Thursday, 30 April 2009

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is the mother of all temples, well so the guide books say. For my travels this was going to symbolize the end of all my visits to temples for the rest of this trip and possibly even my life. At this point I was pretty feed up with temples really, I just didn't really care anymore, I don't visit churches back home so I don't know why I was visiting so many temples out here. Despite my large amount of temple apathy I was quite looking forward to Angkor Wat because it was supposed to be something special. I had never heard a bad word about this place and considering they offer 3 day passes to look around the place, there was surly going to be something I liked there.

Angkor Wat is basically a huge complex of temples in Angkor just outside Siem Reap. It is an absolutely massive place and would take you a week or maybe even 2 to look round and see the whole place. I have no idea how big the whole site is or how many temples are in the area. All I know is the place was bloody big and there were loads of temples.

Tommy, me and Trulz hired a Tuk Tuk for the day to take us around the site. This is often recommended as it would take weeks to see the place if you were to walk from temple to temple. This meant we covered quite a large amount of the place in just the one day and while we didn't get a very in depth view of the place, we defiantly saw all the main temples there.

The only things that really tainted the day were the large amount of Cambodians hawking around the place. It costs all foreigners $20 entry to the site, which get you a a ticket with your photo on which you have to show every time you enter a temple. However the Cambodian can go for free so they turn up every day and try sell stuff to all the tourists visiting the temples. It was just really annoying when you are trying to look around the place and enjoy the fairly peaceful surroundings when a 5 year old Cambodian child is trying to see you postcards for $1. It did not help matters at all and just gets very tiring as they don't take no for an answer. One girl challenged me to a game of naughts and crosses and said if I lost I had to buy a postcard. I lost, but refused to by the postcard.

The highlight of the day came from a fat yank. Somehow got talking to a women who was with a church tour of Angkor Wat who had come all the way over from California. I can't even remember what we aid to her but she then asked as "So where abouts in Germany are you guys from?". Fucking German! What? We then explained we were from England and asked where she was from (knowing she was obviously from America), she said Calafornia in America to which Tommy the quick witted devel he is replied "Oh cool, I've always wanted to go to Canada". Her face was a picutre Ohhh how I laughed.

Did I like Angkor Wat? Yes I did. Did I care about it? No. Unfortunately my temple apathy was now just to strong and while I did like seeing the massive temples, they were very impressive, I just couldn't be bothered to go around the place, it was seriously humid, my fallen arch was given me shit again so was even more effort to walk around the place and every so often it would rain. I am pleased I went as I did feel like I was visiting something special. But I just found it hard to appreciate. I felt it was such a shame really as looking through my pictures now as I put them on here does remind me of how awesome the place was but I think I was just all templed out.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Phnom Penh

The main reasons I want to come to Phnom Penh were the "Killing Fields" and The "Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum" (S21). After visiting them I found them so moving I thought I would talk about them separately rather than just casually slip them into a paragraph about Phnom Penh. However doing this meant that the 3 days I spent here look fairly pathetic as all I did was fire guns and casually look around the Royal palace as a means to kill some time before we headed to the Genocide Museum. Nevertheless here is a outline of my time in Cambodia's capital city Phnom Penn.

It absolutely chucked it town as we arrived into Phenom Penn and going across the city to our hostel with Tony, who turned out to be our personal Tuk Tuk driver for the 3 days we were there, meant we were soaked when we eventually made it to the hostel. We stayed at the "Lazy Fish" a chilled out little lake side hostel made entirely from wood and was possibly the coolest place I have stayed so far and the vibe there was defiantly lazy.

Day one I woke up in a pool of sweat. We did not have air conditioning, only a fan and the fact the room was made of just wood meant it was actually a sauna in the morning and was at least twice as hot inside the room as it was out. I quickly got up and out and started talking to Tony the Tuk Tuk driver. I went through what I wanted to do in Phnom Penh and he gave me a price for taking me and Tommy around all these places.

First place we went was the army base 30 minutes outside of the city. Now I am not really sure what the deal is with this place. But the general gist was that Tony bribed the Army to let us into their shooting range to try out some of the guns there. Tony had previously quoted me $250 to blow up a cow with an RPG. While this was something I would have never ever really have considered doing I was pleased I had been given the opportunity as it had therefore confirmed the urban myth that it is possible to blow up a cow with an RPG in Cambodia if you are willing to pay for it.

