Foto Flashback: The Ancient Artists of Angkor Wat

Daybreak at the Angkor Wat ruins. Awe.

The shifting hues of morning silhouetting an ancient world. The Khmer reigned this exotic kingdom 1700 years ago. Can you fathom that?

As the light slowly crept into the intricate crevices of this ancient realm, sweet memories of childhood came flooding back to me.

Sea. Sand. Beach. Drizzly sand-castles.

I chuckled as I thought how, from afar, these Tomb Raider ruins reminded me of the drizzly sand-castles my mom taught me to make at the sea’s edge.

Creeping closer to the ruins though, I gasped. It seemed as if every centimeter of the ruins was covered in delicate, hand-carved detail. A far cry from a drizzly sand-castle, this was a masterpiece of epic scale. Not only an expression of order and civilization, but also one of art and expression. The walls of this ancient kingdom really could speak. They told of the seductive Aspara, the ancient Khmer goddesses. Warriors reenacted great battles.

The tales of the Khmer were spun with rock.

Such an intricately ornate creation is lost to our modern world of towering skyscrapers. A quiet melancholy washed over me as I knew that the humans of our fast-paced world would never dedicate such time and expertise to their own walls of civilization. And to think these now dilapidated chambers and crumbling halls were carved by slaves. They should be remembered as artists.

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Floods Devastate SE Asia

People wade in the chest deep floodwater Sunday, Sept. 27, 2009 in suburban Cainta, east of Manila, Philippines. Photo courtesy of’s a bit crazy to imagine that countries I was discovering two years ago in SE Asia are now swamped from a typhoon. The following excerpt is from the Radio Australia:

The Philippines is bracing for two more typhoons which are expected to hit the flood-ravaged country over the next two days. Emergency teams have been scrambling to help nearly half a million people left homeless by Typhoon Ketsana, which smashed into Manila on Sunday. It’s now moved on, bringing bring lethal floods to Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The disaster is prompting urgent questions about the efficacy of Asia’s disaster management plans.

Click here to read the entire account.

Horrorifying Sex Trade in Cambodia

I spent much of December 2007 and January 2008 in Cambodia. While I didn’t touch too much upon the disturbingly prevalent sex trade present there, this report from (below) does… as does the linked ABC report. It leaves one wondering, ‘What can be done?’ Makes my stomach churn…

Warning: The the videos and commentary in this post are graphic and disturbing, even for a human trafficking blog.

Despite increased international pressure and national efforts to end child sex tourism in Cambodia, it remains a top destination for pedophiles looking to have sex with children. The child sex tourism industry in Cambodia is also notoriously young, including children who are five, six, and seven years old as well as pre-teens and young teens. ABC Nightline conducted a raid on a suspected American pedophile, and what they found was disturbing.

The story of Harvey Johnson — the man who is the subject of the Nightline sting — is not unique. It’s the story of a retired man who moves to Cambodia and sets up a gig as a volunteer English teacher, giving him access to hundreds of children. Some of the thousands of the sex tourists who travel to Cambodia each year use simialr guises to have access to children, and some just shop for them on the streets. Case in point: while the ABC film crew were researching the ease of buying kids for sex in Cambodia, the cops showed up. At first the reporters were worried, but it turns out the cops just wanted a chance to sell the kids that they had procured, and they started loading girls into the back of the reporters’ van. With some police conducting sting operations and others selling children to tourists, it’s hard to know who to trust in Cambodia.

It is disturbingly easy to have sex with a very, very young child as a Western tourist in Cambodia. They are being sold by brothel owners, slave brokers, and even their own mothers. The desperation of so many families is so great, that sex with children in Cambodia has become a full commodity, a resource for a family who otherwise would have no resources. And most disturbingly of all, there seems to be no shortage of buyers in this marketplace, no lack of American and European men who want to buy the youngest child possible. If Harvey Johnson is found guilty, there will be a long line of men waiting to rent his house and take his place as a teacher/abuser.

