A Travellerspoint blog

Koh San attempts to destroy the Batmobile

Cookery Class and evening excitement – our last day in Siem Reap

overcast 31 °C

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Arriving at cookery school a little late for the scheduled 10am start we find ourselves the only students that morning. Proffered a menu we were asked to select what we wanted to cook. After participating in many southeast Asian cookery courses this was one of the first that took this liberal attitude to recipe selection. In a class of ten the variety of dishes being prepared must take some organization!

A large market of fruit, vegetables, fresh meat, fish and all manner of other goods

A large market of fruit, vegetables, fresh meat, fish and all manner of other goods

Central Market

Central Market

For us our market guide and cookery teacher was a lovely Cambodian girl named Savon. With excellent English she first took us on a tour of the market where we purchased sticky rice for our deserts and greedily eyed the fresh fruits and vegetables on display. With no deep freeze and extremely limited refrigeration Cambodians typically visit the local market every day. Meat is fresh, many of the fish were still alive. Finding quality produce at this market would not be difficult. Yet, even here all was not what it seems. Large clear plastic packs of spices were on sale. All were labeled and appeared to hold what they purported – black pepper, dried lemongrass, amok powder etc. Yet, the vast bags of saffron, that most expensive of spices, did seem a little incongruous. Displaying none of the characteristics of saffron (the dried stigma) and not being native to this area of Asia we were a little incredulous. Talking with Savon later she confirmed that it is actually turmeric. That similar colored spice so prevalent in Khmer cooking (I still have the orange fingers to prove it!). Caveat emptor!

Fresh vegetables

Fresh vegetables

Our kitchen for the morning was on the top floor of a popular restaurant. With wooden shutters open we could look out over the city, receiving a pleasant breeze in our open air, modern looking kitchen. Today, we would be cooking a Cambodian sour chicken soup, that classic Khmer dish Amok chicken, beef lok-lak and sticky mango rice with jack fruit for desert.

Ready for cooking

Ready for cooking

As the only two participants in the class we were able to ask rather more questions that might be normal and understand a little more of Khmer cuisine. Heavily influenced by Indian cooking, coconut milk, sugar, chili and turmeric were prevalent in many of the dishes. The majority of our ‘cooking’ time was spent on preparation. Slicing and dicing the many ingredients furnished by Savon. Whilst many are now available back home finger ginger was a little different – a very mild version of our ginger and turmeric root (normally only found in powder form back home) proved to be an excellent source of orange stained fingers.

Cooking prep work

Cooking prep work

Crushing business

Crushing business

After a couple of hours preparation and cooking we sat down for lunch to sample our efforts. Modesty forbids but we were relatively impressed with our efforts. Trey’s amok chicken had to be the stand out dish. Chicken, amok leaves (or broccoli leaves if amok leaves are not available), coconut milk, turmeric and a variety of mortar and pestle beaten herbs and spices such as galangal, garlic, lemongrass and shallot gave this delicious dish a wonderful flavor. My beef lok-lak with its beef marinated in oyster sauce and fish sauce served with a sour dip of limes, tamarind, sugar and garlic was also tasty. Desert, in the form of sticky rice, was too tempting for even our engorged bellies to turn away. A great and informative experience. We both are hoping to try out our new culinary skills on our return home.

A feast

A feast

Three quarters of the cooking team. Savon on the left.

Three quarters of the cooking team. Savon on the left.

With our departure from Siem Reap now approaching the rest of our day was spent finding boxes to pack our newly purchased souvenirs into (unlike Yangon the secondhand cardboard box market was not obvious here – although surely one must exist!). Trey took the brave step of getting her hair cut, which went well, although they did confuse three and six when taking a number of inches off the bottom. Yet, even while Trey felt she had been scalped her bouffant looked much tidier, with the slight reduction in hair volume surely helping in the hot, humid temperatures.