After firing the M16 the other day in 'Nam, I thought it was only right that I also tried the AK47. Prices here were a lot more reasonable and for $40 I shot 30 rounds with the AK47. There were a large amount of chickens running around the place for some strange reason. But that all became clear when the solider said that for the measly price of $15 I could shoot at a chicken. It was at this point I realized I was not some sort of blood thirty murder as the thought of shooting a chicken for my own pleasure made me feel terribly guilty so I politely declined. Once again the gun was mentally loud but as the ear defenders they had provided me with here were a far better standard than those in Vietnam I was left with not even the slightest ringing in my ear.

Unfortunately once again my accuracy was appalling and have no idea if I hit the targets or not. Had I been a cruel bastard and forked out the $15 to shot the chicken with the AK47 I don't think I would have hit it anyway. So I thought I would have one last go at firing a gun but this time one that would give me a bit more accuracy. I eventually settled on the MP5. This gun would not only give me more accuracy but was also my weapon of choice in my favorite Xbox 360 throughout my University days in "Ghost Recon". This made me very excited and allowed me to bring to life all those 100's of hours I had spent in front of the projector screen with Ciaran in second year. The MP5 was ok, it wasn't as fun as the M16 and AK47 and I didn't even need ear defenders for it but it was definitely the coolest looking gun out of the 3 I fired.

From here we went to the Killing fields which were just unbelievable and then on to the Genocide Museum. However it turned out we had missed the 3pm showing of the documentary they showed each day so thought it best we skip the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum till tomorrow. Instead Tony wanted to take us to the museum of Angkor. I really could not be arsed to walk around looking at old pots and bits of old statues to his surprise so we opted for a trip to the local market to pick up a few nick-knacks as Tommy wanted a scarf to keep the dirt out and I need a new pair of Ray Bans as I had sat on my earlier that day.

That night we didn't really do a lot and just ended up going for a curry with the biggest mix of western nations I am yet to encounter. There was English, American, Australian, Canadian and one Pole. It was quite cool having all the different nationality around the table and quite obviously conversation steered in the direction of all our different perceptions of America. Luckily the American couple weren't a particularly patriotic couple so no offense was caused.

The next day was basically spent killing time till we could go to the Genocide Museum. So in the morning we went to the Grand Palace and Silver Pagoda where we casually looked around and got harassed by a gay couple which wasn't nice. We didn't even end up going in the Silver Pagoda in the end as we both could not be bothered with the place. We just sat in the court yard of the palace drink some Pepsi's till the mid day closing time. We then had some lunch and headed of to the Genocide Museum which was also unbelievable.

I was beginning to like Cambodia and starting to regret the fact we were cutting our time down here so much. I liked the people I liked the place and I liked the sort of lawless feel of the place. Anything seemed to go and it was definitely the least developed country I had ever been to with lots of street kids, stray dogs and mud tracks instead of roads, I defiantly felt like I was traveling here compared to the easy ride I had in Japan. I was also surprised about how readily available drugs were and were advertised in cafes and bars in much the same way they were in Amsterdam. While I have always been aware that drugs have been all around me in the South East Asian countries I have been to so far, no other place seemed to be so open about the selling of them. Anyway, Phnom Penh was cool and I was now looking forward to traveling up the north of the country to see Siem Reap.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

The Genocide museum or as it was called back in the day S21 was possibly the place I wanted to see the most out of all the places Ollie told me about he had visited on his travels 4 years previous. This was mainly because of the room after room of mug shots of the people who had been through the facility on display here. It sounded unbelievable and I just wanted to see it for myself. While at the time I thought the Killing Fields and the S21 were the same place it wasn't till about 3 weeks before I realised there were actually 2 completely different places.

As usual a bit of history about the place so you can get more of an idea about what I am talking about. S21 used to be the Chao Ponhea Yat High School but was the converted into S21 some years later. It was used by Pol Pot as an interrogation center to find out the names of friends and family of people Pol Pot deemed a threat to his new society so he could find them and get rid of them also. Once people had been tortured and interrogated, if they hadn't died from the interrogation process they would be shipped off to the killing fields where they would eventually be executed.