Johnson’s case is still pending, but the police and reporters found his apartment to be filled with an disturbing and incriminating assortment of items that would lead most people to believe he was making is own child pornography and abusing the young girls who he taught. You can watch the videos of Nightline’s sting operation here: Part1, Part 2, and Part 3 (ABC won’t allow them to be embedded for proprietary reasons).

Comments on Pol Pot and Other ‘Truths’

I really liked what a friend of mine from the Netherlands had to say about dictators. Here’s what Lourens wrote:

Stories about ‘the killing fields’ are always fascinating to me. It shows what can happen when people or regimes (governments) claim that only they posses the ‘real truth’. Therefore we should ALWAYS question those who make that kind of claims. The difficulty is, however, that those claims are often in disguise, or seem so very logical at that moment. And then suddenly a mass movement has started. Those who question such a hype are ignored, discarded, put aside etc.

Hitler is the absolute example (now, afterwards). Pol Pot probably had believers at that time. People often trust their leaders and even willing to fight for them. The First World War was an incredible example. Soldiers driven into death by the thousands.

Dith Pran said it correctly (note: in case you forgot, Dith Pran is the Cambodia journalist who survived the genocide of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. He just passed away):

“If you didn’t think about the danger, it looked like a performance,” he said. “It was beautiful, like fireworks. War is beautiful if you don’t get killed. But because you know it’s going to kill, it’s no longer beautiful.”

It makes me wander in thoughts to Iraq, the modern killing fields. We were clearly misguided by our great leaders, who claimed their truth. I understand that Americans still might think different.

Pol Pot Still Haunts Villagers

Most of you probably don’t know who Pol Pot is, but he is THE man responsible for the mass genocide in Cambodia in the late 70s. Remember this picture of the pile of the cracked skulls? It was that remains of the victims of the Khmer Rouge at the killing fields… well, that some more bones, some bits of clothing and dozens of mass graves. That was all Pol Pot’s doing. Remember the jail I walked through where I could still see the dark blood of victims staining the floors and walls? Again, Pol Pot. The monster died in 1998. But, it seems some people are still worshiping him. Either out of reverence or fear… of his spirit. The Cambodian genocide trial is just getting underway right now too.

ANLONG VENG, Cambodia (AP) — Ten years after the death of brutal Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, his grave has become a symbol of spiritual comfort to some in the village where he is buried.

Pol Pot’s grave has become a symbol of spiritual comfort for some in the village where he is buried.

Villagers pray at the site, asking for blessings of luck, happiness and even protection from malaria — despite the mayhem he wrought upon their country. He died on April 15, 1998, apparently of heart failure.

“I know it is odd, but I just do as many people here do, asking for happiness from his spirit,” said Orn Pheap, a 37-year-old woman who lost a grandfather and two uncles during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror from 1975 to 1979.

“I don’t know how long I can stay angry with him, since he is already dead,” she said. Her house sits 100 yards from the grave.

Officials in Anlong Veng, 250 kilometers north of the capital, Phnom Penh, say only few of the area’s 35,000 residents pray at Pol Pot’s grave.

For most, Pol Pot is remembered as a murderous tyrant with fanatical communist beliefs. Under his leadership, the Khmer Rouge turned the country into a vast slave labor camp, causing the deaths of some 1.7 million people from starvation, forced labor and execution.

But Cambodians believe in the influence of spirits and superstitious forces on their daily lives and fortunes, which may be why some worship at Pol Pot’s grave.

Last week, the grave — a pile of dirt covered by a knee-high corrugated zinc roof — was cluttered with clay jars filled with half-burned incense sticks, a sign of prayer and worship.

Many may still view their former tormentor as a powerful figure, said Philip Short, author of “Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare,” a biography of the former despot.

“Evil or good is not the issue,” Short said. “He has imposed himself on Cambodians’ imaginations, and in that sense he lives on” in the spirit world.

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Once a jungle war zone, Anlong Veng is now a sprawling border market town bustling with the kind of capitalist activities Pol Pot and his comrades sought to stamp out. Ramshackle shops are filled with clothing, housewares, pirated DVDs and other goods from nearby Thailand.

Cambodian pop songs blare from a coffee shop near Pol Pot’s grave, which has been designated a tourist attraction. It is among the few remnants of Khmer Rouge history, which the government is trying to preserve.