Retiring for a beer later in the day we were able to reflect that Siem Reap had been one of our favorite stops on our trip, so far. Some five nights in the town had flown by. Out of the main tourist seasons the hotels, restaurants and markets had provided a relaxed setting for exploration with locals eager for both business and general conversation. Siem Reap had proven to be a very easy living city, where we felt we had made a few friends, even in the few short days we had been there.

Returning to our hotel one of our new friends, Koh San and the Batmobile, by chance, picked us up for our final Siem Reap tuk-tuk ride. Riding back in the darkness the sights and smells of the city as it prepared to slumber were intoxicating. Relaxing as we approached our hotel we suddenly found ourselves fighting to avoid disaster. Rather than dropping us at the bottom of small flight of stairs outside our hotel, as was typical of most tuk-tuk drivers, Koh San had decided to take the small ramp up to the very front entrance of the large and imposing hotel. In a tuk-tuk we had proven on our arrival that this was possible. However, not if the steep inside edge of the gently curving right to left ramp is taken. Inches from the top our scooter stalled. At that point we started rolling back towards stone statues and cars. Eager to avoid these Koh San turned us sideways. This of course made the whole, now unstable vehicle, want to turn over. Only, the intervention of two security guards and a night porter saved us from the ignominy and pain of toppling over and Koh San from a very expensive repair bill. Safely at the bottom of the ramp the incident had clearly shaken Koh San, nursing his arm having clearly hit it at some point. We were just glad nothing worse had happened. How would we have ever explained to Ed and Miran that we had written off the Batmobile!

Posted by jamesh1066 15:41 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

One country. Three currencies

Paying for supper in two currencies. This is Cambodia.

overcast 31 °C

Siem Reap, Cambodia

With the Ed and Miran now on their way home to the US we were able to return to our more relaxed routine. With most of our morning spent travel planning, emailing and sleeping (but not necessarily in that order!) it was closer to lunchtime before we found ourselves once again wondering around Siem Reap.

As is typical in Cambodia everything we looked at was priced in USD which made shopping mentally simple. Also given the inherent weakness of the dollar, at present, it further benefited us in that pre-printed dollar menus, price tags and the like had not increased in price due to currency fluctuations. Possibly to make up for those terrible Khmer Rouge days when all currency was banned and the national Bank destroyed by the government Cambodia now has three currencies. The official currency is the Riel but this is seldom used by tourists. Locals make their low value purchases in Riel. We will sometimes receive change in Riels when it is less than a dollar but essentially we are able to pay and receive change in USD’s – or a mixture of both if the bill is x dollars and a few cents. In the west pf the country the Thai baht is also accepted. For Ed and Miran the mystic of southeast Asia was a little dented with everything priced in dollars. For Trey and I it was so welcome not having to calculate prices back into dollars, change money and the like.

Spending an easy day in a city that is so pleasant to simply wander we decided to treat ourselves to a little French supper. By most international standards our little teak furnished, orchid strewn French restaurant was both inviting and Asian in style. Yet the food was very French. Salmon tartar followed by Fois Gras (as I am desperately missing the excellent homemade chicken liver pate I am sometimes fortunate enough to have made for me back home) and a lovely mushroom soup. For the first time in many weeks we also risked a bottle of wine, which given the heat and humidity had travelled reasonably well. Receiving our bill we paid the majority in USDs, leaving a few Riels to cover the 50 cents on the bill and to leave a modest tip.

After dinner we once again treated ourselves to $1 foot massages, relaxing later with a cold beer as the relatively few tourists headed for the night market. Tomorrow would be our last full day in Siem Reap. What a shame!

Posted by jamesh1066 15:48 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Saving the environment costs livelihoods

The life of a tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap

overcast 30 °C

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Decidedly ‘groggy’ from the previous night excursions and with monsoon rains falling none of us where overly eager to leave the hotel at seven-thirty, the next morning, for the ten mile tuk-tuk ride to Tonle Sap Lake. Yet, after arranging the previous afternoon and with the already Batmobile outside, knowing that its driver Koh San had had less sleep than us, we felt duty bound to start our day. As the rain bounced we reached the centre of town before retreating from the rain. Hoping for a big breakfast we ended up with passable bacon and eggs but with undrinkable condensed milk tea.

