Archive for August, 2007

Cruising the Kinabatangan – Bilit, Borneo

August 31, 2007

Dear All,

Time to go and find some animals in the wild. I’d heard that cruising along the Kinabatangan river was a great way to do it and the Sepilok jungle resort offered a 2 day/2 night package to Bilit. It’s a bit harder and more time consuming to get around in Borneo generally and as the tour was a reasonable price I thought it would be an easier option. After my strange dorm people at Sepilok I was relieved to see 2 Australians and 1 Brit, all women already on the list.We set off in the minibus for the 2 hour journey to Bilit. I seem to have acquired the skill of falling asleep on buses – all I need is a new car seat!! I woke up at the half way point and started talking to the two Scottish women (Laura & Carol, we’d picked up from an adjacent resort on departure) sitting next to me.We arrived at Bilit (population 200) and were taken to a jetty where we boarded a boat and were taken down river to a lodge all on it’s own. Some how I managed to get a room to myself even though I’d paid to share. After a cup of coffee we were taken on our first river cruise. Laura and Carol were taken on a separate boat and I joined Barbara, Sylvia and Gill (the Aussies & Brits) with 2 other German couples.

As soon as we left the shore we had to spot trees twitching. Nearly immediately we found some long tailed macque monkeys. I now understand where the phrase cheeky monkey comes from. We carried on downstream and saw two boats stopped on the other side of the river. In fact the river was a lot wider than we’d all expected. We motored over (yes the motor does make some of the animals hide) and were told the word – orangutan, by the watching boats. Ok, just to be clear,this is not an every day occurrence and we were so lucky but up in the tree, although we had to look closely as they were pretty well hidden was not one orangutan but two. Yes just like in normal life, the man was sitting in the tree eating and the woman was below making the bed, or in this case the nest. They can make up to 4 a day. They didn’t really move they were just sitting there and of course incredibly aware of our presence. It was great to watch her pick leaves and move them around. I have achieved my goal of seeing orangutans in the wild – hurray !!

We carried on downstream and more twitching. This time it was the Proboscis monkey. Otherwise known as the long nosed monkey. These are much larger than the cheeky macques so rather than jump from tree to tree they need to swing branches and use it as a pole vault to travel. They also stay in two groups – 1) the harem group which contains one male and several females and the 2) the bachelor party – all the males who hang around and try and mate with the females when the other male isn’t looking or one takes over the harem group completely. Does this sound familiar ? We also saw several Hornbills and Egrets but it was so difficult to take photos without everything moving away in time. We arrived back at the lodge just as the sun was setting, it was such beautiful scenery.

Dinner time..just before dinner one of the guides Nelson suddenly produced a 7ft long reticulated python from a sack. This proceeded to literally pooh itself pants over the floor (it was scared). It had such beautiful markings. Nelson is well known in the village for being the snake man. Villagers used to try and kill them as the snakes tend to go after their chickens but Nelson encourages them to bring them to him so he can check they’re okay and then he releases them back in to the jungle on the other side of the river (not sure how well this works as they can swim) but it seems to keep the villagers happy. What I have noticed is although you read that a lot of people aren’t educated in conservation here certainly in a lot of the places I’ve been they do seem very aware. Increasingly people who did jobs to destroy the environment are now working to conserve it. They even have a phrase – “Take only photographs, leave only footprints, kill only time”. Barbara used to keep snakes so she was happy to hold it while it was wrapping itself around Nelson’s ankle and trying to strangle him. I even stroked it myself – well I don’t get to meet many 7ft pythons !!

Okay, now it’s time for dinner. The snake’s back in his cage and we only have two bats circling over head eating the mosquitoes and one rat in the rafters. This does tend to squeak a lot so the guides at the lodge call him puppy. I think they’d prefer that. Dinner was great, beef curry, chicken curry , tofu and cabbage and after dinner it was time for a night jungle walk.

The lodge offered leech socks and wellington boots for hire. I put on my waterproof, baseball cap, gaitors, socks and a long sleeve top. I looked like I was going to the antarctic rather than the jungle but it was all in aid of protecting myself from leeches. (I blame it on Tara in KK as she told me she’d got a couple in her pants area and I really was going to do anything possible to avoid that). The guides and my fellow tourists laughed at me but did I get any leeches over the 2 days – no !! I have since found out to avoid leeches never walk 2nd or 3rd in a line of people. Apparently the 1st person wakes them up and then they hook on to the next people. I was sweating but no more than anyone else.

We walked in to the jungle, it did feel a bit scary and my torch was next to useless (must get a new one). We were as quiet as possible and immediately came across a sleeping kingfisher. Then we came across a couple of tiger leeches. Yes, there is more than one kind and these are a reddish orange colour. The guide ran his finger just in front of them and they were following it as if hypnotised, ready to attach – disgusting (I hate them).We also found various insects and a tree frog and some more birds but no wild cats. You had to keep watching the ground for fire ants as they’d hurt. At one point we all turned off our torches and stood in silence so we could really hear the jungle. It was pretty special. The hour was over so back to the lodge. Laura had a leech…..

We were pretty tired but went back to the restaurant area for a cup of tea. This soon turned in to beer as it turned out to be both Gill and one of the guide’s (Alloy) birthday. The guitar was brought out and I have to say we were pretty hopeless at remembering words to songs but it was a good laugh. The Malaysians can certainly drink quickly. At least we taught them “one man went to mow”. It was such a laugh and all the girls and the locals were a good crack. Time for bed so I borrowed an alarm clock as it was already 1.30am and we had to be up in 4 hours. Alloy seemed to be getting a bit friendly so Gill escorted me to my room – thx xx

I woke up just before the alarm and knocked the girls awake. After a quick coffee we set off for the morning cruise. This involved a lot more bird life although we saw a great monitor lizard sunbathing on a tree. Laura and Carol had joined us this time (picture below). Again we saw loads of macques running along the banks. We got back in time for breakfast and then I decided to have a short nap, although it was so noisy I only got a few minutes.

Next it was time to hit the boat once more and get dropped off up stream so we could go trekking to Oxbow lake through the jungle. As soon as we got to the bank we could see elephant dung, they were about a week old so it was extremely unlikely we’d see them , such a shame. We got to the lake and had lunch. Gill, Laura and Carol decided they’d like to go in a rowing boat so Alloy took them. I declined the boat didn’t look that healthy, the oars were more like sticks and the lake was extremely brown. They didn’t get very far after going in circles the water started coming in and they started to sink. They managed to get back to the side in time .We then threw the remains of the rice and some bread in to the water. I have no idea what fish were there but they acted like piranha’s devouring the food and there were millions of them. Again, I was glad not to have gone in the boat. Time to trek back. Barbara’s turn to get a leech. When we got back Sylvia also found a leech on her thigh. How they can get so high up your clothes I don’t know. Although this one had just kept trying to get a grip and almost circled her whole leg – gross. I think I saw the world’s largest mosquito on the way back, glad he didn’t go for me although so many others have. We didn’t see too much although there was a mouse deer which ran off immediately.

