Ta Prohm

November 2nd, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

This is the path into Ta Prohm. It is different to most of the other temples, in that it is still surrounded by jungle.

The entrance to Ta Prohm. It is the temple where Lara Croft’s Tomb Raider was filmed.

The incredible power of nature. Over 900 years this tree has forced it roots through huge solid stone walls.

If you were designing an ancient temple ruins set for a movie, this is what you’d design. It’s absolutely spectacular the blend of jungle and temple. If I wasn’t there in person, I’d think it was photoshopped. A must see.

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Angkor Thom

November 1st, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Angkor Thom is a short distance from the more famous Angkor Wat. In some ways it is more impressive. Angkor Thom was the capital city of the Khmer Empire and the ruins cover 9 square kilometres.

The main entrance above the moat has scores of busts of gods and demons lining the sides.

The entrance into Bayon, the temple at the heart of Angkor Thom.

Touring Angkor Thom by elephant!

Bayon Temple.

The name, for those lost.

More of the wonderful artwork.

The inner temple.

One of the many faces of presumably King Jayavarman VII. who built Angkor Thom.

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Sunrise at Angkor Wat

October 31st, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

I got up at 4.15 am to go out to Angkor Wat to see it in the sunrise. Was it worth it? I’ll let you decide. These photos were taken around 5 to 8 minutes apart.

Was just magnificent.

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Angkor Wat

October 30th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Angkor Wat was built in the 1100s and is the largest temple complex in the world.

Th outer wall is 3.6 metres in length and surrounded by this lovely moat. Temples don’t usually have moats, as they are normmally associated with defences. But this moat it seems was created to help stabilise the foundations.

Heading into the outer structure.

The main structure with its three levels.

Angkor Wat took 37 years to build, and they think involved 300,000 slaves and 6,000 elephants.

An example of the carvings on some of the walls.

A former swimming pool on the second level.

The third level of Angkor Wat is “heaven” so the 12 staircases going up to it are known as stairways to heaven :-)

More carvings. And yes the one on the left is ….

The view from the third level. Absolutely magnificent. I’m going back the next day at 5 am to see a sunrise from it.

Another view from the top, showing the tourists coming in.

The stairs down. Bloody steep.

A view across the moat.

Incredibly well preserved for something built in the 1100s.

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Tonle Sap Lake

October 29th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

We left the Mekong to head up to Siem Reap, which takes us through Tonle Sap Lake. The lake is the largest in South East Asia and unusually the flow changes direction twice a year, with the lake depth expanding and shrinking dramatically from one metre to nine metres! The area of the lake varies from 2,700 sq kms to 16,000 when flooding!

This is the view I woke up to.

There’s a lot of trees and bushes in the lake. Not all of them grow from the bottom. Many of the bushes just float on the water.

This is all in the lake itself – not off to one side.

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One of the launches we go out on. The Cambodian ones are pretty ancient compared to the ones we used in Vietnam.

Also in the lake, is a village of a few hundred people – and literally in the lake. All the houses are on stilts, so they are above the high tide in the wet season. You can’t walk from house to house, so every house has a boat. The kids local school is also on stilts, not on ground, so I guess they play water polo, not soccer.

A couple more elevated houses.

This is another floating market. But unlike the earlier floating market which was selling from boats, this is shops on rafts. Each house floats on the water. They don’t move around much, but can get towed if they have to move.

Many of the boats are worked by school age youth. They learn to swim around the same time as they learn to walk.

One person fishing, while the other tries to hold the boat stable.

This is their housing store. You want housing affordability – come to Cambodia! They sell everything from large logs to bamboo sticks, so you can build your own house.

As we were by the waterside, three of the kids who had been following us about dived into the water.

The Cambodian kids love high fiving people. Even the infants almost do it.

One of our group asked who one of the kids has light brown hair, when almost everyone else is black. The answer is that inevitable he has older sisters who use their younger brothers to experiment on with hair dyes!

This kid also followed us around, with his older brother. Adorably cute and innocent. Of course kids that age are naked all the time, but generally they tend to be at home, not walking about the city!

This was our last expedition on the water. From Monday to Wednesday we are in Siem Reap.

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Oudong

October 29th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Oudong is the former capital of Cambodia from 1618 to 1865. Sadly hundreds of temples and stupas were destroyed here in the 1970s. However it is still home to the largest Buddhist temple in Cambodia.

This is the entrance to the Vipasssana Dhura. It is huge.

Inside is a stunning display of artwork. The walls and roof are all exquisite.

One of the wall panels

This stature of Buddha is huge. Reaches to the roof.

