Meanwhile, What's Happening in Cambodia?

 

 

Bookstores in Cambodia are improving all the time, with Monument Books in town and at the airport, three or four D's Bookstores, one around the corner from the FCCC (Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia), and Bohr's Books on the street just behind the FCCC.  And, of course, if you sit outside at a cafe near the river you will be asked many times by many kids selling books from their baskets.  They get the books from a market early in the morning and their prices are not bad.  Don't dismiss them out of hand; they have some good titles.  I was just reading that prices in Phnom Penh are now on the level of lower Sukhumvit and continue to go through the roof.  If I were a young man I would learn two languages: Korean and Cambodian.  Because when North Korea finally opens up the world's most innocent and certainly among the world's most beautiful women will become available.  As for Cambodia, in ten years Phnom Penh's skyline will most likely start to resemble Bangkok's.  Learning those two languages is to bet on the future.  The picture at left is of the FCCC which is not part of any arrangement with those in Thailand, Hong Kong, etc.  But it is part of its own group including one in Siam Reap and I think even in Burma.  It is a good place to have a drink at sunset as the place overlooks the river and the action along the river as the locals take in the night air.  The FCCC also has a few nice rooms at reasonable prices.  Some of the menu prices, however, are ridiculously high and the quality of food ranges from OK to very good.  US$3.50 for watermelon juice is one example of their menu.  Still, it is a good place to meet although I like the restaurant across the street better despite their incredibly slow service.

 

Speaking of Korea, I went to the restaurant run by North Koreans in Phnom Penh because I remembered seeing some good looking Korean women there once.  It is on Monivong and Mao Tze-tung Boulevards.  Unfortunately, it was in the afternoon and empty but I knocked and a Korean chick came to the door and I started asking her about the restaurant food, etc.  Unfortunately, it was clear from the setup of the tables that it is a tourist restaurant and I do remember a busload of tourists pulling away when I last went by the place.  So I cannot recommend it as a place to hang out unless you are really horny for North Korean chicks.  I did manage to take a photo of the exterior.

 

A sign on the wall of Sharkey's Bar, Phnom Penh

 

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The poverty in Cambodia is, of course, horrific.  I took a three minute video and shots of the infamous slum, the toxic garbage dump also known as "Smoky Mountain", in the heart of Phnom Penh.  If you don't already know how lucky you are not to be penniless and poor, these pictures should do it for you.  Just click here: A Horror Show

 

 

Click pictures above to enlarge.

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I was watching the way folks gave money to the monks in Cambodia.  It was the usual technique as in most of Southeast Asia.  The monks show up and stand in front of the business.  The owner appears and places money in the monks' bag, making sure the monks do not touch the money.  Then the monks chant a prayer, no doubt blessing the giver.  Then they move on.  I remember when traveling in China I was shocked to see monks touching money.  But that is Mahayana Buddhism as opposed to Theravada Buddhism and there are, of course, different customs.

 

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These are some of the nightclubs in Phnom Penh.  Martini's is of course quite famous and is something out of a Fellini film.  The layout is both inside and outside and dark and bizarre and well worth checking out just to see it.  No cameras were allowed past the gate but I did manage to get a shot of the humorous signs.  (Just click on the shot.)  Second from right is of course the FCCC overlooking the river.  Sorry I didn't get any shots of Sharkey's; I was too drunk to remember to take the shot. Also, I was in a very tricky situation.  As you may know, there are many, many Vietnamese young women available in Cambodia as well as Cambodians themselves.  To say that the Cambodians do not like the Vietnamese is an understatement.  So I was sitting at a table at Sharkey's with a Cambodian girl and my friend's 26-year-old nephew was sitting with a half Chinese/half Cambodian girl.  The Cambodians have, of course, been through hell with approximately 1.7 million of them killed during the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge (Kamen Dang) period.  And so they have a complex, especially against the Vietnamese who are now flooding the country. 

 

So the chick I was with spoke almost no English and was not happy about the fact that the other girl had been out of the country and spoke some English and was able to communicate and have fun with us while she (the Cambodian) sat there kind of sulking.  Eventually, she started saying some things to the Chinese-Cambodian and these two got into such a heated discussion that I asked the Chinese-Cambodian how to say "maibenlai" in Cambodian.  And then just at the worst possible moment in comes the guy's uncle with a good-looking Vietnamese girl and sat down at our table.  I figured all hell was about to break loose.  So the uncle went off with his girl, the nephew with his, leaving me with the Cambodian girl.  I knew if I did not take her back to the hotel, she would in her inferiority complex, assume that I didn't think she was as good as the other two.  So what could I do?  Yes, for the sake of international peace and fellowship, I had to take an attractive, young Cambodian woman back to my hotel room and do the nasty with her.  A tough life but somebody has to live it.  And since I hadn't planned to take anybody back with me, I hadn't taken any Viagra, so I actually had to work at it! 

