in torrential rain, but managed to see the Bridge Over The River Kwai - it was magnificent, even in the rain! I had dinner in a restaurant nearby and ended up walking most of the way back in the rain, narrowly avoiding being eaten by an unchained Rottweiler, I had to jump into the middle of a dual-carriageway to escape him. crazy

The Death Railway and Hellfire Pass
The next day I got up bright & early and literally jumped onto the 6am train as it pulled out of Kanchanaburi station. This is the train that crosses the bridge! There is a special 10:30am tourist one which has Air Conditioning and costs 10 times the 6am price, but I much preferred this one, it had no windows for a start and was packed with Thais on their way to work in Nam Tok - the end of the line! After 2.5 hours we got to Namtok. In addition to crossing the bridge, the reason to go to Namtok was to see Hellfire Pass - a memorial to the prisoners of war and Asian workers who lived and died building the Thailand Burma Railway AKA the Death Railway under the Japanese. It was constructed to form a supply line for the Japanese planned invasion of India. They used Allied POWs and volunteer Asian workers under terrible conditions - fed on minimal rations of cups of rice and water they were forced to work incredibly long hours, weren't allowed any modern machinery, only hammers and picks to break through solid rock and proper medical treatment was denied. Approximately 14,000 British, Australian, Dutch, American and other Allied POWs and 80,000 Asians died building it - at 420km's long, that's 224 deaths per km.

As it happened, the only other westerner on the train was an American girl called Sharon who I ended up chatting to and got on very well with. Sharon and I went to Hellfire Pass on the bus and spent all day walking through the forest down the old railway track. It's incredible that they cut so many passes, literally through sold rock and mountains, with such minimal tools.

We got the bus back and I had dinner with Sharon and her American friends who were all doing volunteer work in Bangkok and visiting Kanchaburi for the weekend. They were a cool bunch to hang out with.

Erawan Waterfall
Next day Sharon and I went took the bus to the Erawan waterfall. It has 7 different levels and we went all the way to the top! In the afternoon I took the bus back and hired a motorbike to attempt to get to the Tiger Temple, a Buddhist commune which is apparently the only place in the world where you can stroke live tigers, many say they reckon the tigers are drugged, but you have to see for yourself, don't ya! As it happened though the minute I hired to bike, a torrential rain storm started and I couldn't hardly see the road, let alone drive 30km's to the Tiger place.

My Last Night Abroad
After a bit of hestition and thought, I ended up spending my final night in Kanchanaburi hanging out with Sharon and her friends and drank the night away at the various bars there. What was bizarre was somehow we chatted to the owner of one of the bars and Sharon and I were given a lift to some Thai restaurant around 2am and ended up eating rice and chicken with some Thai bloke who kept saying how much he loved the Queen of England - it was very funny.

For my last day in Thailand I got up early and just made the 7am train back to Bangkok! Shame to leave that place, it was quite wonderful, wish I'd had a week there. I rested my eyes most of the way to Bangkok, then got a Tuk-Tuk to Ko Sahn Road. I had a brief look at Wat Po temple - home of the Big Buddah - a giant Buddah statue in a huge temple complex, definitely worth seeing and then did some last minute shopping, before picking up my luggage from the Rainbow Guesthouse where I'd stored it and then took an airport bus to Bangkok Airport.

The Flight Home
Soon, it was adios Thailand and after 5.5 hours I arrived at Muscat airport, which is in Oman. Here some of my fellow passengers departed, but I stayed sitting on the plane. After an hour we took off again, this time we flew for an hour and landed at Abu Dhabi, the first real stop. The airport wasn't as bad as what I'd heard at all, yes, the ceiling is like a green goldfish bowl and there's not much there, but so what, it's a transit airport. After 3 hours of sitting around, it was like to boarding the final plane of my trip - the one back to Heathrow Airport - NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! Was I crazy or something!! Well I suppose it was inevitable, but Gulf Air could have at least abided by their website and had seat-back entertainment instead of a big screen at the front like the dark-ages, especially for my last flight back home. After 8 hours we landed at Heathrow...and that was it! Got a big welcome home from the old folks and my sister and brother-in-law and soon I was back in boring old Wimbledon. razz
By JamesReed on 26.05.05 @ 07:55 PM GMT [205 Comments] [Archives]

