HOT INFO On The Road

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SE Asia: REPORT #8
Eyes.....say it all.....

Oct 2, Y2K Bangkok, Thailand

After clearing customs it is clear from the first moment that I'm in another country. The roads look like the surface of the moon except that they are filled with mud and water. The further part of the journey to Siem Reap we sit in the back of a pick up truck. There are no lights along the way, the headlights of the truck show men carrying long poles and nets trying to catch beetles high in the air. They serve them on plates to travelers on their way, just like they serve the cockroaches and fried spiders. Yummy!

In Siem Reap a Cambodian lends me his bike without charging money for it, another man gives me a coconut and doesn't accept money for it, I'm surprised. I try to reach a Vietnamese fishing village, the flooding makes it impossible. The people are used to live in these circumstances, most of the houses are built on stilts. I need some time to find out where the local people eat in town, the center is filled with the kind of restaurants and bars that I'm not looking for.

Visiting Ankor Wat is one of the highlights of my trip till so far. After Henry Mouhot published his "Le tour du monde" in 1860, Angkor Wat became known to the world. I leave at 5 am with a hired motorbike to photograph the sunset above Angkor Wat. Many policemen and soldiers are present in the area, they make it a safer place to visit and take care that nothing gets stolen in the night. Tourists don't need an
Armed guard to visit remote temples nowadays. The policemen try to sell their uniforms to tourists, but who would want to walk in an uniform like that? At the Bayon temple more than 200 faces look icily down upon me, the shadow play in the early morning makes it a fascinating sight. Sculptures of 12th century rural Cambodia appear on the lower part of the temple. The jungle trying to get back what mankind took from it makes me think that I'm walking in a lost city.

In the pick up truck to Phnom Penh I meet the Swedish teacher Janne. (www.skolmappen.com, for the ones that can speak Swedish, visit the link "Pa luffen med Janne i Asien") For the second time travel is like hell, several times the road has to be cleared in front of us. Big trucks stuck in the mud, water reaching high above the tires of our truck. Local villagers find a way to improve their income, they rebuild the bad parts of the road and ask money for it. Our driver gives it to them, he pays the police as well.

Phnom Penh is a huge city, parts of it remind me of Saigon. "Please don't bring your gun on the school grounds" says a sign at the entrance of a high school, "Gunfree". We walk to the Tuol Sleng Museum, a former high school transferred in 1976 to a security prison. The first building shows rooms with one iron bed in them, on the wall a photograph of a dead or dying prisoner, often with a large amount of blood under the bed. In another room a huge map of Cambodia is made out of human skulls, we find a box full of bones and skulls in another room, a piece of hip in a small room where we weren't allowed to come. So many pictures of numbered prisoners on the walls of other rooms, I can't keep my eyes off some of their faces showing despair, fear, reassignment, and some of them pride . "This place gives me the creeps!" says Janne.

The next day we visit the killing fields, 15 km outside of Phnom Penh. Walking over teeth and fragments of bone, some of the mass graves are left untouched. Pieces of clothes that reach the daylight, a huge memorial contains over 8000 skulls clearly visible behind a glass panel. Killing children by hitting their heads against a tree. I'm speechless, this should never happen again, but history keeps repeating itself. We don't seem to learn from it.

We go out a couple of times, in Sharky a sign says "Beware of pickpockets and loose woman", I didn't know what "loose woman" are, they sure seem very friendly to me. The road back to Poipet is infamous I hear later, it's been called "the dancing road". Our first pick up driver was probably a near relative of Michael Schumacher, as if we were sacks of potatoes he drove over the potholes. At least he could have treated the car a little bit better; I was totally relieved when the car decided it was time for a long break, no matter what the driver wanted. We changed trucks two times, the 2nd had 15 people in the back, among then our smiling faces, and 8 in front of it. A baby puked his mother milk shamelessly around him, his older brother trying to compete peed, no place to rest my feet. Feet everywhere, people everywhere, I felt pain, cramp and there's nothing I could do about it. Another woman felt that it was time for her to puke, Janne got some sweet stains on his T-shirt as a souvenir from her. Pain everywhere, a sore bottom. One guy had the courage to call a pick up ride in Cambodia "great fun!" Must have been a ***ing lie.This pick up trip is my worst travel experience ever.

Laos is already spoiled by tourists, if you want to visit Cambodia, it doesn't harm to wait a while till conditions have improved! It wasn't easy but it was worth going therec people are generally very friendly, they are very poor but to me, we miss something else in Europe what they've got......


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