What they didn’t tell us in advance, is we don’t just observe, but actually had to take part in a Buddhist prayer ceremony for 10 minutes. I counted backwards from 600 to make the time go faster.

A statue in a lAke representing good. The crocodile at her feet represents evil!

I think that may be the tallest flagpole I have seen!

One of the few surviving stupas of former Kings of Cambodia.

We then drove to Kampong Tralach. On the way we passed several dozen of these trucks jam packed with Cambodians. I’m never going to complain about crowded public transport again!

The poor quality is due to window glare and being on a moving bus.

They were all transporting home staff from the local brewery – around 2,000 of them. Goodness knows what you do if stuck in the middle and need to get off.

A nice shot of the fields.

Then at Kampong Tralach, we had a half hour or so ride on oxcarts to the river.

They were very slow moving and pretty uncomfortable. A fun experience, but not something if you don’t do, that will make you feel your life is incomplete

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Chong Koh

October 28th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Saturday morning we went to a small Cambodian village – around 1,000 population.

This is the local school. Kids attend school six days a week, but only in the mornings.

And the local kids are well used to having the tourists come through. We learnt a few words of the local dialect, and as usual donated goods to the school. They have an excellent culture here on encouraging you not to give money etc to individual kids, but to give to schools.

While Cambodia is a poor country, I have to say the kids appear pretty happy and education is deemed important. I think there’s a lot worse places you could grow up, in the developing world.

The local padoya or temple. I was amazed that even a small village such as this has a padoya, let alone such a grand one. It seems only the smallest of villages will not have one.

Very patriotic country – you see Cambodian flags flying everywhere – many houses have one.

A family riding on their motorcycle. A very common sight to see kids on them with adults, and looking like they are having the time of their lives. Cambodia is not quite so motorcycle heavy as Vietnam though.

Five on one bike was a record I think. Reminds me of the days when I managed around ten people in a medium sized car!

The main road through the village – few are sealed outside the cities.

A tapestry making machine. It’s made entirely out of wood and powered by foot pedals, so anyone could make one and go into business for themselves – as this family have done. Real innovation.

The upstairs of their house. This is a medium type residence. Not very poor or very rich. One mattress behind the curtains, as most sleep on the bamboo floor.  However note behind the pole is a flatscreen TV and a stereo system.

We hadn’t used this gangway before. Most are solid metal constructions. This was two planks, and rope hand rails. Definitely one at a time.

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The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

October 28th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

This was Security Prison 21 (S-21) and is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Tuol Sleng means Hill of the Poisonous Trees.

It used to be a high school, but was turned into a torture centre. Around 17,000 to 20,000 were imprisoned here, with as many as 1,500 at a time. Almost all of them were tortured until they confessed to something.

When this place was liberated they found 14 corposes here.

The 10 rules of the camp, translated.

See those dark areas on the floor. That’s blood.

A photo of one of the corpses they found at the camp.  They were kept chained to the bed.

The torture included electric shocks, hot metal instruments, hanging, cutting with knives, suffocated with plastic bags, pulling out fingernails and pouring alcohol on wounds.

Pardon the reflection from the glass but near impossible to avoid. These are a small portion of the thousands of photos up on the walls of victims.  They were tortured and killed – not for anything they did, but just because of the paranoid genocidal rulers. One New Zealander also died at this camp.

The barbed wire was there not just to stop prisoners escaping, but on the higher levels to stop them killing themselves by jumping off.

This was a typical cell where one or more people would live.

The Cambodian flag flies at permanent half mast here.

Of the 17,000 who went into Tuol Sleng, just three survived.

The commander of the camp was Kang Kek Iew or Comrade Duch. He was free from 1979 to 1999. He lived abroad in Thailand and China and worked as a teacher of English and maths. He then became a christian lay preacher and once remarked “I don’t know if my brothers and sisters can forgive the sins I’ve committed against the people”.

He was right. A photojournalist tracked him down in 1999, and in 2007 he was put on trial. He was found guilty of crimes against humanity, torture and rape.  He was eventually given a life sentence with no parole. He is aged 59.

His prison cell will be like a five star hotel compared to the conditions in the prison he supervised.  Some crimes can never be atoned for, and his fall into that category.

 

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The Killing Fields

October 27th, 2012 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

This is the main memorial at Choeung Ek, the most famous of the Killing Fields.

It is difficult to imagine how barbaric the rule of the communist Khmer Rouge was. They killed around two million of their own citizens, which was 25% of the population. Our tour guide has his uncle killed by the Khmer Rouge. His crime – he was a professor.

The Khmer Rouge wanted to kill anyone suspected of “free-market” activities and suspected capitalists included professionals, almost everyone with an education, and urban dwellers.