Some Cambodians have traveled to Anlong Veng to spit on the grave and curse him in anger, said 37-year-old Sat Narin, who owns a nearby clothing shop.

“Given his bad reputation, he should not be venerated,” he said. “But somehow he is popular with some people.”

Among the worshippers who seek blessings from Pol Pot’s ghost are ethnic Vietnamese who live in the community — a sharp irony given Pol Pot’s massacres of ethnic Vietnamese during his rule.

A 33-year-old Vietnamese resident, who goes by her adopted Cambodian name of Van Sothy, recalled a nightmare in which she saw a black-clad man sitting on a tree near her hut.

When she described the vision to her Cambodian neighbors, they advised her to bring offerings of fruit and boiled chicken to Pol Pot’s grave to ask his spirit for protection.

“I have prayed at his grave ever since. I just want to show some respect to the spiritual master of the land,” she said.

If Pol Pot were alive, he would likely be facing war crimes charges along with five of his former comrades currently detained by Cambodia’s U.N.-backed genocide tribunal. The long-delayed trials are expected to start later this year.

Nhem En, who was forced to work as the photographer at the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Sleng torture center in Phnom Penh, says he is setting up his own museum in Anlong Veng about the communist group — not to glorify them but for educational purposes.

He too used to light incense and pray at Pol Pot’s grave, he said, but “only for him not to butcher people again in his next life.”

Killing Fields Survivor Dies

I just learned about the killing fields, seeing the remnants of them myself, last December. Now, I learn that Dith Pran, a Cambodian journalist who survived the killing spree, has died from cancer. The movie, The Killing Fields, was the popular film that told the story of the murderous Khmer Rouge. It was based off of Dith’s character.

NEW YORK (AP) — Dith Pran, the Cambodian-born journalist whose harrowing tale of enslavement and eventual escape from that country’s murderous Khmer Rouge revolutionaries in 1979 became the subject of the award-winning film “The Killing Fields,” died Sunday, his former colleague said.

Dith Pran founded an awareness project dedicated to educating people about the Khmer Rouge regime.

Dith, 65, died at a New Jersey hospital Sunday morning of pancreatic cancer, according to Sydney Schanberg, his former colleague at The New York Times. Dith had been diagnosed almost three months ago.

Dith was working as an interpreter and assistant for Schanberg in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, when the Vietnam War reached its chaotic end in April 1975 and both countries were taken over by Communist forces.

Schanberg helped Dith’s family get out but was forced to leave his friend behind after the capital fell; they were not reunited until Dith escaped four and a half years later. Eventually, Dith resettled in the United States and went to work as a photographer for the Times.

It was Dith himself who coined the term “killing fields” for the horrifying clusters of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he encountered on his desperate journey to freedom.

The regime of Pol Pot, bent on turning Cambodia back into a strictly agrarian society, and his Communist zealots were blamed for the deaths of nearly 2 million of Cambodia’s 7 million people.

“That was the phrase he used from the very first day, during our wondrous reunion in the refugee camp,” Schanberg said later.

With thousands being executed simply for manifesting signs of intellect or Western influence — even wearing glasses or wristwatches — Dith survived by masquerading as an uneducated peasant, toiling in the fields and subsisting on as little as a mouthful of rice a day, and whatever small animals he could catch.

After Dith moved to the U.S., he became a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and founded the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project, dedicated to educating people on the history of the Khmer Rouge regime.

He was “the most patriotic American photographer I’ve ever met, always talking about how he loves America,” said AP photographer Paul Sakuma, who knew Dith through their work with the Asian American Journalists Association.

Schanberg described Dith’s ordeal and salvation in a 1980 magazine article titled “The Death and Life of Dith Pran.” Schanberg’s reporting from Phnom Penh had earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 1976.

Later a book, the magazine article became the basis for “The Killing Fields,” the highly successful 1984 British film starring Sam Waterston as the Times correspondent and Haing S. Ngor, another Cambodian escapee from the Khmer Rouge, as Dith Pran.