Poor Ed. Still 'tired and emotional'

Poor Ed. Still 'tired and emotional'

Fortunately, delaying the start of our journey proper did aid the recovery process. By the time we resumed our journey to the Lake some of us felt a little more awake as the rain began to subside. Soon we were south of Siem Reap and passing rural life. Rice paddies perforated by a few lotus flower fields were our visual stimulation. Approaching the Lake what had become ‘normal’ concrete and bamboo houses were replaced by similar but different residences. Same, same but different (to quote an oft used Asian phrase) the closer the Lake the more houses on stilts we saw. By the time we arrived at the lake houses, schools, shops and restaurants were all on stilts.

Rice fields en route to the Lake

Rice fields en route to the Lake

Oh dear!

Oh dear!

Taking a boat out onto the Lake we were promised the opportunity to observe and visit more of these stilt villages at close hand. However, at $15 a ticket we decided that a river cruise in the pouring was not an ideal way to spend the morning, instead heading back towards Siem Reap – we had seen sufficient of the wetter than usual lake.

Lotus fields

Lotus fields

Not suffering as much!

Not suffering as much!

Stopping to take pictures of the Lotus fields, en route, we pulled over next to a bamboo hut that offered the rental of a karaoke machine for a dollar fifty an hour. Sitting on the edge of a rice field, surrounded by rural countryside, this technology was hardly what we expected.

Our limo around Siem Reap

Our limo around Siem Reap

After visiting the temples of Angkor Wat the previous day there was one that Ed wanted to visit. However, as I had no ticket and no inclination to spend twenty dollars to see one temple our driver had to ‘negotiate’ my entry at the ticket booths. Under strict orders not to leave the tuk-tuk I was able to obtain a free viewing of the great Angkor Wat temple as we rode past on the way to Phnom Bakheng or the ‘sunset temple’. So named due to the number of tourists that arrive at this elevated temple to watch the sun set over Angkor Wat.

Hiking to the top of Phnom Bakheng

Hiking to the top of Phnom Bakheng

The view from Phnom Bakheng or the ‘sunset temple’

The view from Phnom Bakheng or the ‘sunset temple’

The gate to Bayon temple

The gate to Bayon temple

With the rain having now ceased Trey, Ed and Marin hiked to the top of the temple hill, leaving me to explore both the gates to the famous Bayon temple, with its four heads and twin Naga and also talk with our tuk-tuk driver about his life and time in Siem Reap. Originally from south of Phnom Penh his account was fascinating. Some 25 years old he had started work earning 25 USD a month. Trained as a masseuse he had then gone to work in this industry earning some 45 USD a month (which gave some insight into the dollar tip we had each left our masseuse the previous night). For three and a half years he had then worked at the reception desk of a Guesthouse for 75 USD a month. However, this had required almost 24 hour working, sleeping at the desk, being available whenever the guests required.

Close up sculpture

Close up sculpture

However, some twelve months previous he had decided like another thousand or so drivers in Siem Reap to drive a tuk-tuk. With money limiting his opportunities he rented a tuk-tuk for sixty dollars per month. Often passing days without a single fare he managed to make a reasonable living with the flexibility of being able to work when he wanted. Some seven months ago he drove two young British travelers around the temples and city. Apparently, finding him as pleasant as we did they asked about his circumstances and how much it would cost to purchase a tuk-tuk. Brand new they would cost $650 USD. Used $450 USD. For the bike and carriage! Duly purchasing one for him, demonstrating that there are some extremely good people left in the world, he now has his own business, works hard but makes a reasonable living – sending money home to an aging mother and his brothers and sisters.

Tuk-tuk hijack!

Tuk-tuk hijack!