Ko Samet

Location: London
Weather: Warm for once
And so the end of my trip was getting near, but I still hadn't seen any islands on the East side of Thailand. So after returning to Bangkok by bus and managing to somehow lose my treasured Laos painting, I spent a day looking round the stunning Royal Palace where the King & Queen live and then took a minibus to Ko Samet on the East coast. It was ok, another island with a few nice beaches. It was a quiet place, most things shut around 10pm and rather expensive. I spent two relaxing nights there, went swimming a bit and hired a motorbike to see the sunset on the last night.
Then I caught an early boat back to the mainland and cleverly took the public bus - which was cheaper and vastly superior to the backpacker tourist agency minibus.

By JamesReed on 26.05.05 @ 06:44 PM GMT [11 Comments] [Archives]

Saturday, 30th April 2005

Back in Thailand Diving

Location: Koh Tao
Weather: Hot and sunny, shame about the sea not being calm though
I am now in Koh Tao. After spending a couple of days in Bangkok, wandering around, not doing much, except visiting a very cool night market and a hilltop temple, I decided that I'd do some diving in Koh Tao. This is apparently the best dive site in Thailand - probably because the water is so warm and the corals are relatively near to the shore. I was meant to go here after Koh Phangan back in February, but my visa ran out. I got here yesterday after an 8 hour bus journey, a "sleep" for 4 hours on the floor of some travel agency and a 2 hour boat trip. In the afternoon I booked 2 dives + a hotel through the Easy Diver company. They literally drove me to the hotel, dropped my luggage off and then drove back in 5 minutes. I did the dives at this place called Mango Bay which was quite shallow, but quite nice - saw a few fish + lots of coral. I then had dinner and walked down the beach to see the beautiful sunset, had some more food in a restaurant and then decided to go back to my hotel - where the problems started. After wandering aimlessly in the dark for 2 hours, sweating pints due to the humidity, it became an impossible task as A) they never told me the name of hotel B) it wasn't either of the usual places Easy Diver put people up at. Through the extreme luck of knocking on somebody's door that worked for the Easy Divers, this very kind Irish girl drove me around for about 30mins, checking various places, until we eventually found somebody who knew the resort I'd been put in. It turned out to be a 3minute walk from the town centre!

Today I did 2 more dives - the first at the South-West Pinnacle - which is the prime diving site here - a pinnacle of rock descending 30m's. I did a "Deep Dive" and went down to 25m's - which means I now have an extra qualification and can do deep dives beyond 18m's which the regular SSI/PADI Diving License allows. It was pretty choppy out there on the boat, so I wasn't feeling too great. Strangely there was a thermoclime which meant the water above 20m's was crystal clear whilst below it was very murky + there were strong currents about! We still saw some big fish and other bits and pieces though. The next dive site was at Three Rocks, much like Mango Bay, but it had much nicer coral, fish, sea anemones, urchins and black/white sea cucumbers. I have to be honest, in all my 9 dives, I still haven't seen anything particularly staggering that I couldn't have seen snorkling, except perhaps that sea snake. What is a bit annoying is that today there are reports of whale sharks being about, but the morons decided not to go to that site, for some bizarre reason - I think because this Swiss bloke had paid for a video and he'd already seen the whale sharks - yes, who cares about the other 20 of us on the boat. They said I could stay around for that tomorrow, but I can't be bothered, you can see whale sharks in Ningaloo Reef on the West Coast of Australia so I'll go there instead.