The film won three Oscars, including the best supporting actor award to Ngor. Ngor, a physician, was shot to death in 1996 during a robbery outside his Los Angeles home. Three Asian gang members were convicted of the crime.

“Pran was a true reporter, a fighter for the truth and for his people,” Schanberg said. “When cancer struck, he fought for his life again. And he did it with the same Buddhist calm and courage and positive spirit that made my brother so special.”

Dith spoke of his illness in a March interview with The Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey, saying he was determined to fight against the odds and urging others to get tested for cancer.

“I want to save lives, including my own, but Cambodians believe we just rent this body,” he said. “It is just a house for the spirit, and if the house is full of termites, it is time to leave.”

Dith Pran was born September 27, 1942 at Siem Reap, site of the famed 12th century ruins of Angkor Wat. Educated in French and English, he worked as an interpreter for U.S. officials in Phnom Penh. As with many Asians, the family name, Dith, came first, but he was known by his given name, Pran.

After Cambodia’s leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, broke off relations with the United States in 1965, Dith worked at other jobs. When Sihanouk was deposed in a 1970 coup and Cambodian troops went to war with the Khmer Rouge, Dith returned to Phnom Penh and worked as an interpreter for Times reporters.

In 1972, he and Schanberg, then newly arrived, were the first journalists to discover the devastation of a U.S. bombing attack on Neak Leung, a vital river crossing on the highway linking Phnom Penh with eastern Cambodia.

Dith recalled in a 2003 article for the Times what it was like to watch U.S. planes attacking enemy targets.

“If you didn’t think about the danger, it looked like a performance,” he said. “It was beautiful, like fireworks. War is beautiful if you don’t get killed. But because you know it’s going to kill, it’s no longer beautiful.”

After Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia in 1979 and seized control of territory, Dith escaped from a commune near Siem Reap and trekked 40 miles, dodging both Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge forces, to reach a border refugee camp in Thailand.

From the Thai camp he sent a message to Schanberg, who rushed from the United States for an emotional reunion with the trusted friend he felt he had abandoned four years earlier.

“I had searched for four years for any scrap of information about Pran,” Schanberg said. “I was losing hope. His emergence in October 1979 felt like an actual miracle for me. It restored my life.”

After Dith moved to the U.S., the Times hired him and put him in the photo department as a trainee. The veteran staffers “took him under their wing and taught him how to survive on the streets of New York as a photographer, how to see things,” said Times photographer Marilynn Yee.

Yee recalled an incident early in Dith’s new career as a photojournalist when, after working the 4 p.m. to midnight shift, he was robbed at gunpoint of all his camera equipment at the back door of his apartment.

“He survived everything in Cambodia and he survived that too,” she said, adding, “He never had to work the night shift again.”

Dith spoke and wrote often about his wartime experience and remained an outspoken critic of the Khmer Rouge regime.

When Pol Pot died in 1998, Dith said he was saddened that the dictator was never held accountable for the genocide.

“The Jewish people’s search for justice did not end with the death of Hitler and the Cambodian people’s search for justice doesn’t end with Pol Pot,” he said.

Dith’s survivors include his companion, Bette Parslow; his former wife, Meoun Ser Dith; a sister, Samproeuth Dith Nop; sons Titony, Titonath and Titonel; daughter Hemkarey Dith Tan; six grandchildren including a boy named Sydney; and two step-grandchildren.

Dith’s three brothers were killed by the Khmer Rouge.

A Skip and a Hop to Kampot

After a week of days melting away on the beach in Sihanoukville the Aussies and I decided it was time to stretch our feet again and get out and do something. So, we scheduled a little excursion to the quaint and charming rivertown of Kampot. We left early in the am so we could arrive before noon. It’s just a two-hour taxi drive away. The taxi cost the three of us about $7 each. When we got to Kampot, we picked a guesthouse, threw our bags in our room… and set out to explore. We hired a tuk-tuk that was supposed to take us to a couple caves, pepper plantations, the nearby beach getaway of Kep and some river rapids. We made it to the first cave and that was really cool. The tuk-tuk driver just dropped us off at this trail. And out of nowhere a band of kids came out, ready to lead us to the cave. These kids didn’t start in on the high-pressure sales pitches, luckily. The tiniest girl just struck up a conversation with me and slid her hand in mine as we all hiked toward the cave. They speak English so well. It’s rather baffling. The kids gave us the most official tour we could hope for… pointing out “bigfoot’s footprint” and the “fossilized elephant head.” There were several impressive stalactites and an ancient, brick Hindu temple inside the cave. The little girl was so cute. As we were clambering through the cave, I had one hand tied up with my camera, and the littlest girl took care of me. She climbed ahead, pointing to where I should step and took my camera from me to free both my hands up. Normally, I would get all haughty from such dainty treatment. But she was this innocent little darling who was just too cute!

