Thursday, March 23, 2006

Carpooling Cambodian Style

If you fancy driving in a 9 person van (no belts or AC) with 17 people, or if you fancy driving amid fumes so toxic that you happily wear a mask, or if you fancy driving on streets where people drive in complete anarchy, then CAMBODIA is for you! yes, Gino and I made our two day egress from Ko Samet to Phenom Phen, Camobia's Capitol city, on March 22nd. In the states, the trip probably would've taken 2 hours, but in Cambodia, where most of the roads are dirt, meaning the overloaded van can only drive 40mph, it took about 9 hours. It was one of the more eye opening experiences of the trip. Our friend, Tony the godfather, made the analogy that going from Thailand to Cambodia is a bit like going from the US to Thailand--things are simply more rugged and significantly less developed.

Despite the insanity of driving in Phenom Phen, the city is actually pretty awesome and Gino and I have had a fantastic 24 hours exploring it. We started this morning by hiring a tuk tuk driver for the entire day. He took us to a gun range way outside of the city where we shot AK47s. Gino, who has never seen a real gun before, promptly urinated himself upon sight of the range. Nonetheless, we both had a go with the machine guns, which was good for a thrill. Unfortunately, we didn't have a enough cash on us for the surface to air missle launcher session. Something to look forward to in the future.

Afterwards we took the tuk tuk to the infamous Khmer Rouge killing fields of Choeung Ek, where Pol Pot's regime slaughtered and buried in mass graves about 40,000 people. There is stupa (seen below) erected on the field to commemorate the tragedy. Inside are stories upon stories of skulls that were deinterned from the mass graves a few years later by the Vietnamese. From there we visited the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. The former Tuol Sleng Prey High School was turned into prison S-21 (Security Office 21) by the Khmer Rouge, it became Cambodia’s biggest and most infamous detention center and torture chamber – more than 17,000 people were held and interrogated here before being taken for execution to the killing fields of Choeung Ek. We saw the the cells where prisoners were detained, as well as instruments used for torture and displays of records and photographs of victims. The experience was chilling and one we will never forget.

In need of a change of pace, we went to a nice Cambodian lunch for a dollar each. Then we walked around the Russian market where every chachki known to man is sold, but it mostly consisted of cheap clothing, jewelry, cambodian silk serongs, and electronic goods.The meat section was particurlarly foul (below).Some of you lucky readers may be receiving some of these aforementioned trinckets/clothes upon our return.

The rest of the day was spent chilling the OKAY guesthouse drinking banana shakes and talking with random guests. Chris, an early 30s Brit who has been teaching in Phenom Phen for 2 years, gave us the 411 on the city. After showing us the 8 inch sword gash across his chest and other scars on his back, which he received in fights on the streets, he proceeded to tell us about how safe the city is for tourists (the government is cracking down on gang violence, particularly against tourists.)Unafraid after our pep-talk with Chris, Gino and I ventured out on the town. The bars were nice, but the crowd wasn't our scene. It was a bit reminiscent of Pattaya, only to a lesser degree.

It was a tremendous first day. Gino and I feel at home among the Cambodians already.


At 7:58 AM, Blogger Christopher Loftus said...

Great Update! Ok I want the email telling me all the details! Wow! Looks like fun! I am home in the States, outstanding ski trip with the family!!!
Thinking about you two, be safe!

At 9:30 AM, Blogger Davide said...

I was beginning to wonder if the blog stopped and them BAM. 3 blogs. I am so jealous. Gino, just so you know, got 14 inches of snow last week, and not today is 61. Perfect spring skiing conditions. Going to take my boy tomorrow. Be good, be safe!


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