When we got back we were able to plant a tree and do our bit for conservation (picture attached). I picked a rambutan tree as I thought that both the animals and humans could benefit – so if anyone goes please look for the signpost “the sally gap year, UK 28.08.07”. I think I put mine far enough in the forest that it should make it but you never know. The posts unfortunately look a bit like burial plots when you first see them in the dark.

Time for our last cruise and lots more people had arrived. I think we’d been extremely lucky the night before. Lots of loud Italians (Santorini girls you know what I mean), funnily enough the Malaysians said Italians were their least favourite to deal with. We went back to the Orangutan tree but they’d moved on. They should have been within 500m but if they were inland we wouldn’t have seen them. We did see some gorgeous silver langurs which could really leap across branches. The girls also thought they saw some fresh water crocodiles but they’d moved to quickly for me and finally we saw a mangrove snake although he looks bigger in my picture than he actually was.

Time to go for dinner although the water was incredibly still on the way back – it looked beautiful. I think I could have done this for a few more days without being bored. The python came out to see the new guests. Nelson put him under his age and he managed to get through a hole in the wall and had to be recaptured from the toilet. Luckily no one was on it at the time. Time for bed and the Italians in the next room had a huge spider in their room so had to have it sprayed. Alloy was the fumigator so he also did the hallway. He then knocked on my room so I had to decide if I would rather take a chance on the spider appearing or let Alloy into my room, the spider won and I’m not fond of them !! I tucked my mosquito net in a quickly as possible and slept like a baby.

After breakfast it was time to leave I would really recommend the Bilit adventure lodge it’s been a real highlight. The wildlife is amazing and even if you didn’t see anything it would still be fun. All of the guides (even Alloy) are wonderful and it really it good value. Also the girls were great fun too…time to go back to Kota Kinabalu.

Planting my rambutan tree

Transport count :

Plane = 7, Bus = 22, Train =2, Boat = 7, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellant = 7

Take care

Sally xThe girls on the boat - Kinabatangan river

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Ogling Orangutans – Sepilok , Borneo

August 31, 2007

Dear all,

Well after a quiet dinner downstairs with Mary last night it’s time to say goodbye to the girls and head to Sepilok to see the Orangutans after all that was the main reason for coming to this country. Mandy – sorry you couldn’t make it and sorry if I now make you really jealous.

The bus took around 7 hours and then I had to catch a taxi for the last part as I hadn’t started early enough. The first guest house was full so ended up staying in the Sepilok Jungle resort. It lived up to it’s name as I was getting eaten alive just standing at reception. The wonderful Borneo backpackers in Kota Kinabalu had let me leave some luggage there so at least I hadn’t had to travel with much. I didn’t have the greatest people in my dorm so I went for dinner and had an early night.

After breakfast, time for Sepilok.The centre was only a 5 minute walk away so I got there in time to see the film about the whole project. Sepilok was featured on a BBC series just before I left the UK. It is probably the most well known of the 4 orangutan rehabilitation centres that exist. It does seem incredibly well run. After the film an English volunteer came in and told us about the work and adoption program they run as a charity. If anyone is interested you can find it at :

http://www.orangutan-appeal.org.uk/

Orangutans have 96.4% the same genetic makeup as us and after seeing their hands you can see why. In fact translated, Orangutan means “Man of the forest”. There are estimated to be only 20,000 left and around 300 at Sepilok (not including babies) so they are now full to capacity. The information centre displayed photos of the ones we were most likely to see and details on their individual personality traits. There is only one main viewing platform now. There used to be one further in to the jungle but this is closed. I’m not sure whether it’s because you’d see the older animals and they really shouldn’t have human contact if they are going to be released in to the wild or if it’s because tourists were getting attacked en route by the long tail macque monkeys. Also all of the trails are currently closed . You cannot take anything to the platform and must apply mosquito repellent before you get there so you need to put everything in a free locker provided – otherwise they will try and steal it from you. Also repellent could kill them so it’s best to be on the safe side.

10am morning feeding time – there were quite a lot of people at the platform. There is a main feeding area and ropes from either direction leading up to it that the Orangutans use to get to the platform. As soon as the rope started twitching everyone got excited as it meant they were on their way. The rangers also bang trays to alert them that the fruit is waiting. Initially only one came, had a quick feed and then left. The ranger than brought a much smaller one and it stayed for ages , lying on the platform and eating fruit. They were also drinking milk from a bowl and getting it all over their faces. Eventually they left so I went for lunch and to the information centre to look around. Sepilok also looks after Sumatran rhinos of which there are less than 400 in the wild as well as hundreds of other species of animal that live in the jungle there. In total they have 4000+ hectares of land which an English guy had the sense to protect back in the 60’s.

Time for the afternoon feeding session and 6 turned up.They were all on the feeding platform together (picture below) and they work a “buddy” system just like divers where a weak one will team up with a stronger one and he/she will make sure the weak one gets fed. This time as they come along the ropes they stopped in front of us and struck various poses for the cameras – they really look in to your eyes. One of them went to leave and jumped off in to the trees nearby. The next minute he was coming up the ramp and luckily the ranger saw him and dragged him back to the jungle, he went quite happily. I stayed until they’d all gone back to the jungle. All of a sudden I saw something leap high in a tree over quite a distance to the next tree. It was a flying lemur , amazing. In total Sepilok have looked after nearly 700 orangutans to date. It takes 6-10 years to rehabilitate each animal, some have been successfully released back in to the wild where as the breeding has worked so well that they now have 3rd generation orangutans at the centre. On the way back there were two huge birds with massive beaks in the banana trees next to the guest house. Had I realised I’d spend the next couple of days trying to get anything like as close to these to photo them I’d have been a lot more excited. All I could think about was that the beak could take my finger off, so I stood still until they flew off. They were black hornbills – I hadn’t realised there are 8 types of Hornbill in Borneo.

Another early night – well there’s nothing to do apart from the centre and then it rained all through breakfast. I’d booked a tour to the river that day but decided I’d go back for one last morning look at my new friends. This morning 7 turned up. Maybe because it was bananas for breakfast and they certainly liked those. They stayed for ages. On their way off they kindly crawled along the rope and did the occasional poses for us. I think their favourites were the laid back position and the rings position for the men’s gymnastics. Eventually there was just one left, little Annelisa, aged 6. Apparently she’s a bit of a loner but she loves hanging around to the end of feeding time on her own with the tourists. She just climbed up a pole and stared at us. After about 30 minutes she left.

It was fascinating to come here. I didn’t realise it would be such a guaranteed viewing and the centre has been set up extraordinarily well. Now it’s time to see if I can find some in the wild.