Yet, it would seem that those in power wish to remove that opportunity from Koh San and many others. Since 1990 Angkor Wat has been managed by the private Sokimex group. A Cambodian conglomerate whose main business, ironically, is petroleum. Ironic as they want to ban tuk-tuks and other ‘polluting’ vehicles from the temples, allowing only ‘green’ vehicles into the complex. By 2012-13 these ideal temple access vehicles will be banned and countless livelihoods lost. Whilst we have heard only one side of the argument surely this is crazy. What real beneficial environmental impact will this have? It is simply a crazy decision from a company I am sure creates and provides for a hundred times the environmental pollution that the simple tuk-tuks of Siem Reap have or ever will. Yet theirs is a small voice against a conglomerate that must surely have the ear of the Government.

Hanging out with the Bat!

Hanging out with the Bat!

Taking pictures of elephants I should have taken heed of the sign, forgetting how close they were

Taking pictures of elephants I should have taken heed of the sign, forgetting how close they were

Note to self - Keep out of path of running elephants when taking pictures of them!

Note to self - Keep out of path of running elephants when taking pictures of them!

After our saddening conversation and with elephants passing us by as we talked we soon exited the temple complex and returned to the hotel. Saying goodbye to the Batmobile Ed and Marin were quick to finish packing for their imminent flight to Bangkok, whilst Trey and I planned a quiet evening in the city and an early night. After a variety of early mornings and late nights, since our friends arrival, all of us wanted rest. Ed and Marin would obtain it on their 18 hour flight back to the States, whilst Trey and I would be back to travelling by ourselves, able to take a slightly slower pace without feeling any guilt or remorse. Tomorrow would be a relaxing day!

Posted by jamesh1066 15:34 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Cambodian clubbing in the Batmobile

Night markets and locals bars in Siem Reap

overcast 29 °C

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Having explored the temples of Angkor Wat on a previous visit I opted to let Trey and the boys tour this enormous temple complex on their own. Bright and early they and their guide departed by tuk-tuk for what I was sure would be a hot, humid but fascinating tour of the largest temple complex in the world. These were some of the temples that Trey and the boys visited.

Beautiful temples

Beautiful temples

Trey gets arty

Trey gets arty

Everyone else visits the temples

Everyone else visits the temples

Ta Phrom

Ta Phrom

For myself I had a productive day catching up on emails and my Blog. A few leisurely hours were spent reminding myself of downtown. It has been some five years since I lasted visited Siem Reap. The city has certainly grown but not to the detriment of its charm and vitality. French bakeries serving delicious cakes and pastries are still in evidence. As in Phnom Penh every wheeled glass walled food vendor appears to have French baguettes on offer. Shops, market stalls and restaurants asked for our could be bartered into reasonable prices. What more could be wanted.

Early in the morning the markets were particularly quiet. With vendors desperate for sales I was continuously offered ‘special’ morning prices. With a lack of tourists and need for money lingering in the air price bartering became a very one sided affair, with essentially any vaguely reasonable offer being accepted, if one had the buying skills! At various stalls I purchased a few souvenirs and presents for those back home. In the late afternoon I returned with Trey, Ed and Marin to many of the same stalls. It was quite amusing to be recognized as a ‘lucky’ buyer from the morning – as in much of southeast Asia the first purchaser of the day is often considered lucky their bank notes being waved over the remaining merchandise to encourage future trade. Obtaining good prices and chatting amiably with the local stallholders we headed for the night market, after a brief stop for cold beers where we met our Siem Reap tuk-tuk driver for the first time. Named Koh San he had painted his tuk-tuk in black with yellow signage, labeling it the Batman and Superman – mobile. With a color scheme like this we could not resist and arranged a custom tour of the area for the following day – great marketing!

The Batmobile

The Batmobile

Inviting Siem Reap night market

Inviting Siem Reap night market

Arriving at the night market fairy lights, street music and the general hustle and bustle of a southeast Asian night market greeted us. This was to prove to be one of our favorite night markets of the trip. Stall holders were easy to bargain with, always with a smile. Food and beer in the market was tasty and cheap and of greatest interest, especially to Marin, massages were available aplenty.

