Archive for the 'Cambodia' Category

Photos!

I know everyone is anxiously awaiting the posting of my trip photos.  I’ve decided to switch to the easier to use and easier to upload application on Facebook.  You don’t have to be a Facebook member to view the photos.  I uploaded my favorites and it’s by no means all of them.  I’ve seemed to misplaced one of my camera disks at the moment (lost in my room which is not entirely surprising).  I switched between using two different cameras- a “point and shoot” and my digital SLR-  so going through the memory cards and sorting the photos took some time.  I added comments on very few (very few!).  But, if you have questions just ask.

Egypt
(a few more I found that I like)

Day Trips from Bangkok

Cambodia – Angkor Wat

Cambodia – Orphanage Day

Cambodia – Khmer Rouge
(Warning: Contains some graphic images)

Vietnam – South 

Vietnam – Central

Vietnam – North

Laos

Playing with Tigers (Thailand)

Bungy Jumping (Thailand)

When I find more I like I’ll upload them to a new album so my loyal readers don’t have to go searching for them.  I’ve also added the links to the “Photos” tab located above.  Enjoy!

 

17 April 1975

April 17th, 1975 is a date every Cambodian knows.  It is the day Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge took over the country and forced everyone out of the cities and into the countryside and forced to work long hours as farmers.   Pot’s goal was to make Cambodia a class-less society- a strict Communist society.  Food was rationed, people starved and what little food that was harvested was shipped to China to buy more guns and ammunition.  Those who stole food were murdered on the spot.  Those who were too weak to work were no longer useful and killed.  Whole families were murdered as well because the Khmer Rouge were afraid if the surviving families members were to seek revenge.  Many died of disease and starvation.

In addition to moving city people to the countryside, the Pol Pot tortured and executed former government workers, anyone who was considered educated (including those who were simply wearing glasses), and anyone who had foreign contacts were also considered tainted.  Money, postal mail, gasoline, and vehicles were abolished.  Hospitals were closed down if favor of more traditional medicine.

We went to the S-21 Prison which was a former high school in the heart of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.  The prison was used as a torture facility and once the soldiers were done with the victims they were shipped out to the Killing Fields and executed on arrival.  The Khmer Rouge took photos of all the prisoners, men, women and children, which are on display.  The beds and restraints are still in the cells.  Some days up to 100 people died at S-21.  The rest were killed at the Killing Fields.  Of the 20,000 that walked through the gates at S-21, seven survived and of those seven three are still alive today.

Next, we went to the Killings Fields.  The site is actually quite beautiful and it’s hard to imagine what atrocities went on here.  But, when you walk around the site you start to see beneath the peaceful surface.  The clothes of the victims still litter the ground.  You can even see bones sticking up from the walking path and you can’t help but walk right on them.  But, perhaps the most chilling part was the “Childen’s Tree” where children were murdered.  The soldiers held the children by their legs and swung around to hit the tree like a baseball bat.  How can someone do that to someone else?!?

Three years, eight months, and twenty days- that’s how long Pol Pot’s reign of terror lasted.  All Cambodians know that as well.  But, the dying did not end right away.  Hundreds of thousands more people died of famine and starvation after Cambodia was liberated by the Vietnamese.

Out of 7 million  – 2 million died.  Just over 25% of the population wiped out.  Today there are close to 13 million in which about half are under the age of 30.  Our Tour Leader, Poleak (pronounced Pollock), has brothers and sisters he’s never met because they died during the Khmer Rouge.  Poleak just found out an uncle is alive and well after his whole family thought he was dead.  His uncle escaped to California and has been living there ever since.  The uncle has been scared about coming back to visit Cambodia but has finally has the courage to do so.  He arrived in Cambodia sometime during our tour, and hopefully Poleak will get to meet him.

The trials for the Khmer Rouge started this year.  Don’t ask me why it takes so long??  To the fury of many surviving victims- Pol Pot died in the late 90’s of natural causes – no trial, no conviction, no justice for the victims.  It is also interesting to note that people blame Pol Pot for the deaths of so many people and not the Khmer Rouge.  Our guide for the S-21 Prison and Killing Fields as well as the book I’m reading about it all refer to the Khmer Rouge as one man and not as the many soldiers that carried out his orders.  “Pol Pot killed my family”  “Pol Pot tortured the inmates”  “I hate Pol Pot” “I want to kill Pol Pot”.