Orangutan “The Pose”Group of Orangutans at feeding time at Sepilok

Transport count :

Plane = 7, Bus = 21, Train =2, Boat = 6, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellant = 7

Take care

Sally x

Crashing on Cow Island – Sabah, Borneo

August 24, 2007

Hi all

Well my Air Malaysia flight was delayed but luckily even though my first plane landed at the same time my second plane was due to take off – this too had been delayed so I got through customs and at the departure gate within 15 minutes. We ended up taking off an hour late but even so on landing I instinctively check for my baggage ticket. (Those who know my witchy tendencies, will not be surprised). Yes no luggage. I wasn’t too worried, but the annoying thing is that these days (with airport security) you have absolutely no toiletries on you so arriving at 1am in a foreign country can be a little irritating. Luckily my backpackers had sent a man to pick me up and we made it back in 15 minutes. I’ve timed this trip quite well as it’s Malaysia’s 50th anniversary on 31st so hopefully I can join in the festivities.

Next morning I awoke to find 2 really nice girls in my dorm and a guy all English – unusual. Tara is 19 and has just quit working for a charity after the whole deal was a complete rip off. Mary is kind of doing a me only for 2 years (I cannot contemplate that). She also hails from down the road in Hanwell. Breakfast in the backpackers is whatever is in the kitchen. It’s my first dorm and I’m pleasantly surprised. Malaysia seems a bit more expensive than some of the other places and staying in guest houses can feel a bit lonely so I just decided to try this for a change. Amazingly at 10am my bag turned up. Impressive. In fact so far so good on my first trip. Everyone is really friendly their English is brilliant and although I had a whole list of things I wanted to do ‘d need 2 months and I only have 3 weeks. So we went for lunch to have a girlie goss. I am actually staying in Kota Kinabalu which is the capital of Sabah . Sabah is Malaysian Borneo. Kota Kinabalu is quite small but seem quite developed and it seems weird to be looking inside buildings to find the shop or office you need.

Also my plans have had to change as although today is the first day I can bend my knee again (amazing antibiotics) there is a world championship altitude climbathon going on at the mountain Kota Kinabalu , although I’m fitter since I’ve left the UK I really think the 2hrs 45mins record is beyond me so I’ll stick to the normal 2 days. I have now booked to do this next week . It seems like it’s going to be a bit more difficult to get around or maybe I just under estimated the distances involved in travelling.

Tara decided that she wanted to go to Cow Island (Ellie specially for you) and camp out over night on the beach. “Why not ?” I thought, I haven’t done that as yet on this trip. Well, we went to the supermarket to buy our provisions (I’m lacking, tent , sleeping bag etc) I do have a torch and a swiss army knife though. Then we decided to have a substantial meal as we were to be living on bread for the rest of the trip. We ended up at an outdoor bbq in the town centre with a Philippino band playing in the street.

Next morning we woke early and set off for the pier. The first pier for private boats wanted too much money so we went to the main pier and bought some tickets. Being the island furthest away Pulau Sapi or Cow Island was the third stop. It was busier than w thought it would be , but better to have too much than too little. We walked down the beach to some shade near the rocks and had a lovely Philadelphia cheese sandwich for lunch followed by some fruit. Of course, all of this is rather exhausting so as we went to sunbathe we could hear an awful lot of rustling behind us in the bushes and leaves were falling on to the rocks. Hidden in the undergrowth were monitor lizards and at least 4 or more of them. They were about 2ft long and looked like mini dinousaurs. Actually, they were gorgeous and really were camera shy although I tried my best. We also saw a Hornbill, which is quite rare here (it’s a bird).

Around 5pm the last people tend to go back to the main land and it was time to have the island to ourselves. The girls jumped in off the pier ( my knee is still scabby) into shoals of sergeant major and butterfly fish, I was keeping watch for jelly fish and sea urchins and then the sun began to set. (Picture below). At one point there was even a rainbow at the same time , it was so beautiful.

Time to set up camp and prepare dinner. We got chatting to Martin the park ranger. Certain generations all have an English name – it goes back to the commonwealth days. e and 14 other people live there and the night before the campers had seen a wild boar. As we didn’t have any tents we decided to camp up on the verandah of the snack bar. Wise decision as it turned out. Then we had our delicious tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches for dinner washed down with Tiger beer (camp dining room photo attached). 8pm – we are really tired, well you get tired doing nothing all day. We played cards – yes shit head again – and some other games. We did however have some carbonated Arak (local spirit) to get through so this became the forfeit if you lost. Unfortunately – well for Mary she became the main culprit and consumed the vast majority and hence was rather tipsy. She became more Joanna Lumley with every sip.

We went to bed at midnight and set the alarm for 5.50am to watch sunrise. 5am – it’s pouring with rain. No sunrise, but careful camp positioning meant we didn’t get too wet, although the clothes we’d hung out to air had. The island cat had cuddled up to the girls mosquito nets in the night, and tried to get in. Luckily he failed as he’d been sick right next to them. The islanders came back at 7.30 to start their day so we got up and went to the snack bar for breakfast. I had noodles, couldn’t face any more bread. Then the heavens opened once again so all we could do was play cards until our boat turned up eventually at 2pm. The drowned rats arrived back at the back packers – it’s like we’ve arrived home. I shall be leaving them tomorrow to go East as I want to go to Sepilok to see the Orang Utans, but we may catch up again before we leave. So I’ll be off line for about a week. Time for a last night with the girls.

Dinner for 3

Transport count :

Plane = 7, Bus = 20, Train =2, Boat = 6, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellant = 6

Take care

Sally x

Sunset from Pulau Sapi

King of Cool – Koh Tao – Thai Islands

August 24, 2007

Hi all

Got the bus at 6pm – what luxury !! Originally there was an English girl sitting next to me who is a professional Thai boxer here but as we had enough room we got our own seat with reclining head rests, foot stools and blankets. Suddenly our last rest stop was at 10.30pm, we’d already had a film (luxury again) so settled across my 2 seats for the night. At 2.30am I’m woken up with “Koh Tao, Koh Tao”. Oh no I have to change buses , no one told us that when we booked. We sit on a new bus for an hour and then get dropped at a bus station where we are told we need to wait until 6am – what !!!! Oh well, at least I could ring home and wish my Dad a happy birthday. At 5.30am we are picked up and taken to the ferry, at 7am we leave, we had to wait for the buses that left at 8pm and went straight through (lucky things). At 10am I am in Koh Tao. I chose this island for 3 reasons. It’s rainy season so the East coast of Thailand has better weather than the West at that time of year, it’s the furthest out from the Koh Samui group so less developed and also it’s becoming the best place in Thailand to do a diving course. I grabbed a taxi to Buddha View diving which is on Chalok Ban Kao beach, not the main area but Heidi and Tanya (from Bangkok) had done their dive course there. I hadn’t booked and it’s seems although it’s not high season it’s summer holiday time. However, in typical Thai style it wasn’t an issue they found me some accomodation down the road in the Bhora Bhora resort. I’m getting quite attached to my treehouse – picture attached. Although it does get awfully noisy at night with all of the insects, cats and god knows what rustling outside. Of course as I say I view it as a treehouse, others may think it looks a bit like a garden shed. I have to fill a bucket of water to flush the toilet and there’s no hot water but beggars can’t be choosers….