Our happy dollar masseurs

Our happy dollar masseurs

Perhaps twenty massage shops lined the alley leading to the night market. Later we were to call this the massage gauntlet as competition for a limited number of tourists brought masseuses into the alley, proffering their services sometimes a little too aggressively. Trey and Marin immediately opted for a fish massage. This was the first time they had allowed small fish to nibble on their feet but for $2 with a free beer it could not be resisted. With giggles and shouts of ‘hell no’ as water, fish and feet met their amusement became infectious on the other fish massage obtaining tourists.

The massaging fish do nibble a little!

The massaging fish do nibble a little!

From there we spent a happy hour wandering the stalls of the market before returning to run the massage gauntlet one again. However, with foot massages priced at a dollar for fifteen minutes (and all manner of back, neck and shoulder massages priced similarly) none of us could resist, as we descended as a group on a single shop. At these prices the massages were both popular and surprisingly invigorating. Walking down the alley afterwards my feet tingled, feeling very relaxed after their brief rub down.

Marin really enjoyed his many, many massages

Marin really enjoyed his many, many massages

Still relatively early in the evening and with the Batman-mobile tuk-tuk greeting us at the end of the street we headed out of the city towards the locals only bar area of Trey Kon. This is where locals from the hospitality industry unwind after a hard day serving the likes of us. Bouncing down a potholed, muddy alley, the area had none of the tourist class of downtown. No matter. This was a great opportunity to mingle with the locals.

Well that is a relief - Raymond Blanc take note

Well that is a relief - Raymond Blanc take note

Our arrival at various bars always brought smiles from our new neighbors. Those with the confidence and language skills were eager to talk with us, often wondering what we were doing so far away from the tourist areas. Across the street a nightclub blasted out the best of the Cambodian charts. With the music resembling western pop but not copying we enjoyed a good couple of hours dancing and drinking with the locals – much to their amusement.

Returning to our hotel at a late hour, once again by the Batmobile, Koh San would be back in less than five hours to start our early morning tour. Poor guy!

Posted by jamesh1066 15:01 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

A brief remorque tour of Phnom Penh

A morning visiting the sights of Phnom Penh

overcast 30 °C

Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, Cambodia

With the boys never receiving their alarm call we were a little late starting our tour of the vibrant and fascinating city of Phnom Penh. However, with clear skies a remorque (the Cambodian tuk-tuk – larger and therefore more comfortable than the Thai equivalent) was soon speeding its way into oncoming traffic heading for Wat Phnom.

Inside Wat Phnom

Inside Wat Phnom

Wat Phnom (‘Temple of the Mountains’ or ‘Mountain Pagoda’) is a Buddhist temple built in 1373, standing 60ft tall on the highest hill in the city. Legend relates that Daun Penh, a wealthy widow, found a large koki tree in the river. Inside the tree she found four bronze statues of the Buddha. Lady Penh constructed a small shrine on an artificial hill to protect the sacred statues. Eventually this became a sacred site and sanctuary where people would make blessings and pray. Still early in the morning the usual hawkers and touts were missing for our brief tour, which provided a wonderful feeling of calm and peace at a wat we would see later in the day throng with a relatively large number of tourists (for as this is the wet season large amounts of tourists were not a particular concern in any region of Cambodia).

The Main Gate of the Royal Palace

The Main Gate of the Royal Palace

Moving on from the wat that gave this city its name the Royal Palace was next on our fast paced tourist itinerary. The Royal Palace, or Preah Barum Reachea Veang Chaktomuk in Khmer is still home to the Cambodian royal family, they having occupied it since it was built in the 1860's, with only a short period of absence when the country came into turmoil during and after the reign of the Khmer Rouge. The palace was constructed after King Norodom relocated the royal capital from Oudong to Phnom Penh in the mid-19th century.

