Southeast Asia 1
January 2001



I have recently been searching for an opportune time to say 'The revolutionary situation is excellent!', but have thus far been limited to referring to Robyn as 'capitalist roader', 'Soviet revisionist', 'Liuist' or plain old (passe)'imperialist running dog'. Robyn is, however, tiring of these euphemisms and I am considering moderating my steady diet of books on Chinese history and politics.

Arriving in Phnom Penh a couple days before Christmas, we poked around the city's sites for a couple days, including a couple 'wats' (temples/monasteries) and the city's decidedly brutal reminders of the Khmer Rouge, such as the 'S-21 extermination camp' and 'the killing fields', the latter of which has several thousand skulls collected inside a glass monument. On a more upbeat note, we enjoyed coffee in some of the restored colonial hotels, and spirits in 'The Foreign Correspondents Club', where I briefly considered posturing as a reporter for 'That's Guangzhou'. Running the local hash and patronizing the ultra dark and hip bar 'The Heart of Darkness'' also provided us brief contact and glimpses of the local expat community.

Eschewing the normal tourist boat to Siem Riep (the town by Angkor Wat), we took 2 days of pickup truck rides, which afforded us a glimpse of rural Cambodia and some off-the-beaten-track jungle temples. Cambodia's 'highway system' is infamous for it's complete state of disrepair, a result of no maintenance in the last 30 years, bombing, land mines and so forth. 100km in a day of driving is typical on these 'highways', which are now simply heavily cratered dirt roads. Every few kilometers, there is a roadblock, where the locals extract money from the drivers. The most interesting thing about driving in Cambodia is that the cars drive on the right hand side of the road, but most of the cars come from Japan and Thailand, where the opposite is true. The result is very interesting when you are in the passenger seat because when your driver attempts to pass any kind of traffic only you, not the driver, can see the huge trucks coming in the opposite direction!

The temples of Angkor, including Angkor Wat itself, were extraordinary and surpassed anything we'd seen in previous travels. Hoping to avoid total 'temple burnout' as well as the steep daily access fees, we performed a one day marathon (both sunrise and sunset at Angkor Wat) of site seeing on motos, covering almost 100km of jungle and most of the better known temples. We passed dozens more that would be major tourist attractions anywhere else, but were unremarkable in the context of their peers. We did however, stop at a couple of these to enjoy some temples in solace. We opted to fly a huge Russian built military helicopter from Siem Riep back to Phnom Penh. Apparently, the military is so broke, that they let you hop on their handful of helicopters for gas money. Robyn, who had never flown in a helicopter before, was quite thrilled by the hour ride over the jungle canopy. I on the other hand almost peed my pants with fear as I spent an hour watching the bored looking flight chief periodically get up from his naps to go mop up some of the leaking fuel from the huge internal fuel tank and then occasionally adjust switches and valves. The inside of the cavernous helicopter, which could seat 20 but only had Robyn, myself and two crew, reeked of fuel. Anyways, we made it.

We decided to spend New Years Eve on the beach, so we spent a few days in the port town of Sihanoukville, where we found many backpackers and a big party on the beach. Although paling in comparison to the regions beach Mecca's, we had some nice swims and beach relaxing/reading. Currently, we are back in Phnom Penh. Tomorrow we begin several days of travel up the Mekong (through the heart of darkness?) with the intent of getting into Laos through a supposedly closed land border. If we fail, we will return and travel by sea and land to and through Thailand.

Cambodia Party Cell
Keir and Robyn.

Angkor Wat at dawn.
Victims of the Khmer Rouge at the Killing Fields.
Typical houses in the countryside of Cambodia.
The guys were curious about what cheese was.
Angkor reflected in one of it's water reservoirs.
The jungle consumes one of the temples at Angkor.
Our helicoptor ride from Siem Riep to Phnom Penh.
Relaxing on the beach on New Years Day.

Created: February 4, 2001
Maintainer: Keir Paesel