Interesting Medical Discovery: On a side note, for anybody interested I've made an interesting medical discovery about the well known sleeping/relaxant drug - Valium. After 10 days of hectic early mornings, late nights, mountain hiking + constant travelling in Vietnam, once in Thailand I decided I needed a true 8 hour sleep to catch up on all the sleep I'd been missing - so on the 2nd night in Bangkok I took another one of those Laos Velium's. Just like in Siem Reap it knocked me out like a light and indeed I did have a full 8 hours 'sleep', but I now reckon that stuff is more like an anasthetic, you're unconscious, but you don't really sleep or dream as such, because I woke up still feeling tired and gradually got more tired during the day. I even fell asleep on the bus(which hardly ever happens) at 11pm, I became so tired at night. Valium is widely available in Asia and many travellers take it on long bus journeys, which I think is what it's best for. Either that or Laos Velium is 10 times stronger than regular Valium, which I've heard most people take 4 tablets of on bus trips - I don't think you'd wake up if you took 4 of my Laos ones!

By JamesReed on 30.04.05 @ 06:55 AM GMT [484 Comments] [Archives]

Wednesday, 27th April 2005

To Hanoi and beyond

Location: Bangkok
Weather: Very humid
Getting To Hanoi
18th April - Next was a night-train 12 hours north to Hanoi. I did have a night bus ticket, but decided to pay the extra for a 'hard sleeper' bed on the train, as I'd heard the bus journey was terrible. The bed was indeed hard, but I slept pretty well and enjoyed a full day wandering around Hanoi. It has a famous 'Old Quarter' where there a lots of old shops selling general rubbish, where it's extremely easily to get lost, even with a map. There's a street selling very cheap silk clothes and a large lake called Hoan Kiem which is the centre of the city, like most places in 'Nam there's a million motorbikes and every one of them asks "moto-buy" when you walk past, but the city doesn't have the same buzz and hecticisy(invented a new word there) as Saigon, it's a bit more relaxed. The only annoying thing was that every museum closes on a Monday, so I couldn't see any of them the first day, but I ended walking across the massive Long Bien bridge which spans the Red River. I spent the night in The Green Hotel, which was a total rip-off at $8 a night, considering it was on the 4th floor, didn't even have towels in the room or a remote control for the TV, I moved the next day to the $6 Nam Long Hotel which was vastly superior and much more centrally located.

What Was Meant To Happen...
On the 19th April I was first supposed to leave Hanoi, but I got to Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum too late, the cretins close it at 10:30am and this was the must-see part of Hanoi, however, I managed to con Thai Airlines into changing my flight and got to see Uncle Ho lying in state(much like Lenin in his mausoleum in Moscow) the next day. I also got to see his house on stilts plus the grounds in where he worked, lived and ran the country. Also saw the excellent Army Museum and History Museum - the museums in Hanoi are the best kept in the country, I reckon.

...And What Actually Happened
After much contemplation I decided to alter my plans and visit the last 2 highlights of Vietnam that every traveller hollers on about - Sapa and Ha Long Bay.
A 9 hour night train north on an excellent 'soft sleeper' bed got me to Sapa - a small town famous for its 1500m altitude, surrounding hill villages and their hill tribes. I was glad at doing this, since I
think it's one of the top 3 places I've been so far - awesome views, mountains and countryside - I'll have to put some photos to show what I mean.

A Tough Trek
Thanks to a Norweign bloke called Espen, I ended up climbing the highest mountain in Vietnam - called Fancipan or Phan Xipan- clocking in at 3,142m's high it's also the highest in Indochina. It took 2 days and involved the hardest trek I've ever known - 26km's and 9.5 hours of very hard going the first day. We had to go with a guide and I know why. Up hill to the top was tough - but worth it, as we got to see mountains in Laos and China from there, but downhill to the basecamp at 2000m's was worse - there was hardly a path, it was covered with tree roots and other hindrances. Half the time we were literally swinging from trees like monkeys over various obstacles as the path twisted and turned and/or climbing up/down big rocks. Sometimes you had to use tree roots or bamboo shoots to stop yourself sliding down stream beds or to hoist yourself up to the next level. Next day it was 8km's of more of the same, by then we were both near total exhaustion - the guide, however, went off to play football with a rival town!
Most people take 3 days to do this, but allegedly you can do it in 1 day, it must be a different route, because I reckon you'd be dead otherwise.