After the caves, the tuk-tuk driver took us to Kep, a small, oceanside town. Kep is quaint and a bit sleepy. Nice nonetheless. Unfortunately, our tuk-tuk driver disappeared for more than an hour and we were stuck waiting around. That’s not how it’s supposed to work. I mean, we are paying the guy. The wait botched the rest of the little excursion. There wasn’t enough time left to tackle the other sites, so we just headed back. I immediately proceeded to crash out, while the boys went out for dinner. I wound up sleeping straight through until the morning.

The next day we woke up early again ready for the Bokor National Park excursion. But, just about 20 minutes before we were leaving, Jack realized that he and Colin were supposed to be in Phnom Penh for their flight back to Australia the next day. Oops! He had his dates wrong and thought they had a couple more days in Cambodia. So… the boys had to bail on the Bokor National Park trip and book it to Phnom Penh. I stayed around for the trip and piled onto the back of a pick up with 10 other travelers and our guide. It was a long haul up, dodging leaves and branches on the way. But the air was so fresh! That’s one thing about Cambodia. There are weird smells… everywhere. I had started to believe you couldn’t get away from it. Even if you are outside the cities, you still get pungent weird smells. They aren’t good smells. They’re not unbearable either though. They’re just always there.

But yeah, fresh air finally! After half a day of winding up and around mountains canvassed in wild, Cambodian jungle we crested the top… to discover the very hotel used in The Shining. You know, the movie where Jack Nicholson goes all crazy and scary. Oh wait. That doesn’t help. He’s always crazy and scary. It’s the one where he takes his family to this secluded hotel up in the mountains to maintain it during the off-season. The solitude of the hotel and it’s haunted history eventually end up driving Jacky boy off the deep end and he starts trying to murder his family. I crept through the hotel in broad daylight and there were other travelers wandering around somewhere… but, the place was still kinda creepy. It was really windy up on top of the mountain and the wind would gush through, making eerie noises. I wouldn’t want to be up their at night. The hotel has a tremendous view of the valley of the mountains, which lead straight to the beach. You can make out islands in the horizon. There’s talk of a Japanese company refurbishing the hotel. Yet, another instance of foreign countries swooping in and capitalizing on Cambodia’s treasures and leaving none of the profit for the locals.

The trip wasn’t over after getting back down the mountain. We got to hike a little bit and then we got to take a boat back down the river to Kampot during sunset. Too bad it was really a less than spectacular sunset. Too many hazy clouds. I can’t say I would have noticed too much though. There were too other English guys, Rob and Adam, on the whole trip and I started really chatting with them on the boat ride. They turned out to be rather hilariously clever. Their slick one-liners had me laughing quite a bit. When the boat ride was over, I hadn’t had enough of their witty teasing, so I joined them for dinner at a restaurant on the river. Food was okay. Dinner was fantastically funny. We rounded out the night with some drinks at a local bar. I really enjoyed these guys. Too bad they are just on a brief holiday. It would have been really fun to travel with them. I spent that night in Kampot again and early the next morning I took a taxi back to Sihanoukville. That was an experience. I paid $2.75 to share a taxi with 8 other locals. Yeah, that’s right 9 of us were crammed into a your average, medium-sized sedan. Good thing the trip was only 2 hours.

