Monday, July 27, 2009

You Siem Reap what you sow

I was 311 kilometres outside of Phnom Penh, sitting in the Foreign Correspondents Club in Siem Reap, dressed in my ridiculous Vietnam war era cloth hat, nursing yet another Angkor Beer when I started wondering "How did I get here?". Why was I here? What was the reason? Why was I becoming a bizarre Hunter S Thompson parody?

I could feel The Fear start to wash over me in waves but i wrestled the demon back into its box by slamming down a pint of the 75 cent local beer. Soon I could feel the warm fingers of dutch courage reinforce my testicular fortitude.

Then it all came clear...

The last time we chatted, dear reader, was back in Central Vietnam. I could regale you with tales, tall and true, about the journey south but I will leave that to the highly accomplished Girl Clumsy.

My story begins aboard a public bus heading out of Vietnam into Cambodia. Blasting in my ears from my portable music magic box is the Dead Kennedy's "Holiday in Cambodia". It is important, gentle reader, to have the right music for each country you travel. Vietnam has a massive range all going back to the American War. I chose "Fortunate Son" by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and "One Night in Bangkok" from the musical "Chess" will play me into Thailand.

The music sets the mood... and the wailing guitars of the Dead Kennedys pumped up for this unknown destination.

The first thing i noticed was comparative poverty of Cambodia compared to Vietnam. Now, don't get me wrong, the average Vietnamese is not wearing Gucci and buying this season's Prada bag... well they are but they are all cheap Chinese knock-offs - but i digress. After Pol Pot's little 4 year soiree through this land they lost nearly 50% of their population either from having their faces ripped off for being educated, related to the educated or standing upright at the wrong time or from dying from starvation after the glorious Year Zero. Let me tell you, Year Zero it was... everything was razed to the ground... schools, universities, hospitals - you name it. It has taken these people all this time to get off the ground.

But they have their sights aimed high and a spirit to match. It will be interesting to see how much this place grows in the next ten years, as long as their cold war tussle with Thailand over "who-owns-what-province" doesn't go hot.

The capital Phnom Penh is a bustling city, all mad asian energy and anarchy. They want to build a 75% scale replica of the Sydney opera house on the banks of the main river... mad! GC and I drank at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Phnom Penh (It is the places to be seen, donchaknow) and wandered the Russian Markets. I discovered GC was the world's worst haggler.

Cunning Cambodian Stall Woman - You give me 3 dolla, I give you shirt
GirlClumsy - NEVER! You give me shirt, I give you.... 2 dollars, fifty cents!
Cunning Cambodian Stall Woman - *Stunned* Um... OKAY!
The Wah - *Face Palm* DOH!

Not as amusing as watching GC single handedly stimulate the Cambodian economy was our visit to Pol Pot's S-21 secret prison. The fact he turned a high school into a place where thousands were incarcerated, mutilated and murdered makes my blood boil. I never realised we had an Auchwitz so close to our shores. From there the fun continued with a visit to the Killing Fields.
Holy Crap in a bucket. 17000 killed.. not with guns but with crowbars, axes and other blunt instruments of delight... and don't even ask me about the babies... If Pol Pot wasn't dead I'd kick him so hard in the groin his ancestors would wince.

Fun Fact - Pol Pot was a very charismatic man. Supposedly, all that knew him personally thought he was erudite, charming and friendly. You'd be grinning all the way up to the point he had his hired goons remove your face with a sharpened shovel. How do these bastards get loved so much... is it sort of mass murderer's cologne?

Anyhooo.. enough of the ugly past. GC and I blasted out of Phnom Penh and wound our way to Siem Reap (Another Fun Fact - Siem Reap translates roughly into "The Death of the Thai".. its good to see that even in Asia people fight, squabble and steal land from their neighbours.. huzzah for humanity). Siem Reap is a touristy (as far as that term applies to a place with only 11 years of stability since the Vietnamese pissed off) town that supplies eats and sleeps for the nearby Angkor Wat (and the more impressive complex Angkor Thom) temples.

You all know Angkor Wat... Buddhist/Hindu temples, one thousand years old, in the middle of the forest... Angelina Jolie played Lara Croft - Tomb Raider and shot up many of these temples in the name of Mom, Apple-Pie and the Almighty Dollar (actually I think Lara is English but I just don't care). GC and I were at Angkor Wat before dawn to see the sunrise be reflected in the pools in front of the main temple complex. Unfortunately my Sun God powers failed me again (missed the total solar eclipse by TWO days). I am starting to think my Sun God powers are euro-centric. Buddha and Shiva might be tagging teaming against me to deliver a Buddhist/Hindu Smackdown to my secular testicles. It didn't rain but the cloud cover was thick. No sunrise for us! We spent the next 7 hours wandering through literally kilometres of temples and ruins. Angkor Thom is a staggering 9km square!

Had the absolute time of my life.. and that was before the Elephants! We bought a hand of bananas and fed the Elephants as quickly as they wanted to be fed.. we had no choice :) I was in awe of these beautiful creatures. I kept giggling like a school boy. I think GC might have video evidence. I was enthralled by the way it would suddenly contract its pupil and really LOOK at me... mainly when I stopped feeding it bananas. When I ran out of food for it I showed the mighty beast my hands were empty. The elephant looked at me for a long moment and then took one large step forward. Its huge trunk came out and I was effectively frisked. Obviously these elephants are no one's fool!

Oh, don't get me started about the monkeys. They jumped our bus and refused to get off. Fun!

This is turning into a massive tome, and so, gentles all, I will leave you with this thought from the deck of the Foreign Correspondents Club here in Siem Reap. The local beer in Cambodia is cold, cheap and the best beer I have ever tasted.

I dip my ridiculous hat to Cambodia for that alone...


Anonymous said...

As you say it's amazing how lunatics are loved even while they are being barbarous...
Apparently you can fool all of the people some of the time

Debbie said...

It 's the beer drinking that makes Eoghann so proud. FOund any WHiskey!! Local, I mean. I am sure the scots have exported every where in the world. It all sounds so exciting. The highlight of my day is not peeing when I sneeze!

The Wah said...

Their are two cambodian whiskeys. One is called Mekong Whiskey and is sweet with no smoke or peaty taste (very mild). And the other is called Muscle Whiskey... I haven't been brave enough to try that one