The real Royal Palace - Still in use today

The real Royal Palace - Still in use today

With the seat of Khmer power in the region rested at or near Angkor north of the great Tonle Sap Lake from 802 AD until the early 15th century the establishment of the Royal Palace in 1866 is a comparatively new event. After the Khmer court moved from Angkor in the 15th century after being destroyed by Siam, it first settled in Phnom Penh in 1434 (or 1446) and stayed for some decades, but by 1494 had moved on to Basan, and later Longvek and then Oudong. The capital did not return to Phnom Penh until the 19th century and there is neither record nor remnants of any Royal Palace in Phnom Penh prior to the 19th century. In 1813, King Ang Chan constructed Banteay Kev (the 'Crystal Citadel') on the site of the current Royal Palace and stayed there very briefly before moving to Oudong. Banteay Kev was burned in 1834 when the retreating Siamese army razed Phnom Penh. It was not until after the implementation of the French Protectorate in Cambodia in 1863 that the capital was moved from Oudong to Phnom Penh, and the current Royal Palace was founded and constructed.

Inside the compound of the Royal Palace

Inside the compound of the Royal Palace

Arriving only a few minutes ahead of the massed tourist hordes we could literally see the bus load waves of tourists entering the royal compound as we exited the first Royal Palace building on their tour agenda and entered the next.

Beautiful carved doors

Beautiful carved doors

Outside the Throne Hall

Outside the Throne Hall

Having paid over 6 USD to enter the palace I thought a picture of the Throne Hall would be an appropriate memory. The 'Preah Thineang Dheva Vinnichay’ or ‘Throne Hall’ means the ‘Sacred Seat of Judgement’. I guess the attendants shouting at me to put away my camera were the judges. Still I was able to grab a couple of shots before fully entering the glittering Hall. For this is where the king's confidants, generals and royal officials once carried out their duties. It is still in use today as a place for religious and royal ceremonies (such as coronations and royal weddings) as well as a meeting place for guests of the King. The current Throne Hall is the second to be built on this site. The first was constructed of wood in 1869-1870 under King Norodom. That Throne Hall was demolished in 1915. The present building was constructed in 1917 and inaugurated by King Sisowath in 1919. As with all buildings and structure at the Palace, the Throne Hall faces east.

The Royal Throne room - the picture I was shouted at for taking!

The Royal Throne room - the picture I was shouted at for taking!

Outside the Throne Room

Outside the Throne Room

As a still functioning Royal Palace many of the buildings in the compound are not open to visitors. Others such as a rather incongruous French-style iron building, a gift from Napolean III, that I know from previous visits looks completely out of keeping with the rest of the Palace, are wrapped in bamboo scaffolding for restoration work.

The Royal Banquet Hall

The Royal Banquet Hall

The final Pagoda on our visit and probably the most famous was the Silver Pagoda. Housing many national treasures its most notable Buddha is a small 17th century baccarat crystal Buddha (the Emerald Buddha of Cambodia) and a near-life-size, Maitreya Buddha encrusted with 9,584 diamonds dressed in royal regalia commissioned by King Sisowath. During King Sihanouk's pre-Khmer Rouge reign, the Silver Pagoda was inlaid with more than 5,000 silver tiles and some of its outer facade was remodeled with Italian marble. Curiously this was the only Pagoda that the culture destroying Khmer Rouge made any attempt to maintain as a feeble propaganda gesture to promote their cultural awareness and conservation of the Cambodia’s history and heritage.

From there we headed to the slightly out of town Russian Market for a little souvenir hunting. So named as historically it was frequented by the wives of visiting Russian officials. Replete with all manner of Cambodian souvenirs we browsed the stalls with interest but did not find anything worthy of purchase.

They start young riding scooters in this part of the world!

They start young riding scooters in this part of the world!

Our final stop was the sobering and brutal Tuol Sleng genocide museum. When Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge on April 17, 1975 most of its residents, including those who were wealthy and educated, were evacuated from the city and forced to do labor on rural farms as ‘new people’. Tuol Svay Prey High School was taken over by Pol Pot’s forces and turned into the notorious S-21 prison camp, where Cambodians were detained and tortured.