After a shower, I unpacked, well I’m having 6 nights here so it’s the longest I’ve been in one room and then went to the beach. It’s beautiful, I’ve attached a picture. The rocks at the end of it is Buddha Point – they are supposed to look like a large sitting Buddha. There are shallows which go out for 200m and there’s a fab breeze. It’s not too commercial so still retains a bit of the natural charm which has all too often faded in holiday places. I love it..

4pm time to go to a briefing for the dive course. All’s well we watch a video and get our exam books. There are 8 people in my group. One guy, small world, used to play in a Beatles tribute band in Hong Kong in 1994 called Matchbox – I have been to see them play, how funny is that. Anyway a couple of beers and a bbq and then an early nice I have the 4 day open water course starting tomorrow.

Up early, banana pancake for breakfast. I have been saving myself for this. The Laos, Vietnam and Cambodian substitutes were just nowhere near the same. Then more theory. After lunch I head to the pharmacy with JK from the course. My knee is still awful and he has a motorbike burn on his foot (I know how that feels). We get iodine, plasters, electrical tape and try to protect our wounds as much as possible. Then it’s time to get kitted up and get into the pool. I do the regulator test, even though it’s worse than the one in Vietnam, I clear my mask (first time ever) then my phobia strikes. I just hate being under water. I loved the discovery dive in Vietnam but I don’t want 4 days of hell and tests under water. They try and get me to stay under just to observe but I’m really not in to it. Either I’m going to need hypnotherapy to get over this in the future or I’m going to need one on one to pass the PADI. I blame the fact I nearly drowned once in the Thames as I child and my mother could never put her head under water. Never mind they gave me my money back and said I wasn’t the first and I wouldn’t be the last. Apparently one in a hundred can’t do it – always knew I had special needs !! I was really upset for the rest of the day and then I realised, I get 4 days on the beach – hurray!!

Woke up this morning and popped to the coffee shop for breakfast (oh my god they do wholemeal bread, I haven’t seen anything but white rubbish for months). Then off to the beach. There’s a cute Jack Russell with a German couple which makes me feel a bit homesick. Then I get asked by some Americans if they can interview me for their eco project with regards to dogs on the beach. What did I think…..etc etc. Actually there are around 10 or so around regularly but compared to the half dog/half pig things that used to roam the beaches in Koh Samui years ago these are quite healthy looking and friendly. They only seem to go for motorbikes on the street. Sometimes they even play with each other in the shallows , it’s so sweet. At least they’re friendly here, unlike Vietnam where they run away scared they’re going to end up in the next village stew !! Hopefully they’ll leave them be.

My knee is awful. I’m not sure it would have survived the dive course. Obviously being in the pool has taken it back to stage one. I really have not had something as bad as this before. I can’t go in the sea and it weeps every time I walk. I look like a pirate with a peg leg when I walk. On a positive note at least I am finally getting a decent tan. So today after I watched the sunset from a hammock on the beach I popped to the reggae bar on my way home.

Next problem, I’m not used to sitting still anymore. So the enxt day I decide to take a morning stroll to Sairee Beach the main beach on the island. It only looks about 2kms away on the map I have. 6km , one port and finally the beach (it wasn’t to scale), I arrive. It’s quite windy. There are lots of bars and restaurants so I walk down the beach and see if I want to think of moving over here. You know what, I love my beach better, less spoilt. So I have breakfast on this beach and then walk the 6km back. After a quick shower I head to the beach and spend the afternoon in the hammock. The breeze rocks it back and forwards on its own so very quickly I’m asleep. After I wake up I decide as I’m saving money on not doing the dive course I may as well treat myself and have a pedicure.

Breakfast on the beach again and then this afternoon took a turn for the worse I could see the storm coming so had some lunch and went for a massage. The knee seems to be healing a bit so that’s good. It was a pretty stormy night, so I got up early today to get my last full day of sun. Well it didn’t start raining until 3.30pm so got a few hours in. I love this island but am leaving tomorrow back to Bangkok and then on to Borneo. My next update will be from there.

I do feel a bit of a failure on the diving front but at least I’m well rested, and more importantly this place is a great example of how beautiful Thailand is. I’ll keep you updated on knee gate – let’s hope it clears up soon as I need to climb a mountain in Borneo and I’d really like to come back to the UK with both legs intact.

Time to head back to Bangkok, my guest house Bhora Bhora owner seems to have been spending too much time in his own Reggae Bar and doesn’t seem to have confirmed my boat ticket. Oh well, I risk standby and it pays off. The boat is a lot smarter and on to the bus I sit next to a Canadian girl who has been working in Cambodia. She caught Dengue fever , I was right there is no inoculation. Arrived around 9pm and had pre booked the D&D Inn, it’s not the cheapest but it has a pool and is reasonable. Buddha View from the beach My Treehouse

The room was nice apart from the cockroach that flew directly at my head. At the second attempt he was captured and dispensed with. The next day I had good intentions but my leg is still really bad so after breakfast I just went to do a bit of sightseeing around the Grand Palace. I bought some antibiotics from “Boots” (home from home) and watch the Thai’s go off to vote. Voting day means a bank holiday, helpfully they all wear yellow t-shirts. So I guess if you woke up for work and had forgotten, you’d be reminded as soon as you left the house.

Well time to go to the airport….I must come back to do Kanchanaburi which a lot of people all say is their favourite place. Time to go to Borneo…..

Transport count :

Plane = 5, Bus = 20, Train =2, Boat = 4, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellant = 6

Take care

Sally x

“One night in Bangkok” – Thailand

August 18, 2007

Hi all,

Showing my age with that title….

Yet another 7am bus to get from Siem Reap all the way to Bangkok. One girl overslept but managed to pack her bag in record time. She was there with her sister, from Ireland and called Heidi and Tanya. We got on the minibus and were then dropped at a waiting point. Luckily it was a cafe so we grabbed some coffee. As it turned out the bus didn’t actually come back until 8am so we had a bit of time to get to know each other. At 8am we squashed on to the same minibus but with more people. The luggage was in the aisles, I guess if we’d have crashed at least there would have been some cushioning. Some more Irish girls Caroline and Emma sat near us so with continuous chatter time started to pass quite quickly. Just as well really as we’d heard all different versions of how long this journey would take anything between 10-14 hours – let’s see.

The road was the usual red earth. Considering this is the main road to the Thai border at Poipet you’d have thought a little tarmac would be in order. Don’t be silly !! Apparently there are rumours that in order to keep Siem Reap airport busy someone is paying the Cambodian government not to tarmac the road. What corruption – never !! Anyway, we saw an enormous amount of detour and roadworks signs, absolutely no workmen in sight (I suppose it was a Saturday) and then bang. Not again, yes we broke down – it sounded scarily like the suspension noise I had in Bokor. It would be hardly surprising given that some of the road looked like a red mogul run. Of course the driver quite often changes sides depending on if there is nothing coming the other way and if the surface is better on that side. After a look underneath and tweaking something we seemed to be on our way after only 10 minutes or so. Finally just before 4pm we reached the border. Unlike the Vietnam/Cambodian border we had to take our luggage and enter Thailand ourselves in the rain. However, they didn’t ask for any proof of flight out – can I stay longer ?