But I Kept On Going
Immediately afterwards I took a 7pm night-train back to Hanoi - arrived at 4:10am and then went on a 7:30am tour/cruise to Ha-Long Bay(4 hours from Hanoi). Ha Long is supposed to be an 8th wonder of the world - it has hundreds of rock islands and in my view was ok. It did have the best caves I've seen - Hang Thien and Dau Go - both lit with rainbow colours and with glorious stalactites and stalagmites, but the bay itself was much the same as I've seen in Phang Nga, Thailand. The boat trip took a few hours more than was really needed, I was exceptionally tired at this point, but we eventually arrived at the island of Cat Ba, where we stayed the night in a hotel. I ran into my friend Jos there whom I've met almost everywhere else in Vietnam!
Next morning we cruised the bay again for 4 hours which was very pleasant and refreshing, after another good free lunch(part of the tour) and a bus trip we got back to Hanoi at 4:15pm. I then went to the airport and caught my 8:45pm flight to Bangkok.
Fun At The Airport
Checking-in at the airport was great fun, talk about the slowest processing in the world - I got there at exactly 6:45pm, then queued as the check-in girl checked-in about 1 person every century, 45mins later I get within metres of the desk, only to be stuck behind some stupid woman with 100kg's of overweight luggage. Of course the check-in girl has to phone everybody in the universe to sort this out, 20mins of just standing there yawning and some other airport woman tells me to go to the Royal Executive Desk, where it takes me 2 seconds to check-in. I had to laugh when this girl tells me "you lucky, normally you be too late to do this, next time I won't let you", like it was my fault.
Anyway, Hanoi airport was good, they must have one of the best Duty Free's in the world - $11 for a 20 pack of Benson & Hedges(Vietnam has the cheapest cigarettes in the world, you can get a pack for 2300dong - that's 7pence - and both Espen & Jos said they weren't bad), $8 for a bottle of Gordon's Gin(whereas a beer is a pound in Malaysia, it's a dollar or less in Vietnam), then they charge $1 for a flippin can of Coke which usually costs half that! The aeroplane left about 15mins late, but was excellent, I thoroughly recommend Thai Airways!

By JamesReed on 27.04.05 @ 06:39 AM GMT [902 Comments] [Archives]

Thursday, 21st April 2005

Hue - the ancient capital

Location: Sapa - far north Vietnam
Weather: Coldish, misty and mountainous
Next stop on the bus was 5 hours further north to Hue. Hue was Vietnam's original ancient capital city. The old town is located within the walls of a large citadel, within that is the splendid Imperial Palace which was the first thing I visited after hiring a bike when I got there. The gates of the citadel are impressively large, but the gate on the Palace is quite spectacular and doubles as a watch tower and is set opposite a huge flag tower. It has the same layout as Bejing's Forbidden City, but many of the buildings are in ruins due to bombings in the war. They did have a royal dance and theatre show though - which is the best I've seen so far in Vietnam.

The next day I took a full day tour of the De-Militarized Zone or DMZ. This was the area either side of the 17th parallel (basically the Ben Hai River) marking North and South Vietnam according to the Geneva Convention. It lasted between 1954 and 1975, but was circumvented by the communists using the Ho Chi Minh trail to send supplies to their comrades in South Vietnam. We got to see the Con Thien Firebase - an American arms base that was severely bombed and eventually overrun by the VC in 1972, the Dakrong Bridge where you could see part of the Ho Chi Minh trail (apparenly the HCM Trail is now being made into a major motorway), Khe Sahn town that was deforested with Agent Orange, the Hien Luong Bridge over the Ben Hai River and finally the Vinh Moc Tunnels where the VC hid from the American bombs. These tunnels were much larger and more planned out than the Cu Chi ones, because, apparently families sometimes stayed down there for 5 entire days!
To be honest this wasn't a staggering tour, considering it took from 6am to 6pm, but I found it interesting enough because of the war history.