Like The Killing Fields I had visited the previous day around the entrance was a large amount of homeless and disfigured human beings hanging around the entrance wanting money. So once again after seeing that from the word go you were felling pretty shitty as you entered the place. It was once again only about $3 entry but I can safely say that $3 brought me the most depressing experience of my life so far and I doubt I will experience anything as depressing as this place again unless maybe when I one day visit Auschwitz but I doubt it.

The place is exactly how you would imagine a place were so much misery went on would look like. Paint was flaking and peeling off the walls, doors and window frames, there was barbed wire everywhere and the place seemed to be slow deteriorating with bits of bricks and wood lying around all over the place. I'm not sure if this place was kept at this level of deterioration intentionally to add to the gloom of the place or was just generally not being looked after and was just generally falling apart. Either way it looked exactly as you would imagine it to. Like I said it was an old school before the Khmer Rouge turned it into S21 and it still to this day maintained a few of the original features it had from its days as a school. Such as the monkey bars and other bits of play equipment. It later turned out that they were still there because the Kumer Rouge would use them as a way of torturing the prisoners and then eventually hanging them to death on them.

There are a number of different areas to the genocide museum, the first area you come to are the rooms that were used as the torture and interrogation rooms at the S21. While originally pretty much the whole places would have been made up of these rooms, it is just this one 3 floor block that has been preserved as the interrogating rooms today. Each room was pretty much bare apart from a rusty metal bed frame in it and more often than not a picture on the wall next to it showing a picture of what the bed looked like when S21 was discovered. Every pictured showed the a mutilated or charred body lying on the bed. To be honest I couldn't really work out what had happened to some the bodies in the pictures but it was pretty obvious it wasn't very nice.

Once you leave this area you move on to a floor dedicated to the mugshots of the victims that had come through S21 back in the day. For some reason Pol Pot wanted to thoroughly document everyone that had gone through the camp and would put each prisoner on file including a mugshot. For some reason all the pictures found were not names so it was not possible to work out who had gone through S21. However with some of the photos on display in the museum relatives have sometime recognised family members from the photos and been able to find out what had happened to their missing farther or sister. It was really hard to walk through the few rooms these photos were in as it made the whole things very real. Seeing all the skulls at the Killing Fields didn't really mean to much as you can't put a face to a skull where are when you are confronted with picture after picture of murdered Cambodian it's pretty brutal. Especially when there are endless amounts of very young children also in the photos. I couldn't really work out at what point the people going through S21 would know what was going to happen to them and whether or not the faces in the pictures at that point were the faces of someone that knew they were going to be tortured to death or not. Some seemed to be smiling while others to me looked like they defiantly knew this was the end, either way it was horrible and so hard to take in.

The rest of the rooms were pretty much dedicated to photos, paintings, documents and any other achieves they were able to put on display about the place. The very top floor had the most museum like feel to it with plenty of information about what had happened to this place past, present and future. While the rest of the place I guess just felt more like time capsule that you were able to walk around, preserved as it was back in the day.

We ended the day by visiting the viewing room to watch the 30 minute documentary about the place. After we had put so much effort into making sure we didn't miss it by not coming here the previous day and then finding other things to fill the time so we could see it I ended up falling asleep during the first 10 minutes of the showing making it a complete waste of time as I missed pretty much all of it. I also felt like I was a horrible heartless beast falling asleep to interviews with some of the survivors of the place but I was just sooooo tired for some reason.

After the ridiculous situation of the wedding music being pumped out over the killing fields while I was there the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was a completely different story. This time my whole time there was intensified about x50 as there was thunder and lighting and some of the greyest skies I have ever seen. This definitely added to the atmosphere to the place no end and once again I was heading back to my hostel contemplating suicide like I had the day before after the Killing Fields.

All in all the place was unbelievable. The mugshots are the things that have stuck with me the most as it was just so harrowing staring at the faces of some of the victims that had been through this place. The whole place was deeply depressing but I am so pleased I came, I will not be forgetting it anytime soon.