Hurray – I am in Thailand !!

It is pouring with rain but who cares…we walked in no particular direction to find our new bus. When we got there it was already full and were told we had to wait til 5. Understand 8 hours on a red mogul run makes one a bit tetchy so I said “no,we paid to go right through we want to go now.” At which point he told me not to shout at him. My view was this was the most expensive bus any of us had been on so why should we wait and also we didn’t want to arrive in Bangkok too late. As if by magic, he said hold on and then whisked a silver brand new minibus around the corner and told the 5 of us to get on. He then let 1 more girl on and then told the bus to go. This is unheard of – we had space – every seat wasn’t full. Pick your arguments was something someone said to me the other day, I’m glad I picked this one. Within 4 hours we were at the Khao San road , the famous backpacker area of Bangkok. The city was lit up like a christmas tree as it was the Thai Queen’s birthday. Thai people love their royal family in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen in any other country. It’s genuine love for them. The birthday party was going on for 48 hours. They have done a lot to help the poor in their country and were even asked permission for the coup that happened a few months ago (the Manchester City buyer ousted). So it was a great atmosphere. I had heard some nightmare Bangkok stories but I think if you arrive by bus you are okay. I think it’s when you arrive at the airport you get problems as the taxi driver wants to take you to any factory he can to earn a commission on what you buy.

It’s Saturday night, the hotel we wanted was full (I’ve booked it for tomorrow night) so we started looking for rooms. We did get approached by a weird guy with multiple huge rings on his fingers but after the third corner we ditched him and found a pretty nice place in the adjacent street. I shared with Caroline and Emma and after a quick shower and change and some Pad Thai (noodles) from a street stall we went to a bar called Gullivers. There’s such a buzz on the Khao San Road just loads of street stalls, people who accept “no” for an answer when you say you don’t want to buy something. Touts for the “Ping Pong !!” shows – done that a long time ago, the girls looked bored to tears but it is definitely worth seeing once in your life. I love being here…

Gullivers closed around 1.30am we met some teachers, one of them said he’d take us to a great club. 30 minutes later (the 5 girls squashed in the back seat) the teacher seems lost. Then he finds it. We are refused entry, 2 of the girls are wearing flip flops (you forget dress codes). Then the second trick of the day, the owner turns up and tells the security to let us in. I asked the name but got told 2 different answers. Either “The Tunnel” or “Ethonol”. Two Long Island Iced Teas later and it’s 5.30am and back to the hotel for sleep. Anyway, the main thing is we had a really good laugh, although the Irish seem to keep destroying my liver on this trip.

Next morning I wake up at 11am. The girls have checked out and left me a note to meet for breakfast. I don’t feel that great so have breakfast, do a bit of window shopping for my return visit and extend the room as my bus doesn’t leave until 6pm. Girls, if you read this you didn’t get the key deposit back.. I love the fact here that the locals really mix with ex pats and tourists, that doesn’t happen in a lot of places.

I’m looking forward to coming back  and maybe doing some shopping, oh well time to go to the Islands……

Transport count :

Plane = 5, Bus = 17, Train =2, Boat = 2, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellant = 5

Take care 

Sally x

I may add some pictures later as I am back there again tomorrow as I didn’t take my camera out on this trip.

Temples of Angkor – Siem Reap, Northern Cambodia

August 15, 2007

Ta Prohmpicture-001.jpgHi Hi all,

Well yet another early bus trip. Firstly I had to get out of the bungalows, given the heavy rainfall I abandoned the idea of a motorbike for a tuk tuk. When the rain pours they zip you in to it just like a baby’s buggy. We managed to get to Phonm Penh 2 hours before our bus was due to depart, so went straight to the ticket office and caught the earlier bus. I have to say I am so impressed with buses in Asia. At the last minute a group of scouse couples got on and all fell asleep. At the half way point they woke up and we started chatting. Some were on holiday and some lived in Kapot. Why anyone would want to live there is beyond me, but they were working in bars – only they were the only customers in them and they were going to see if they could find work in Siem Reap.

The roads were pretty bad, in the book it states a journey of 3 hours in dry season and double that for the wet season. How it can get there in 3 hours I’ll never know. 6 hours later we arrived and shared Tuk Tuk’s to our accomodation. I’d been recommended to stay in Popular guest house by the peace core girls in Halong bay – recommendations always turn out the best and $8 for a huge room with air con, tv, instant hot water is great value. However, they were booked up that night so put me in across the road. Ground floor , street level, never a good sign. I decided to walk around the town, it feels like I’m back in civilisation. I’m hungry so find a lovely alley full of restaurants and pick the Khymer one with the most people in – always a good sign.. Had a selection of curries and bumped in to a few people from earlier and also Vietnam. Then opposite my table was a constant reminder of the Cambodian issue. There was a man with no hands (land mine incident) selling books. I didn’t want any books but gave a donation anyway – it’s so hard not to.  Time for bed. I wanted an early start , after all I’d been saving myself for these temples.

4am, I’m woken up outside my window by what sounds like half of ireland having an argument. Eventually they quieten down, 30 minutes later the other half of Ireland turn up and then another 30 minutes later they decide to go and see the sunrise at the temples. Thanks – I’d liked to have done that had I now not been woken up several times. Later that morning I bump in to a couple from Hoi An, she’d actually told them to be quiet and said that her boyfriend had malaria (he hadn’t), apparently half of them had been thrown out of their accomodation – explains why they were in the street.

So at 10am I set off. I haggle with my Tuk Tuk driver ( I would have cycled but was too tired) and get a great price of $8 for the whole day. After a minor traffic jam and a notice outside the hospital of severe Dengue fever shock for children and to give blood (not my type, but I don’t remember an innoculation for that one)  we arrive at the ticket entrance. I decide on a 3 day pass at $40, I’m going to come here at least 2 days. We then drive in and are immediately greeted by the sight that is Angkor Wat. It’s surrounded by a huge moat and it is huge. The whole area is the largest religious site in the world. In fact, it was entered in to a contest to be one of the new wonders but lost to the Taj Mahal (heard that’s pants). As I’d gone a bit later it meant that you could still be quite alone in certain parts. Some of the detailing on the walls was amazing. Although what always amazes me is that for a buddhist nation all of their stories involve battles. After you walk through the main entrance you come to the walkway to the  main temple itself. According to books the reason Angkor Wat is the best preserved of all temples is the detail in which it was built. For instance, in the walkway if the king could fit a pin in between the adjacent stones then the person who laid that stone would be killed. That explains why this temple is the best preserved. Each temple is generally made by a different king all dating from around the 10th -12th centuries. At the time it was made Angkor had a population of 1M whilst London’s was only 50,000 people – if only !! The kings declared themselves a type of God King so they could justify building the temples, and of course they get grander and more oppulent. After reading the various battle stories etched on the wall, I made my way to the back of the temple. The hawkers were out in force, I swear if you bring some of these people to the UK they’d make great sales people. I bought some postcards – then you get – why didn’t you buy them from me? – you can’t win – or they want to sell you more postcards – how many does a girl need ?