The next day I met up with my friends from Hoi-An and went on a boat trip down the Perfume River to visit the Royal Mausoleums - grand temples and stone palaces where the old emperor's lived. I say old, but despite them looking particularly ancient many were only built in the 19th century.
Bill Gates was late once at an airport, but managed to get a plane to come back off the run-way to pick him up and I almost matched him on this trip. The boat stopped along the river near each temple and I managed to miss it after getting back late from one of them. It just sailed off, with everybody except me and despite the protests of my friends(I wonder if they really said 'quick go, go, leave James there', hehe). However, after waving frantically at the boat, it did come back and saved me a long walk home!

By JamesReed on 21.04.05 @ 04:10 PM GMT [491 Comments] [Archives]

Hoi An - What a great place

Location: Sapa - far north Vietnam
Weather: Coldish, misty and mountainous
Waiting for the "Open Tour" bus that I had a ticket for from Quang Ngai to Hoi An was fun. I had to wait by a bridge on the main road and guess when it would turn up. It turned into a 1 hour nightmare of standing in the direct sun(no shade anywhere), repeatedly saying "No" to the hoards of men trying to get me to take other buses. It was near impossible trying to explain I already had a ticket and some of those blokes were a bit scary. Put it this way, I took my knife out of my bag and armed myself, I was that concerned about my safety. BUT, the bus came and all was excellent. The 3 hour trip to Hoi An was great, smooth road and no probs. I checked into this hotel and the room was fantastic. I was a 5 minute walk from the middle of town, which was ok by me.
Hoi An is a great place - as well as being very relaxing, it has a nice river by it, lovely restaurants, but is most famous for its clothes. It is a very small town, but has hundreds of tailors as well as shoe makers. On every street you can have suits, dresses and just about anything else made in a multitude of coloured fabrics and silks. It's all made-to-measure, even the shoes plus they can copy any garment for you as well. It's also the cheapest price is Asia - when you see the label "Made in Vietnam" I expect it's from here. I bought a grey casual suit for 25quid, 4 shirts, some jeans and a leather jacket. In case you're wondering about quality, the shirts are the best I've ever had and they cost 4pounds each! They make the clothes in a few hours, usually overnight(some tailors do the work above their shop, others I think have them made in a factory I saw down a road where all I could hear was sewing machines running). They alter them within an hour or two (you always have to get them altered to some extent). It's a woman's paradise this town, I met 2 Danish girls and they spent $350 each!

Hoi An is quite an ancient town and has several old buildings, temples and houses to see, some families have lived there for many generations and they invite you in for tea. One day I took a daytrip 40km's south down to My Son where Vietnam's most evocative Cham ruins are to be found. The Cham culture ruled Vietnam for 1000 years until the 14th century, they are signified by their Angkor Watish like brick towers(the Chams came from Cambodia I think). We saw a few of these towers and then sailed back to Hoi An on the river. There's also a superb sandy beach just 4km's down the road from Hoi An, I'd say better than Nhatrang, the only problem being the numerous fruit, massage and nic-nac sellers there who hassel you every 10 seconds, oh and it was a bit windy as well.

I really liked Hoi An, hanging out with a few friends I first met in Saigon, also made it a great time.