Beach Bummin

The days just seem to melt away in Sihanoukville. I can’t say I did too much while there. I mostly just chilled on the beach, read books, took a several dips in the ocean for long swims, catch up on work, struggle to find a quiet place to record some work, gobble pancakes with banana and chocolate, suck down banana coconut shakes, play futbol with the locals, motorbike it with the Aussies to the local waterfall (which was littered with trash like mostly everything in Cambodia), read some more, and worked some more. Oh yeah. The first night we actually slept in strung up hammocks because the place we wanted to stay was full. That’s when I got literally eaten alive by mosquitoes. My entire body was covered. Even my eyelids had bites. No signs of malaria yet… keep your fingers crossed!!! The bathrooms at this joint were public and they were the same as the shower. An all in one sort of thing. Considering, the place kept it fairly cleanish…er. But, usually our group just opted for a nice salt water bath in the ocean. Colin (one of the Aussies) tried fire dancing with the locals.

I noticed that no matter where you go… you really can’t escape the odors of Cambodia. There are several distinct ones and they’re not pleasant. Usually it’s either rotting trash, burning trash or the smell of pee and feces all mixing in with the smell of food cooking. Yummm… Actually, right on the beach it wasn’t too bad. Everywhere else though…

There was a big private island party for New Year’s. We took a slow fisherman’s boat out to the island… about an hour boat ride. I watched the bright coastline, glittering with lights and an endless stream of small to medium sized fireworks fade away to nothing in the darkness. I watched the stars emerge from the darkness. I recognized that the sky here is just as foreign as the land and its people. I don’t know these stars. I watched the islands slowly take shape and emerge from the dark waters that stretched before me. Then, it was back to bright lights and excitement… as Western foreigners rang in the New Year in Cambodia on the private island.

Shortly after, Russell had to leave us. He’s now back in Thailand soaking up the sun on those world-class beaches with his girlfriend who is visiting for a month. We might try to meet up again when he’s back on the backpacking trail.

Lakeside in Phnom Penh

There’s more to do in Siem Reap. But, we were on a mission to get to the beach sooner than later, so on Christmas day we made an early go of it and took off for Phnom Penh. You can go by bus for about $8 or by boat for $25. Rumors of floating forests and floating villages enticed us to take the boat trip. It was well worth it. The rumors were every bit of true and that meant the entire trip was just stunning. You could sit up on the bow of the boat, which was cruising at a speed of 50 mph… at least. Probably their wooden boats were stunning. Russell and I managed to make friends with a crew of other travelers too. A Spanish guy, two Australians, and a Greek guy. When we arrived 6 hours later in Phnom Penh, Russell and I kind of corralled our group and took charge because we knew of a specific guesthouse on Lakeside. That was a big task because everywhere you go in Cambodia (well, SE Asia for that matter) taxi drivers and moto drivers throng you demanding that you use their transportation to get wherever it is you wa more. The views of the Tonlé Sop lake and the river and the people who lived in stilted shacks or simply just lived onnt to go. Except, they often try to tell you where to go so they can get a commission. They can really be a pain in the you know what. Always trying to rip you off. Always insisting to take them even when you’ve said no a thousand times over. Anyways, a guy that was on the bus with us from the Cambodian border to Siem Reap had been in the country 4 times prior and he had some good places scoped out. So we were following Dave’s advice. In fact, we were meeting him at the joint he recommended. He had opted to take the bus to Phnom Penh.

We arrived at the lakeside guesthouse and we were greeted by Dave and a lush lake view from a huge wooden and shaded deck area with hammocks and a pool table and a big screen tv for watching movies. It was Happy #11. Stay there if you ever make it to Phnom Penh. It was just chill and perfect. When we got there Dave informed us of plans for a Christmas dinner with some other foreigners who had more or less planted themselves in Phnom Penh. Sweet! Dinner turned out to be delicious! About 15 of us travelers together, at an all you-can-eat feast of chicken, beef, pork, veggies, prawns and beer. We paid just $6 each. The best part was you cooked your food on these small table grills. They provided the duck fat, the food, the spices and the seasonings. You just threw it all on the small grill and cooked it how you wanted it. It was fun battling for your piece. You would throw a nice slab on, spice it up really well, get it frying in that juicy duck fat… and then snatch! Someone would come in with their chopsticks and whisk away that culinary masterpiece. What a crazy, random and unforgettable Christmas dinner!