Next challenge is find your Tuk Tuk driver – I knew the number – but they all look the same, it was raining so it explains why I didn’t spot the red satin shiny seating, he’d zipped it up. Next on to Angkor Thom, great entrance but still undergoing a lot of reconstruction. I got asked if I knew where the leper king was – assuming this is an attribute of the temple – I hadn’t seen it. I also managed to step on wobbly stones constantly here so didn’t feel that safe. The temple is billed as the second biggest built in the Bayon style. If you’ve been to Bagan in Burma those are better. What also struck me is the amount of restoration work going on. It all seems to be sponsored by either the French or the Japanese, I’m not quite sure why. Then to Baphuon – huge amount of restoration ongoing so apart from walking up the entrance of the moat we couldn’t enter. Looks like it will be fab by 2009. Next Ta Keo – quite a small but beautiful none the less. Then time for Ta Prohm (yes boys this is the one Angelina Jolie swung down the tree from in the first Tomb raider movie). Actually , this was so busy which spoilt the experience a bit but it is the one temple which has completely been left to the elements. Trees have grown over, under , in between etc. There are huge spider webs all through it. It does look prehistoric. Then on to Banteay Samre which was quite nice as there was some dancers in national costume and as with a lot of the temples you walk in one way, through and out the other side. In this case there was amputee bands playing at each end. The artificial legs in front and behind the band were a little off putting but at least as they say, they  don’t want to beg and are doing something constructive to earn money to send their chikdren to school. I still can’t get over how many amputees there are.. it’s shocking ! After that I went to look over the lake and got given a friendship bangle by one of the girls. Of course, I then had to go and buy drinks from her, to which her reply was top banana, lubbly jubbly – they know all the good phrases. I taught her and her co stall holders “diamond geezer” , they won’t forget and rejoined my Tuk Tuk once more.

I asked him to take me to the hot air balloon – I’ve always wanted to have a go and also at it rises to 200 metres, should be able to give a great overall perspective of the whole site. Unfortunately it was too windy so one ambition unfulfilled – never mind.

Time to go back to Siem Reap – I had a wander around the markets. They have some lovely materials and jewellery but it seemed more expensive then Laos and Vietnam. I ate off the streetstalls which were fantastic and then headed back to the guest house. I’d arranged to meet the scouse couples from the bus the day before at a bar called Angkor What ?. I nearly didn’t go but dragged myself into the shower and arrived a bit late. It was a good laugh and many many beers later (Angkor beer of course) we starting drinking each beer with a Sambucca chaser (no doubt my idea). I woke up this morning with the mother of hangovers and a large graze on my knee (at my age !!). I’m not doing anything today. The movie channel is on and apart from eating – I cannot move. Last day in Siem Reap – back to the temples – my favourite is Angkor Wat so I spend some more time there. Again no joy with the hot air balloon. I end up buying some bracelets from the sales girls (they are so cute) and potter around. Back at the guest house I run in to Josh ( a fellow Kampot/Bokor trip member) we have a couple of beers and come to the same conclusion. We love Vietnam and although Siem Reap is nice and the temples are quite special, Cambodia in general is not our cup of tea. He found it a bit boring. I also feel a bit embarrassed to say that my most intersting day was the day I spent learning about the genocide. I have however met other people who loved it, so everyone’s trip and experience is different. That is one lesson to learn whilst travelling……make your own mind up.

Time to return to Thailand – hurray !!

Transport count :

Plane = 5, Bus = 15, Train =2, Boat = 2, Sunglasses = 5, Mosquito Repellant = 5

Take care 

Sally x

Soaking Sihanoukville – The Beach, Southern Cambodia

August 13, 2007

Hi all,

Sorry didn’t take any pictures weather wasn’t up to it.

Most of my Kampot trekkers were on the same bus recounting yesterday’s horrors and we arrived within 2 hours by bus. It is amazing how happy you are when a)the journey is that short (it’s so rare) and b) you arrive with most of the day spare. Unfortunately it was quite overcast. Given my cold shower in Kampot I upgraded and stayed at the Occheuteal Beach Bungalows at $15 per night.

Sihanoukville is actually quite modern and large and named after the previous king. There are 2 main beach areas. After the capital though it is the most corrupt town in Cambodia and it’s the first time I’ve noticed any security people at the accomodation.The 2 beaches are Victory Beach and Occheuteal Beach. Part of the latter has also been divided and called Serendity Beach and has been taken over by backpackers. Occheuteal is a hang out of wealthier Khymers and as it was a Sunday they were there in force, it was a great atmosphere. Due to the weather the beach actually looked quite wild which was great. It’s lined by lots of little beach shacks. On the negative side you get hasssled every 5 minutes by people asking if you want a massage etc. My bungalows seemed to be right in the middle of the two beaches so I found a bed and settled down for a couple of hours and ordered some freshly grilled prawns – delivered to the bed , can life get any better. I have to say my legs were absolutely killing me from the super fast trek of the day before. Then it rained and it rained and it rained. It seemed a bit dark at nightfall so I like most of my fellow travellers went back to our rooms and watch the grand prix and the charity shield. I was quite disappointed there was no extra time.

I was going to leave the following day but it was a bit of a hassle getting a bus ticket and my legs still hurting I stayed on and caught up on the blog, ate and relaxed. Not a great nights sleep though. Monster rats were running around in the roof, lucky you weren’t there Loz. 

Sorry this is a bit short and sweet but there’s not a lot to do when it rains at the beach. Time to head to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat my main reason for coming to Cambodia. Sihanoukville is pretty but it’s no Koh Tao but then again I don’t think it’s trying to be just yet.

I start my dive course tomorrow (in Koh Tao) so if you don’t here from me within the next few days – assume the worse as I’m about the conquer phobia numero uno.

Transport count
Plane = 5, Bus = 13, Train = 2, Boat = 2, Sunglasses = 4, Mosquito repellant = 5

Take care all

Sally x

Kamikaze Kampot – Southern Cambodia

August 12, 2007

BreakdownHi Hi all,

Suddenly a bit of an unprecedented adventure……

It was yet again an early start and the first time I think locals have outnumbered tourists on the bus. There were only 4 of us and I nearly got robbed blind by an 8 year old for a packet of chewing gum, luckily her mother stepped in an sold it to me at the real price. (They train them young here). My fellow bus companion is a French lady who works in Phomn Penh for the U.N. She’s almost been here a year and can’t wait to leave. Her main reason is that they look at us and just see money and the help that comes in doesn’t always go to the right people. Same old story…

She’d already booked somewhere and I hadn’t so I was surrounded by the usual motobike drivers. I opted for the taxi for a change. Unfortunately it wouldn’t start so back to the motorbike and I settled on the 2nd place I saw. He then informed me it was cold water only – I was not amused but couldn’t be bothered to move and it was only for 2 nights. As usual everyone wants to sell you something so I had a walk down to the river. Anyone actually not connected with tourism was incredibly friendly and said hello – it does feel very relaxing.  I found a seafood place and had amazing crab with green peppercorns followed by a squid, prawn and mint salad – delicious. Kampot is famous for pepper and durian – luckily I didn’t encounter any of the latter. I then carried on walking along when I was approached by an independant guide. He started off by asking if I wanted to go to a school and teach children English for a couple of hours – great but I’d already booked my trip for the next day and they don’t go to school on Sundays – he then said I could delay my trip and get a taxi on Monday to my next stop – then he wanted to take me to see the other village – and finally when I said I was going to use the internet he wanted to come there. So I agreed to meet him in 2 hours and didn’t turn up. Naughty, I know but he only wanted money !! The town is  quite small and apart from the main roads most of the streets are jusr red dirt. Not much nightlife to speak of and I heard there are more brothels than bars but if there are then these must be very discreet as I didn’t see any.