By JamesReed on 21.04.05 @ 03:55 PM GMT [209 Comments] [Archives]

Monday, 18th April 2005

My Lai Massacre

Location: Hanoi
Weather: Colder
After spending one night in Nhatrang I was ahead of schedule and decided to stop at Quang Ngai. This is midway through Vietnam and not a normal stop on the bus, but you can request it, because it's very near to the hamlets of My Son which was the place of the My Lai massacre. This was where a company of US Marines killed 500 unarmed villagers without a single shot being fired back, it was blamed on fatigue and frustration with the war. There was a memorial garden, showing a reconstruction of some of the houses that were destroyed and some trees still growing that had bullet
holes in. A sobering museum displayed graphic photos of the attrocities that occurred.
Interestingly helicopter pilot Hugh Thompson realised what was happening and landed his craft in between the villagers and rampaging soldiers and ordered his gunner Lawrence Colburn to fire at the soldiers if they didn't stop shooting, they're credited with saving several women and children. A film showed these 2 re-visiting My Lai a few years ago and meeting the villagers they saved.

Anyways, Quang Ngai town was strangely interesting itself, I was literally the ONLY westerner in the entire place and this was a big town. Everybody said hello, laughed or looked at me, it was rather odd. Also the woman who ran my guesthouse knocked on my door at 10:30pm and asked if I wanted a "massage", maybe I'm too cynical and suspicious these days of what a "massage" really entails in Vietnam, but I politely declined.

By JamesReed on 18.04.05 @ 05:32 PM GMT [34 Comments] [Archives]

Tuesday, 12th April 2005

Onto Vietnam

Location: Hoi An
Weather: Warm and sunny
I left Cambodia by early morning bus and headed for Vietnam. Our bus did break down on the way to the border, but this was because they drive until the tyres burst in Cambodia and I am used to this now, we just had to wait for the driver to change the tyre and off we went again. Despite hearing numerous horror stories and the Rubbish Guide saying that it would take 2-4 hours to cross the border, we were over in about 10 minutes. Saying that we did get held up for an hour, but only because some Israeli girl had a problem with her passport. Vietnam was almost an immediate change you could see it is much more developed than Cambodia and getting into Ho Chi Minh City AKA Saigon was a total change. This was a true city, millions of people, millions of motorbikes, things happening all the time and a city type atmosphere. I enjoyed Saigon very much, spent almost a week there, in a large room with a balcony, which was good even if I did get a 6am wakeup every day from the hundreds of passing motorbikes outside. Went to see the Reunification Palace - where the government live, went on a trip down the Mekong River, a bit like Martin Sheen did in Apocalypse Now, but the village we stopped at was a bit nicer. It didn't have Marlon Brando there for a start and we tried some very nice exotic fruits and coconut candy instead.
Probably the highlight though was going to see the Cu Chi Tunnels. These are located "25 miles north-west of Saigon"(as mentioned in a quote from the hit 80's song '19' - N-N-N-NINETEEN if anybody remembers that...I did cos I purposely listened to it at the Cu Chi tunnels!).
Cu Chi is where Vietcong villagers dug tunnels underground to escape the carpet bombing of the Americans. We got to see and crawl down the tunnels, no claustrophobics allowed, saw the improvised weapons and man-traps they made for the Americans and got to fire an AK47 again (only 3 bullets this time, but without ear muffs, so I was deaf for an hour afterwards). Our guide was a translater for the Americans during the war and made the whole thing even more excellent.

I left Saigon and went to Mui Ne. This was 4 hours south west and was meant to have an amazing beach and sand dunes, I wasn't impressed with either and decided to go back to Saigon on a packed night bus (had about 2 hours sleep in 48 hours thanks to that) and see the Cao Dai Holy See or central church. The Cao Dai religion is a combination of 6 religions - including Catholicism and Buddhism. The temple was only built in the 30's, but is mentioned in Graeme Greene's "The Quiet American" which I happen to be reading now. It was well worth visiting, as it looks far older than it really is, it is strikingly ornate inside and out and we got to see the robed members chanting and praying at noon. They used to have a Pope, but apparently they fought on the side of the Americans during the war and so the government removed him.