Tuol Sleng - The one time school building. Barbed wire covered the corridors to hamper suicide attempts

Tuol Sleng - The one time school building. Barbed wire covered the corridors to hamper suicide attempts

Pol Pot sought a return to an agrarian economy and therefore killed many people perceived as educated, ‘lazy’, or political enemies. Many others starved to death as a result of failure of the agrarian society and the sale of Cambodia's rice to China in exchange for bullets and weaponry.

Window bars in Tuol Sleng

Window bars in Tuol Sleng

From 1975 to 1979, an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng (some estimates suggest a number as high as 20,000, although the real number is unknown). At any one time, the prison held between 1,000–1,500 prisoners. They were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured and killed. In the early months of S-21's existence, most of the victims were from the previous Lon Nol regime and included soldiers, government officials, as well as academics, doctors, teachers, students, factory workers, monks, engineers, etc. Later, the party leadership's paranoia turned on its own ranks and purges throughout the country saw thousands of party activists and their families brought to Tuol Sleng and murdered.

Inside Tuol Sleng

Inside Tuol Sleng

Reading autobiographies of prisoners who survived their incarceration, frequently by using a talent such as painting or shoe repair, arrest and imprisonment often followed no logic. Confessions of working for the CIA were tortured out of individuals that were little more than factory workers with no perceivable way of contacting any foreign intelligence organization let alone working for them.

Upon arrival at the prison, prisoners were photographed and required to give detailed autobiographies, beginning with their childhood and ending with their arrest. After that, they were forced to strip to their underwear, and their possessions were confiscated. The prisoners were then taken to their cells. Those taken to the smaller cells were shackled by their legs to the walls or the concrete floor. Those who were held in the large mass cells were collectively shackled to long pieces of iron bar. The shackles were fixed to alternating bars; the prisoners slept with their heads in opposite directions. They slept on the floor without mats, mosquito nets, or blankets. They were forbidden to talk to each other.

The make-shift cells of Tuol Sleng

The make-shift cells of Tuol Sleng

The day in the prison began at 4:30 a.m. when prisoners were ordered to strip for inspection. The guards checked to see if the shackles were loose or if the prisoners had hidden objects they could use to commit suicide (barbed wire covered the exposed corridors to stop prisoners throwing themselves to their death). Over the years, several prisoners managed to kill themselves, so the guards were very careful in checking the shackles and cells. The prisoners received four small spoonfuls of rice porridge and watery soup of leaves twice a day. Drinking water without asking the guards for permission resulted in serious beatings. The inmates were hosed down every four days.

Wondering through the old school buildings and learning of the conditions one is obviously reminded of our earlier visit to Auschwitz and the inhumanity of man towards man. The lack of prosecution or punishment of many of those responsible for this atrocity is still clearly an open wound in Cambodia today. After the collapse of the regime Pol Pot denied all knowledge of S-21, a laughable statement if it was not quite so grotesque a subject.

Somewhat sobered and thoughtful we now had little time to return to our hotel and catch our bus to Siem Reap. Our journey would take some six hours. Leaving late due to mechanical problems which appear to plague the Paramount Express Bus company we finally crawled out of the traffic of Phnom Penh and into the paddy field countryside that we were to pass for most of our journey to Siem Reap.

For Ed and Marin it was their first cross-country bus trip, it might also have been their last! Whilst comfortable enough from what we have previously experienced the lack of space to recline and length of the journey gave them an insight into ‘backpacker travel’ that I am not 100% convinced they will be eager to repeat.

Yet, the bus did get us to Siem Reap. Albeit late, arriving as the monsoon rains fell. Fortunately, our excellent hotel was not far from the bus station with two air-conditioned suites and large comfortable beds awaiting our arrival. Sleep was soon upon as Trey and the boys prepared for their visit to the largest temple complex in the world the following day.

Posted by jamesh1066 15:09 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

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