Over 300 people a day were killed at Choeung Ek, in total 17,000 executed. Around 9,000 bodies are buried here. This mass grave has around 160 bodies in it.

The rule of the Khmer Rouge was beyond insane. To quote Wikipedia:

During their four years in power, the Khmer Rouge overworked and starved the population, at the same time executing selected groups who they believed to be enemies of the state or spies or had the potential to undermine the new state. People who they perceived to be intellectuals or even those that had stereotypical signs of learning, such as glasses, would also be killed. People would also be executed for attempting to escape the communes or for breaching minor rules. If caught, offenders were taken quietly off to a distant forest or field after sunset and killed.

All religion was banned by the Khmer Rouge. Any people seen taking part in religious rituals or services would be executed. Several Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians were killed for exercising their beliefs. Family relationships not sanctioned by the state were also banned, and family members could be put to death for communicating with each other. Married couples were only allowed to visit each other on a limited basis. If people were seen being engaged in sexual activity, they would be killed immediately.

A photo of the remains as they were excavated.

Those without heads tended to be Vietnamese, who were especially hated. Even today, there is still a lot of friction. Our Cambodian guide spent a lot of time telling us about the evils inflicted on Cambodia by Vietnam, and saying how he couldn’t tell us this in front of his boss, who is Vietnamese.

Another photo.

Each of those depressions is a mass grave.

The memorial has over 5,000 human skulls in it.

A sombre and ghastly memorial, which sears your soul. This happened in my lifetime. The executions were often carried out using poison, spades, sharpened bamboo sticks, or for children having their heads bashed against the trunks of trees.

It is hard to not be affected by the knowledge of what happened at this site, and all over Cambodia. Afterwards no-one spoke for a long time.

I hope there is a hell, just so Pol Pot and his comrades can spend eternity there.  Their crimes almost have no parallel.

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The Cambodian Royal Palace

October 27th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

We’re in Phnom Penh for a day and a half, so started off with a tour around the Royal Palace.

The former King of Cambodia (then known as the King-Father) died just a few days ago, so his portrait is up everywhere. He was extremely popular and beloved.  Norodom Sihanouk became King at age 19 in 1941, until 1955 and then from 1993 to 2004. He was the great grandson of King Norodom, the King from 1860 to 1904 – regarded as the first modern Khmer King. By becoming a French protectorate he got Cambodia out from under the rule of Vietnam and Siam. King Norodom had 62 sons and daughters!

Personally I find the record of Norodom Sihanouk rather blemished. He was not just King, but at various times also President and Prime Minister and a puppet head of state for the Khmer Rouge. He was the effective ruler from 1953 to 1970 when the National Assembly voted to depose him. He then began his support of the Khmer Rouge. Many joined the Khmer Rouge to support him, not because they were communists. He had no real power during the Pol Pot regime, but he did help bring it about. Despite that, very few Cambodians blame him in any way.

Part of the Palace.

A memorial for one of the former Kings.

The current King, Norodom Sihamoni, is 59 but looks around 40. He is also very popular. Interestingly it appears he is gay, not that they state that outright. His late father said he “loves women as his sisters” and he is a bachelor and ballet dance teacher! Quite progressive for them to elect him King.

They have 600 metres of this mural. Faded but fascinating.

Generally one could not go into the Palace, or if you could not take photos. In one room is a Buddha made of 70 kgs of gold, and huge diamonds also. I was amused that the lock on his display case was a $2 small padlock.

The original King Norodom.

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Crossing the border

October 26th, 2012 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

This is the border house at the border between Vietnam and Cambodia. We spent around three hours here as they checked all our paperwork.

A few people have asked me for more details of the boat, so here’s a few photos to give you an idea of what it is like on board.

This is the sun deck and pool area. We’re averaged 32 degrees or so, which has been great. Despite it being the end of the wet season, haven’t had a drop of rain yet. Most importantly very little humidity. It is bloody hot, and you wilt in the sun. But it is dry hot. Not like Singapore where you get soaked even crossing the road.

The rather small gym. Nice views though.

This is the main Saigon Lounge. We do briefings in here, and can generally relax in here.

The dining room. The boat can take 92, but we have around 60 – 70, so lots of room.

The interior is lovely, with lots of wood. There are four decks.

The corridor I am in.

My cabin number. Damn. So close!

The bed inside the cabin. A good queen size and very comfortable. Not a lot of sun as I am in the cheaper porthole cabins. But is fine, as I only really sleep or work in there. The upper floors have little balconies.

Has a decent work area. I work offline in the cabin and online in the lounges where I have wireless.

The Library, which also serves as a nice quiet place to blog from.

The RV La Marguerite is very modern, and nice. No complaints at all.

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