If you want to learn more pick up a copy of the movie “The Killing Fields” or the book “First They Killed My Father”.  Or do a Google search.  Or better yet come to Cambodia and see it first hand.

We left Phnom Penh this morning and headed to Vietnam.  I’ll be in Saigon for the next couple of days where I will learn very quickly how to cross the street in a sea of scooters.  Scooters are a family vehicle here.  I sometimes see a family of 4 or sometimes 5 on one scooter!!  Until next time…

US Dollars in Cambodia

From Bangkok, we made our way to the Cambodian border.  Once across the border it is immediately evident that this is Cambodia.  The road from the border to Siem Reap is the worst I have ever traveled on.  Big holes, unpaved and loads of scooters, people and animals.  My butt took a beating.  It took as twice as long to go half the distance we traveled in Thailand (if that makes sense?).

One of the first things you notice is the use of the US Dollar as the preferred currency.  Everything is listed in US dollars and paid in US dollars- even the ATM’s dispense US dollars, but to confuse newly-arrived tourists- any change under a dollar is given in Cambodian Riel which is 4000 Riel to $1.  Also, by crossing into Cambodia I’ve become a millionaire in Riels.

Our first stop was the small town of Siem Reap which is next to one of the biggest tourist destinations in the region – Angkor Wat.  We spent a sweat-inducing day at the temples climbing steep, vertigo-inducing stairs, fending off children selling crap (laaaady, you buy!!), and generally going from one shaded area to another.  I have never sweat so much.  But, it’s interesting because the air didn’t feel particulary hot to me and the humidity didn’t feel thick, but something in the air causes sweat to literally pour out of me.

The next day we went to an orphanage to cook lunch and play with the kids.  It was a fun experience.  The children were all happy and helped each other out around the center.  Some of the older boys were quite impressed with my volleyball skills.  We then took the kids out to Tonle Sap lake to see the floating village and to get some fresh air.  It was their first time there and it’s heartbreaking because it’s only a 20 minute ride and they’ve never been.  We crammed about 50 people into a bus built for 35 and the kids sang songs to and from including one in Khmer (the language of Cambodia) about missing their parents.  One girl cried on a tour member’s shoulder.  It was a great day and the first day in a long time I only thought of that day and not the days ahead.

Last night, we had a homestay in a rural village.  I slept on a thin mattress on the floor under a mosquito net- not something I would like to do again.  It was a bit like camping and I don’t like camping.  We didn’t spend much time with the family because our meals were prepared and eaten at the community center.  We basically used the family home as a place to sleep because that’s all we did- we arrived back at the house right before we went to sleep and left right after we woke up.

Right now, we’re in the port town of Sihanoukville (Sin-nook-ville) for three nights.  It’s Cambodia’s premier beach town.  So, a little R&R for me.

Next, we go to the capital, Phnom Penh where we will learn about the evil Khmer Rouge which murdered millions of Cambodians in the late 70’s.  Stay tuned it’s absolutely heartbreaking…

Phnom Penh is our last stop in Cambodia before we head off to Vietnam!  The tour group is great because everyone of us (there’s 12) came on our own and most are either just starting or just finishing a round-the-world trip.  And nearly all of us are going all the way to Chiang Mai like me.  (Hmmm, I wonder if I’ll like each other after 40 days?!)  And, yes, once again I am the only American.

(Also, it looks like it’s going to be interesting come November for the American elections- either the first black president or the first female vice-president.  How exciting!!  It’s big news everywhere in the world, of course, some people are confused because they thought it was between Hillary and Barack and now all of the sudden McCain’s name pops up.)

Quick Update

Just wanted to let everyone know that my new tour started today and we’re leaving for Cambodia tomorrow.  I don’t know how great the internet connections are there and the first week or so of the tour is fairly fast-paced.  I’ll update when I can.

I’ve spent the last week indulging in a little rest and relaxation.  I had another one of those lovely $7 facials last night.  I also bought some lightweight, cotton pants for about $6, hopefully they’ll keep me cool in the jungles (and hopefully they won’t fall apart!).


Where’s Stacy?

Stacy is in West Virginia and totally amazed by the power of Math. (Nerd, I know!)

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