 

 

The above four shots were taken in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.  The girl is one of the bargirls working in the Mosquito Bar on Victory Hill.  The tattoo is on the arm of a guest of the hotel where I stayed.  The restaurant sign says "Deadly Drinks for Mellow Money."  Sihanoukville has Victory Hill, a row of bars, a few good restaurants, and a few places to stay.  Downtown Sihanoukville has not much of all.  The best area to stay is the third area of Sihanoukville, near the beaches.  Although the Ocean Hotel, run by two US ex-Marines, in downtown, is a crazy, bizarre, fun place in which they treat you like family.  Not sure if I could recommend it for couples unless you are the fun type but I had a great time with these guys.  I'll have to write about it one of these days.

 

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The beaches of Sihanoukville, Cambodia.  Mainly family beaches for the locals with a scattering of farangs around as well, young traveling-type folk.  The beaches weren't bad at all and there are some pretty good hotels nearby.  It will be a while though before foreigners pack themselves in there.  For one thing, the bus from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville took five hours.  Also, during the one time the bus stopped, we were not told we were stopping or for how long or what was going on (it was a local-style restaurant).  So, eventually, all the farangs got off and wandered about and here was a great opportunity for locals to sell food and other items to farangs with money in their pockets but there was no attempt to do so except for a few women standing near the bus with eggs (like we need eggs?) and who spoke no English. 

 

In Thailand, of course, there would have been menus in English and/or lots of things Westerners might purchase.  I think this is one example of what happens when the entire educated class of a country is eliminated as the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia.  At least outside of the capital, it will take years before Cambodia knows how to really appeal to a foreign market.  And, of course, the corruption is even worse than in Thailand although yes, I know, that hardly seems possible.

 

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Fabled Angkor:  Of course the temple ruins at Angkor are magnificent and worth a trip any time of the year.  Even the way the tree roots are destroying the temples is dramatic.  Angkor Wat itself is fantastic but I also loved the many-faced Bayon.  I've been here twice and once during the hot season.  Believe me, when some of these pictures were taken, the sweat was pouring down my face.  Give yourself plenty of time to see things.  Once you've gone all that way, you don't want to find out later that you missed something interesting.  And take plenty of water with you!

 

 

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Siam Reap: Just a few downtown shots of Siam Reap which is slowly trying to modernize.  There are a couple of streets of good restaurants, a bookstore, and several one-legged vendors and beggars who no doubt had an unpleasant encounter with a landmine.   Of course there is a market and a few attempts at nightclubs but your time would be best spent out at the magnificent temples.

 

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The Killing Fields (top row) and the notorious School of Torture also known as Tuol Sleng S-21 prison (bottom row) used by the Khmer Rouge.  Visiting these places is a very emotional experience.  Not only did the Khmer Rouge photograph their victims held prisoner at the school before killing them, they also had a wire screen running outside the building from top to bottom so the prisoners inside could not even commit suicide if they wanted to.  Out of the 14,000 taken there, seven survived.

 

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Ket, Cambodia.  Where Sihanouk once had his mansion.  Where French once had their mansions.  A beautiful area not far from Sihanoukville.  Easy living.  Swimming nearby.  Blue skies and delicious, cheap food.  Friendly people.  And then came the Khmer Rouge.  And then came the Vietnamese.  And lots of firefights.  Lots of wounded and dying.  Bullet holes in the walls.  Badly damaged and deserted buildings.  And them came graffiti.  Click on pictures to enlarge.

 

 

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At the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand Cambodian artist Vann Nath, survivor of the Khmer Rouge torture center at Tuol Sleng and 2007 winner of the prestigious Human Rights Watch Hellman/Hammett Award, exhibited a series of paintings and sketches at the FCCT.

The exhibit depicted Van Nath’s own story of capture, interrogation, imprisonment at S-21 (Tuol Sleng) prison and ultimate survival.  More than 14,000 men, women and children were sent to Tuol Sleng. Only seven survived, of whom Vann Nath is one of three who remain alive today. With the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Phnom Penh expected to try former S-21 Prison Chief Duch (eventually), as well as four other Khmer Rouge leaders, this exhibit had profound historical significance. 

 

Just click on the painting to enlarge it.  I have been to Tuol Sleng twice and the Killing Fields twice plus one off-the-beaten path killing field in Siam Reap.  Needless to say it is an amazing and emotional and humbling experience.  Check out these paintings if you ever hear of an exhibition near you.

 

"I detest the notion of a new dawn in which Homo sapiens would live in harmony.  The hope this Utopia engenders has justified the bloodiest exterminations in history." 

- Francois Bizot, The Gate

 

(Francois Bizot was the only Western prisoner to have been arrested by the Khmer Rouge and survived.  His book, The Gate, is truly a must read.  He also spoke at the FCCT some time back.)

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