Next morning it was time to get up and go to Bokor, the reason I came here. Bokor National Park is up on a hill and until a few years ago was inaccessible as it was occupied by the Khymer Rouge. It’s the home of an old deserted French colonial town containing a church, a post office and a casino. On a fine day it’s supposed to be beautiful and due to the hill you can see for miles around. I’d asked the guest house if I needed a raincoat and they’d said no.  At 8am we were  told we’d be going in a 4×4 which turned out to be an open topped pick up truck. The first truck was full so myself and a French mother and daughter were put in the cabin of the second truck. Later I was told we were put inside because we’d paid more. It turned out to be the best extra $2 I’ve spent in my life. We picked up some more people who sat outside and then started the trip. The heavens opened and we stopped for water and at this point they suggested a buy a raincoat. It was the flimsiest coat I’ve ever seen, less than half as thick as a carrier bag.

We entered Bokor, you pay $5 for the priveledge but I have no idea what this goes to. The book describes the road as pretty bumpy and if you are going by motorbike you need to be an experienced driver. I think you’d have to be a motorcross champion. Apart from the huge ditches, there are overhanging trees, boulders and dense jungle. We almost hit a herd of cows at one point. It was not comfortable but I was lucky. The people outside were getting soaked and the higher we got the colder it got. All of a sudden we faced a huge ditch and the truck got stuck. I leant my driver my mac so he could change the tyre and then we had to push the truck so it ciould get out of the ditch. Now my coat was fullof holes.  Our initial chatter in the cabin had now turned to silence, we were all thinking what the hell are we doing here ?

After three and a half  hours we seemed to have reached the top. Not that you could tell as it was covered in cloud.  There was absolutely no view (that always seems to happen to me). We stop at the casino for lunch – not that you could tell what it had been in it’s glory days, it just looked like a concrete derelict building. At least we got a warm substantial vegetable curry. Our guide said here’s the casino and that’s it – great guide!  The people who’d been sitting outside had almost developed hypothermia. After lunch we set off and reached the church. As my coat was so flimsy they said I should stay inside and we got the children and the coldest people inside the cabin. Noone wanted to see the church, well what  you could see of it when the cloud moved a bit. We all made the decision that the waterfalls and sunset boat trip on the return were not going to be fun and we wanted to go home. We waited for the first truck to leave and then started off behind it. Chatter in the cabin again was limited.

After an hour and as we were crossing a small bridge we heard a huge bang. We all got out and waited under some tarpaulin (picture above), according to the men it looked like the suspension had gone. In Asia drivers have a unique ability to fix breakdowns in record time. This did not look like it was going to be one of those occasions. Apparently it was fixed after an hour onlt to break down for good again a few minutes later. I asked him how far to the bottom – his response was too far. Then he said 18km. It was 3pm and I figured we could do 6km an hour and get out of the jungle whilst it was still light. Bokor is also supposed to have wild tigers – including a legendary three legged one called Tripod, but as they are nocturnal we should be ok.  The guide had no phone and the driver had no credit so he borrowed a phone from one of the French women to call for rescue. That truck was going to be 2 hours. So I decided to walk  along with 7 French people . Afterall there are no guarantees the rescue truck would get to us. I shouted out “Allez le bleu” to lighten the mood and off we went.

I trekked like I’ve never trekked in my life. Half  running, half walking. I stayed with the two lead people that way if I got tired I could drop back. We didn’t even stop for water. I swore I heard a growl and quickened my pace but I think that was just the jungle playing tricks on me. Finally, after two and a half  hours we were rescued by a passing truck. We half stood in the back so everyone could fit and within 20 minutes had made it to the bottom. There was our rescue truck. It was brand new and hadn’t even bothered to come up to get us. We transferred over and got taken home. At that point the French daughter shrieked, she had a leech on her trousers. After a few attempts it finally came off. Then her mother found one on her foot. That had drawn blood but luckily that was the end of  leech gate.

We made it back to the guest house  for 6.30pm and backed up by the French I asked to see the manager. Whilst waiting for him we found two girls who been on the trip the day before. They had also broken down and once the truck was repaired set off again only for the wheel to fall off. As it was nearly dark they rightly refused to walk. They were finally rescued and had got back at midnight. The manager turned up. I had a go at him about how he’d described the trip and how for 2 days running they’d actually turned out. Not the best thing to do as he’s now lost face – a bad thing in Asia. He took me to one side and I explained how dangerous it was and that one day some people may not be as lucky. I was actually not bothered about the money it was that someone may get a panic attack or be unable to walk down.  I also said I would need to write to travel books and websites to tell them not to consider attempting this trip unless the weather was ok.  After much haggling this seemed to work and he gave me back 70% of the money. I agreed on some fee to cover the lunch. It does seem the only way to get people to sit up and notice here is to affect their wallet. Some of the rest of our group also only paid half. For those in the first truck it was a long journey for a vegetable curry.

So the moral is never go to Bokor in the wet season……………time for the beach.

Transport count
Plane = 5, Bus = 12, Train = 2, Boat = 2, Sunglasses = 4, Mosquito repellant = 4

Take care all

Sally x

Cambodia’s Capital – Phonm Penh

August 10, 2007

The Killing Fields - The GravesThe PrisonHi all

Sadly time to leave Vietnam and head to Cambodia. I have allocated around 10 days here but may need more. I got a back seat on the bus (which has more leg room) and got chatting to the fellow passengers. The border crossing was very efficient and we had lunch whilst the visas were being stamped in to our passports. Interestingly those who had already got their visas in Bangkok paid $20 whilst we had to pay that and give the police $5 for checking them. Welcome to corruption in Cambodia ! During the no man’s land crossing we were also offered the riel (Cambodian money), another money making device but as the ATM’s give out US$ not needed. There are 4000 riel to the US$.

