January 16, 2007

The Killing Feilds - Not Your Ordinary Genocide Museum

Stacked SkullsPHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA - The temples of Angkor were astounding. They were vast. They were beautiful. They were awe inspiring. Even for my templed-out senses. I put them in the same league as the Mayan ruins at Tikal and the Great Pyramids in Egypt.

Not one of the pictures I took do them any sort of justice. I'm sure National Geographic has back issues or TV episodes about them so I'll just skip on past the temples and move on to the capital city: Phnom Penh.

I've seen war museums before. But nothing prepared me for the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, just in the outskirts of the capital. It's a memorial to the 20,000 people who were executed on that site.

According to the locals, 3 million people (out of a nation of 7 million) were executed during the rule of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge revolution between the years 1975-1979. Knowing this as I went in didn't prepare me for what we were about to see.

The tower of 8000 human skulls was sobering but as we wandered around the site it quickly became apparent that the dirt paths we used weren't just dirt. The rubbish on the ground were bits of clothing. The 'rocks' protruding out of the path were bones and the pebbles were teeth. We were walking on people. None of the signs made any mention of it. Most and most of the tourists exploring the site didn't notice. Children from nearby homes played amongst us. All the while we were walking on people. Thousands upon thousands of them. The thought makes me shudder.

Our evenings spent sipping mojitos in the breezy Foreign Corespondents Club (FCC) along the waterfront were in stark contrast to our terrible, dusty days spent on The Killing Fields.

January 13, 2007

Bus Scams and Bumpy Roads

Cambodian HighwaySIEM REAP, CAMBODIA - One of my New Years resolutions this year has been to pick up my travelling pace a little. My money won't last forever and there's still a lot of ground to cover between Southeast Asia and Canada. Half a world to be exact.

In light of this resolution, I stayed in Thailand this time around barely long enough to meet up with Gia, a friend from home, and fall for classic Bangkok to Cambodia bus scam. The scam involves offering a ridiculously cheap bus fare to get you on board then extorting money from you by forcing you to buy visa's at inflated prices, exposing you exclusively to their money changers and delivering you to their guesthouse in Siem Reap which of course is inconveniently located outside of town. The whole racket is obviously quite profitable for nearly everyone involved. Easy money like this is rare in poverty stricken Cambodia.

All of my travelling thus far has exposed me to more than a few tourist scams, but these guys have to be commended for their execution of it all. It didn't matter at all that I was on to them right away. I even knew about the scam before I got on board! I simply couldn't resist the rock bottom bus fare. In any case, I did my best to view it all as a game of wits. We rolled with the punches as best as we could and, in the end, managed a few victories out the whole ordeal.

We're now safely in Cambodia, nursing our tail bones after the notoriously horrendous road from the border to this city proved to us the stories we'd heard weren't exaggerated. (150km in 7 hours)

Most people come to Siem Reap for one reason and one reason only: to see the ancient cities and vast Khmer temples of Angkor Wat. We will be no different. They say it's a must see.