Russell, the Aussies (the Aussies decided to join up with us and we were officially a fousome now) and I just took the next day to just chill out. We had made plans with Dave and another guy Martin and a bunch of others to go go-carting in the afternoon, so we just lazed around until then. We watched the Killing Fields, which was perfect because it was all about the mass genocide in Cambodia that occurred just 30 years ago. Great movie that enabled us to get a handle on the recent horrible history of this country. Not to mention we were in the heart of where much of the torturing went on. The Khmer Rouge was a rebel group that gained power and then attacked anyone of middle and upper class forcing them to leave their homes in the city and suddenly become the countries poorest and most oppressed. Anyone politically affiliated with the government that had been toppled would be a target, most of them were tortured and killed. Their families too. I could go on and on about this horrible history… but instead, I’ll just tell you to read “First They Killed My Father.” It’s short. But, it’s incredibly moving and paints the picture of what went on in this country all too clearly. Seriously, if you want to know exactly what I’m witnessing here, I’m witnessing a country that is slowly emerging from its horrible and all too recent past. But it is emerging with smiles and little devil children that make you buy their trinkets. Anyways, read the book.

After the movie we took off for the go-carts. Tons of fun. We all got nice, big bruises on our hips from screeching around turns at full speed. Man it was fun! I want to get into it more… get better at racing!!!

After the go-carting, Russell and the Aussies wanted to take advantage of the fact that you can shoot AK-47s and toss a few grenades at a military base outside of Phnom Penh… that is, if you drop about a $150. I’m not going to lie, I was really, really enticed to bust out the guns too, but I just couldn’t. This country is run mostly by drug lords still and this cash just to get some quick bang would be going straight to the drug lords’ pockets. Russell even offered to pay for me… another “Christmas present,” but I couldn’t. It would still be money being spent for me that would ultimately end up in the pockets of people I don’t want to be supporting. It was so hard for me to fight the temptation though. I mean, I do want to be THE female version of Jason Bourne!!! Of course, I caved a little. If the boys were going regardless, then I was going to get some pics. I ended up posing in a few pics with the boys as well. Man, it would have been cool to let one of those grenades rip!! Morals!! Oh well, I saw it all up close and personal…

That night was just typical backpacker style. Drinks and laughs and finally sleep!

The next day it was time to face more of the grim realities of Cambodia’s recent history. Russell, the Aussies Jack and Colin, and I headed to S-21. S-21 is the main prison the Khumer Rouge used to torture its victims. The prison was actually a school, where rooms were turned into holding cells and torture chambers and hallways were crammed with wooden and brick partitions, which were all smaller than a broom closet… more holding cells. The most affecting thing about going to S-21 is the fact that you get to walk through pretty much all of it. You’re walking through the rooms where people were starved and tortured and executed. You’re walking on the tiles where people bled to death. In fact, you’re walking on their blood. There are blood splatters everywhere, still dark red and black stains on the tiles… and you’re walking on them. It’s jolting… and revolting.

Next it was off to the Killing Fields. This is where the Khumer Rouge took victims by the tens and hundreds to slaughter them. They didn’t want to waist ammo so the militants bashed them in the heads to kill them. You walk among the pits of former mass graves. You tread on bits of clothing peaking through the dirt; the remnants of these people who were slaughtered here. One mass grave was all infants and young children. Another was all women with no heads. You got your fair share of heads though. Or skulls rather. The Buddhist monks built a temple for the slaughtered victims of the Khumer Rouge. Inside the temple is a glass case of shelves where bones and skulls are just haphazardly piled upon each other. The glass casing is open in many areas and if you were disrespectful enough you could easily reach in and fondle the skulls and bones of these massacred people. Apparently, and I’m not positive if this is why but, the Buddhists believe the spirits need to be free to move on or something, so they can’t fully seal up the skulls and bones. They have to leave openings for the spirits to get out. It was all so… disturbing… and enraging.

That afternoon we left for less affecting and troubling scenery. We took off for Sihanoukville… aka the beach.