Published: August 22nd 2006August 22nd 2006
Hope your all well, glad that the king was home for a visit!! Can't believe that the Pool didn't stuff Sheffield United at the weekend.
We are currently in the 'pearl of asia' Phnom Penh in Cambodia. We caught a bus here yesterday from Saigon in Vietnam to Moc Bai at the border. We're getting used to pretty long bus journeys so it was a pretty straight forward through CuChi (famous for the tunnels), we played with more kids (we've moved up in the world from adopting animals to just taking kids (well if its good enough for Angelina and Brad!). When we got to the border we were given the usual no instructions at all as the bus just pulled up in a restaurant car park. Moc Bai is a typical dodgy little border town in SE Asia, sweltering hot, full of shady looking blokes that just stare at you, absolutely no other westerners and in the case of Moc Bai a distinct look about it like it still wasn't finished - a massive sandbowl with half sealed roads and border guards just waiting for their bribe/fine!
Anyways we had no problems on the Vietnam
side despite over staying for a day (the lying planet reckons that they are sticklers for that type of thing). As we walked over the border to get our Cambodian visas it was very similiar, the only difference was the giant shiny casino literally 20 feet from the visa booth and the fact that the Cambodian Khmers are slightly darker skinned with rounder faces, oh and the language changes again - Sua s'dei from Brevet (the cambodia side). The guy whose kids we played with on the bus came over, he was French/Cambodian and spoke very good english, it turns out that he apparently ran for the presidency a few years back and now works as a consultant to Cambodian/French companies! He gave us the business card of his friend and advised that it might speed us through immigration and may help with official issues further down the line - I couldn't believe it when I read it - his friend was the 'President senate of the kingdom of Cambodia'! Still not sure that I believe it, but it seemed to work at the visa desk when I produced it and asked the guard where I might find this friend
of my dads!!!
The drive to Phnom Penh was very scenic, mile after mile of flat land as far as you could see, with the paddy fields only broken by the odd worker or water buffalo. As you got closer to Phnom Penh you got a sense of the poverty in the country, as with Vietnam it was full of bikes they are all ancient and most of them had some kind of adaptation like a trailer on the back or an extra wheel on the front to make it into a dump truck/vegetable stall/ people carrier etc etc. We arrved in central Phnom Penh at the Capitol cafe, the place was another dust bowl (again very few sealed roads) with hundreds of frantic touts and motorbike taxis trying to make some cash. The cafe came complete with an armed policeman, apparently to prevent tourist bags being stolen as they were taken off the bus - Dulce asked if he had ever needed to use it, not at this cafe he replied!
First impressions were not good, pearl of asia my ass - another strike for the lying planet - the place looked more like Mogadishu then one
of the cultural capitals of Asia. Anyways we got a driver, with a motor bike and trailer on, to take us to some hotels along the river TonLe Sap, eventually we found a decent one with A/C called River Star. I strolled around the main streets past the grand palace, national museum and silver pagoda and actually started to warm to the place alot. There were a lot of nice looking cafes and restaurants and the sunset over the river was beautiful (ok so maybe some credit to the guide book). On the downside the place is littered with beggars, mostly kids carrying exhausted looking babies with their arm out and one word of crystal clear English "money, money, money". There are also the ubiquitous moto taxi and tuk tuk drivers offering rides anywhere and marijuana, that said they are very friendly and give you a knowing smile when you say no!
We ate at a bastion of pre Pol Pot civilisation - the foreign correspondents club, ah I had forgotten how good gravy and mash tasted! S 21
The next day we got our tuk tuk driver to take us to Tuol Sleng (S21) museum;
the torcher/interogation centre managed by Khmer Rouge hench man, Dusch, to extract confessions and manufacture stories about other unwitting peasants during the late 70's. The place is utterly incredible and like nothing I've ever seen - the thing that first hits you is how ordinary it looks, like anywhere else in Phnom Penhs back streets. Its a dusty three storied old school that was used to question and torture 9000 people suspected of collusion with the CIA or Vietnamese or previous government. The Khmer Rouge took pictures of everyone and after a video giving you some background you walk through the classroom/torcher chambers complete with the stains of old blood on the floors and pictures of everyone who died there before, during and after the torcher process! It was swelteringly hot and incredibly still inside, it made the place seem even more eery. Only seven people survived it! As you walk out you pass a collection of skulls!
The worst scene of all was the collection of hundreds of photos of little kids, no more then babies, that couldn't have been more then five years old - they were all killed for treachery! The Killing Fields
Our next stop was the killing fields, where the inmates of Toul Sleng were driven after approximately three months of interogation to be executed. No bullets were wasted, they were either given a hammer to the head or had their throat slit and pushed into a mass grave. The road there was washed away from heavy flooding so we ended up having to haggle with the owner of a leeky little boat and some motor bike taxis to take us the rest of the way.
The killing fields were another very eery place, There was a small memorial in the centre that was three stories high with human skills, you walk around a field pock marked with the craters of disinterred mass graves, every few feet you come to a wooden sign saying that this was the mass grave of x hundred people. After a while you stop walking through crater holes and the field becomes very chalky. Out of 110 graves they have left 43 unexhumed, you can see bones and clothes and teetch scattered all around the place. When you look down you realise that you are standing on someones thigh bone!There are little bones and ground
up chalky bone dust everywhere. Its really bizarre and very quiet with the silence only being broken by kids begging for money.
Anyways after all of that we decided to lighten up a bit and went to the Russian market in town to get some retail therapy and work on the haggling skills. Its all under cover and is a real Alladins cave of fake DVD's, knocked off Nikes, north face, addidas, Gucci, Prada, Luis Vuitton etc We bought even more stuff to hoik around in the back packs!
Anyways the weather broke into torrential thunder storms, as it does here, so we came into this cafe to update the blog. We're off on another long bus tomorrow to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Heading out to the Heart of darkness for a few scoops tonight.
Hope your all well - talk to you soon
Noel & Dulce
There are more photos below