Leaving Saigon the next day I went to Da Lat - which is 6 or 7 hours west, I stayed in a very nice hotel and cycled round the town in the afternoon. It was pretty nice there and cold, since it is up in the mountains, but there's not much to do once you've seen the lake, also I wanted to get on to Nhatrang on the coast. Nhatrang is fabeled by the guidebooks and traveller legend as a wonderous beach, the best in Vietnam blahblahblah, BUT having got there I wasn't impressed at all. I should've known, everybody I'd met who'd actually been there didn't say anything about it. Basically it's just a big beach, with a large town behind it, but not much else and it hasn't got much character either. I think it must be low season, because the place was pretty dead. I did get to see the excellent Alexander Yersin museum, a highly interesting French Swiss who discovered the plague bacillus whilst living in Hong Kong, but mainly lived in Nhatrang, but this was the highlight of the town. It does come a bit more alive at night, but I don't rate Nhatrang at all.

By JamesReed on 12.04.05 @ 04:53 PM GMT [32 Comments] [Archives]

Monday, 11th April 2005

The Killing Fields

Location: Hoi An
Weather: Warm and sunny
Other than the gun range (as a side note, guns are still a bit of a problem in Cambodia there are signs everywhere asking people to give in their weapons and some restaurants/shops have notices saying "Leave Your Gun Outside Please"), most tourists stay in Phnom Penh to see...

The Royal Palace - This is where King Norodom Sihanouk lives (or lived until last year, before he abdicated). He seems quite a good King from what I've seen/read/heard him say. The palace is quite amazing - a truly grand place, very beautiful and striking. Saying this I found it quite an incredible the contrast between Phnom Penh and most of the rest of Cambodia, you have huge, elaborate buildings and most of it looks very modern compared to bamboo huts and not much else.

S21 Prison - this is where between 1975-79 the maniacal Pol Pot (leader of the Khmer Rouge) sent just about anybody who even remotely didn't agree with his ideas or possibly could have in the future - yes, wearing glasses, listening to non-communist music or being "too clever" were good enough to be imprisoned here in the tiny cells, then tortured using the most barbaric instruments I've ever seen and then probably murdered. Who ran this place? Pol Pot used mostly 15 year olds as guards, presumably because they were easy to indoctrinate. They had a film about the awful place and a box of skulls of some of the poor people that had been there. To make it worse, S21 used to be a school. This was a very good and interesting place to have seen.

The Killing Fields - If you didn't die in S21 you got sent about 20km's out of Phnom Penh to the various fields where you were murdered and dumped in a mass grave, usually by being clubbed over the head with the wooden handle of a hoe or shot or whatever. Surprisingly I didn't find the Killing Fields area particularly moving, I guess I was expecting far more than mere pits in a field and a large stone monument filled with hundreds of human skulls for something so tragic and terrible as what happened here.

History Lesson If You're Interested
I later saw a film in a cafe about Pol Pot's rise to power, his insane vision of the perfect communist society was to literally have a society with no money, no ideas, no love for anything but the state and everybody working in the fields using disastrous collective farming methods, in other words him and his 4 friends ruling everybody else. This was the excuse he used for S21 and the genociding of almost a third of the population. And what did the rest of the world do whilst this was happening? NOTHING. Many blame the Americans for the rise of the Khmer Rouge(they were seen as non-dangerous communists so the US bombed the dangerous Cambodian/Vietnamese communists instead) and say the Vietnamese were heroes for eventually storming Phnom Penh in 1979, which I suppose to some extent they were. But actually the main reason Vietnam sent troops to Cambodia was because Pol Pot was such a nutjob that he tried invading Vietnam! the man was a grade 1 mental case. In 1979 he legged it to the jungle where allegedly he died in 1998 of natural causes.
If you want more info check out http://www.moreorless.au.com/killers/pot.htm

By JamesReed on 11.04.05 @ 04:36 PM GMT [34 Comments] [Archives]


May 2005

(c) James Reed 2004