Doug's Vietnam

Letter from Cambodia

Van's Qui Nhon
Van's Welcome page and Saigon resturant list
Vietnam Travel Guide
SE Asia links
Phu Quoc Island - A trip to old school Vietnam
Life in Vietnam photos
Saigon for the Marco Polo in all of us
The motorbike way
Reunification Express - Saigon to Da Nang
Phu Cat air base then and now
Gia My's photos - Phu Quoc Island
Bus and boat to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Letter from Cambodia
Bangkok, Thailand
Phu Cat Air base links


A few days ago, I arrived in Sihanouk Ville and found a place to stay across from Ochhoeteal Beach at the Seaside Hotel.  It's an Ok place but maybe a little over priced at $30.00 a night. However, breakfast was included and it located directly across from what seems to be the best beach in the area. Though, to me after all the hype I had read about this being a big contender for Thailands beach crowd, I was a little disappointed.  Ochhoeteal Beach is comprised of a narrow strip of powdery yellow sand with a backdrop of very basic bamboo structures selling everything from food to massages while chickens, dogs and sundry other folk wonder by. 

The beach is kind of eerie in that it lacks the jetsam and flotsam, we aging beachcombers enjoy kicking through, there werent even any  boats to watch pass. However, there is great, inexpensive seafood available from that strip of bamboo restaurant fronts - though they are not easy to reach, especially at night. First you must cut across a rather untidy strip of no mans land to reach the beach, and then trek up the beach, through the sand cruising to find your perfect alfresco dinning spot.

Cambodians are super nice folk but the ugliness of poverty has altered many of their lives. For example in to reach the beach you must pass through a clutch of independent business folk intent on selling their way out of poverty. I've spent a lot of time in some of the poorer areas of SE Asia and the Americas, but I found the extent of poverty here very troubling. For example: one day walking across that stretch of non mans land on my way to the beach a kid approached me asking for money and I handed him my bottle of spring water instead. The picture I have of him in my mind showing off this grand catch to his friends will stay with me always. Often we forget that in many countries being poor means, among other things, not even having access to clean drinking water. 

In Cambodia's past, the people and the country suffered devastating loses under the Khmer Rouge regime. Yesterday, I visited two sights that are terrifying reminders of the Khmer Rouges rein. I hired a motorbike to take me to the Killing Fields and then on our return to Phnom Penh I visited the school the Khmer Rouge renamed Tuol Sleng or S-21 Prison.

The killing fields and S-21 Prison are historical markers attesting to the gruesome acts man is capable of committing. Even more interesting and unnerving is that from all outward appearances of the areas you might never guess its horrific history.

The Killing Fields is a moderate sized area in a peaceful neighborhood on the edge of Phnom Penh, bordered by mature shade trees and with the backdrop of a pleasant pond. As I climb off the back of the motorbike, I ask my driver which way I should walk and he just gives me a funny look and says "just look around" and Im thinking whats the big deal, thinking about finding a museum. As I wonder down a path thinking about one more stale museum, I glance down to see an off-white piece of something poking through the dirt. God damn, a jawbone with a lonely tooth attached working its way to the surface, and as I look around human bones and clothes from the victims were visible elsewhere as they also worked their way out of the ground. There were the stacks of skulls randomly piled around, the tree they used to smash the young children and babys heads against until dead, the mass grave of 850 decapitated bodies. Most of the dead were killed with hoes and shovels to save bullets, and as proof, you can see the smashed skulls stacked up. The mass graves that were uncovered contained thousands of bodies and only a small number of them were actually dug up. As I walked, a man and his water buffalo cooled off in the water of the pond with in sight of the graves and human remains as if unaware of the horrific acts that took place 30 some years ago.  Maybe in his mind he was in the countryside, far away from the living proof around him of death and destruction of the past. I don't know what his deal was, other than enjoying the cool pond. Who knows how minds work when forced to deal with these horrific realities.

Then there were the photos at Tuol Sleng Prison, those sad photos of young and old people, babies, women, men. Those eyes, all so sad, those sweet looking faces, all death now, some starved or tortured to death or just killed for fun. Whole families, babies, mom's, dads, lawyers, doctors, students, laborers, teachers, and even a few westerners killed. To think what I am viewing are just small exerts from the photo records the Khmer Rouge maintained of the people put to death. 

I didn't sleep so good last night; this bothered me more than I though. Other than that, I am having a great time.

Got to go, they are closing up the internet shop.