Six hours later we arrive in the capital. There are 2 main areas to stay by the river (the nicer) or by the lake (the backpacker area). I decided on the lake – as it’s mostly covered in lily pads looks mostly green but pretty relaxing as all the guesthouses have huge terraces looking out over it. In fact mine even has a floating boat. At $3, my cheapest room so far, I upgraded the following day and have since found people who had bed bugs there but luckily I was ok. The area does seem a little bit seedy because it’s a bit of a concrete purpose built area and drugs are even more readily available, but you get used to it and it has a charm all of it’s own. Overall accomodation does seem cheaper here although food, trips etc are more than Vietnam. So after I couple of beers on the terrace I headed up to my bug free bed.

The next day I was going for it and hired a remorque-moto driver (Paul) for the day. This is a bit like a Tuk Tuk but you are driven by motorbike. Actually, it was really comfortable after a day on the bus and felt like I was being transported around town on a futon. I set off at 9.30am and had to immediately put on my sunglasses. The roads are so dusty, I can see why the locals wear masks on the roads here. First stop was the Tuoi Seng Museum. Otherwise known as the genocide museum. Outside were several amputees begging. There is no welfare state here so if you can’t work you beg, it’s actually quite shocking how many there are.

Ironically the museum used to be a school until it became  S-21 (security prison). Initially you get shown a film which relates the story of a couple who were split up but both met their end there. Usually people were tortured into confessions against the Khymer Rouge before they were taken elsewhere to be killed. 1500 people were held at any one time in the prison and out of the 10000 who passed through it’s doors only 7 survived. In total Pol Pot or Brother no.1 as he liked to be called is estimated to have killed 2 million Cambodians. All this in a country where if the French had not colonised it, may no longer exist as Thailand and Vietnam were controlling more and more land. Apparently Cambodians prefer the Vietnamese to Thai’s as they have won more battles throughout history. Although the Khymer people also used to live in what is now South Vietnam.Out of the 2 million some of these were his own Khmer Rouge army, once they knew too much or started to question things they too were shot.

The museum was really interesting. Apart from biographies of various inmates and guards, there were skulls showing different ways people were shot in the head or had their skulls broken by heavy blows. There was also a photo exhibition titled the ghost exhibition. As the majority are buddhists they believe that the person should be cremated right away, if they are not then they will walk as ghosts for ever.

On the 2nd and 3rd floors are the torture rooms and inmates cells, some brick and some wooden. Semi drowning was often involved as well as hanging people upside down until they lose consciousness. It was pretty awful. The cells were tiny and you were shackled constantly. You were lucky if you had a window. If you wanted to move slightly – even whilst sleeping  or go to the toilet you had to ask permission otherwise you would be beaten. There were 10 key rules mainly to do with how you were to answer questions under interrogation i.e. no thinking about the answer before replying. They also installed barbed wire on the outside walkways of the higher floors as a woman had committed suicide by jumping over rather than go through more torture. You died when they said you could.  This included a small number of Westerners. The garden courtyard was very quiet and visitors all took time to sit there after finishing inside for a moment of contemplation. It is incredibly quiet inside – noone needs to say anything you just think how could this have happened.

No respite and time to link back up with my driver and go to Choeung Ek 15km away – or as we know it “The Killing Fields”. This one is the most famous but there are in fact 343 killing fields in Cambodia. As luck would have it I paid to get in and then 4 Brits were hiring a guide, as he cost $5 it made sense for me to join them. He was excellent and really knew his stuff.

He explained that the world was so relieved that the Vietnam war had ended that Cambodia got left off the radar. So 2 weeks after the end of that war Pol Pot and the Khymer Rouge marched in to Phonm Penh. They told everyone that America were about to bomb the capital so they should leave immediately. Within a few days people had left and a cordon was put around the city so that no one could get in. They initiated a complete communications black out so that the outside world would not know what was happening. Pol Pot called this “Year Zero”. Amazingly one of the reasons he got to his position was that his sister was a mistress of the King. That King abdicated to his son 3 years ago but seems to have been King, President as well as other high ranking political positions, but he didn’t realise what Brother no.1 really had in mind long term. He thought he was there to reunify the country after all the American problems in the region and French rule.  Pot followed the principals of Chairman Mao and was backed by China. This meant that all educated and professional people had to go, so after they’d been sent to the farms to work if their hands looked too soft they would be executed.  That way noone with a decent amount of intelligence would question him. Ironically he had trained to be a teacher.  All that in under 4 years in power. There are estimated to be 20000 bodies at Choeung Ek, so far just under 10000 have been recovered. They don’t have the funds to exhume them let alone run DNA tests. Cambodia appears extremely poor or is it that the government is keeping the money ? There are several burial pits each containing 50+ bodies and more. Some were for the soldiers, some for women and children and loud speakers played to drown out screams. The pits used to be 3-4 metres deep but with the rains these have gradually become shallower. Also bones that had been recovered as recently as 2 weeks ago  were on display and more chillingly where the rains had washed away earth clothing was sticking out of the ground. Most Westerners found here were freelance journalists, trying to find out why no news was coming out of Cambodia. Some of their bodies have been identified and shipped back. At the main part is a shrine which houses many skulls of the dead arranged in order of approximate age. 
Luckily some of the Khymer escaped to Vietnam and so they backed by the Russians invaded thus driving Pol Pot in to the jungle near the Thai border where he protected himself with land mines. He died in 1998 so escaped prosecution. Many Cambodians would not believe it until they saw his body. Prosecutions are still ongoing, however most of the accused now in their 40’s or 50’s would have been too young at the time and have been pardoned. It seems in those times most people went around in silence so as not to be misheard sayng something or to be taken away by the militia as they had to keep the body count up. After the guide finished I wandered around for a while, sticking to paths. I literally didn’t want to walk on someone’s grave. Again much to contemplate.
Time to see the more light hearted side to the city and back to the driver and I got dropped off outside the royal palace. In the queue to get in it started to rain so I abandoned that idea in favour of a coffee. I then popped in to the National Museum in a very grand building near the palace. Sculpture seems to be a Khmer speciality.  It’s still raining so I head down to the river for some Khymer food. It’s a bit of Asian fusion – tastier than Vietnamese but not as spicy as Thai. I must find a cook book. In fact the people look like they are a mix, some more Chinese/Vietnamese and some more Indian – reminds me of the Burmese. The children are particularly beautiful. Must stay away from orphanages!
I decide to walk back through the streets to get more of a feel of the place. Unfortunately the market was already shut so all those Rolex’s will have to wait.On the way I decide to get a blind massage – legitimate – there are a lot here. My masseur has always been blind and does a good job as he walks across my back. I feel extremely relaxed so back to the terrace for a beer and bed. The next day I’m off to Kampot in the South. I didn’t really know what to expect of Phonm Penh – it’s still incredibly easy to get around town, there’s more cars and the constant Asian hooting but possibly too much corruption, too many drugs and just too damn dusty. In reality you still have a generation coming to terms with losing their brainpower and trying to earn money. I hope they make it…….   

Attached is the prison and the killing fields.

Transport count
Plane = 5, Bus = 11, Train = 2, Boat = 2, Sunglasses = 4, Mosquito repellant = 4

Take care all

Sally x