Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Pictorials contiune - Cambodge to Vietnam

A few more of Angkor even though you've seen enough.

This last one was a huge fountain and baths in its day. If you look closely you can see that its actually two snakes intertwined and eating each other... kewl. I'm thinking of getting one for the front yard when I get back.

Phenom Penh. When I went to the Killing Fields I wasn't going to take any pictures. However, when I got there I thought I'd take one photo for myself to remind me of how the history of this country moved me so much and the feelings it evoked. I looked at those skulls thinking of the faces in the photos I'd seen at the Prison and when you can put a face to this horror, it makes you ache. I wasn't going to put this picture up but changed my mind, not sure why. I saw news on this very subject today. Cambodians, as Buddhists, believe that a dead person's soul cannot be freed until they are cremated and by not undertaking the proper last rites, these souls live on the earth. The Government feels that these displays are necessary to remind the world of the terrible crimes and genocide that happened here. I can see both sides as I'd like the souls to be free but no one should forget this.

Anyhow, remember I mentioned a traffic jam. This was the cause of it, an overturned truck, it took us an hour to get to it. The insane thing about it, even though our tuk tuk was in a line of trucks, most Cambodians ride motos so there was absolute chaos as they mounted foot paths while performing fantastical feats of moto riding dexterity to get around it. We were stuck, in dusty 36 degree heat with the smoke from roadside food stalls wafting all over us. If you look closely, you can see the silly Barang (tourists) taking photos of it. I wasn't one of them, I was photographing them taking photos of the crash in a postmodern representation on the stupidity of tourism. Really. None of the locals pointed and laughed at me. Really. Not really.

This picture shows a little of the chaos but it was impossible to capture the insanity of it. The fun thing was that we ended up taking a back route which I think tourists rarely take so there were lots of strange looks from the local adults and lots of waving and "hellos" from kids. At this point, I had donned a scarf (a Kramie, a local all purpose Cambodian scarf) to protect me from the dust. Although Ruth had exactly the same look, little kids pointed and laughed at me. I don't know why, I thought I looked pretty cool. Photos of this phenomenon will have to come later.

Saigon: I finally got to read an Australian news paper and it was all good news. Howard behind in the polls, Howard forced to talk about David Hicks, those arsehole James Hardie executives charged for trying to get out of paying compensation to asbestos victims. ALL GOOD NEWS. I didn't get a photo of my favourite headline, over a picture of a dejected looking Australian cricket team, the headline read "HUMILIATED." Oh how I laughed... and laughed... even as I type this I'm still laughing.

We arrived just in time for Tet, the celebration of the new year and memorial of the Tet Offensive from the American War. The city was beautiful, flags and communist propoganda everywhere and dragons made out of oranges. We expected a big, big celebration. However, tet for us consisted of 15 minutes of fireworks, Abba's "Thank you for the music" being blasted at teeth shattering volume and then the city closing down for a week. That was pretty much it.

Well, not quite it. They had dragon dancers who went to banish bad spirits from local businesses. The bad spirits were represented by the guy in the mask. Oh yeah, those dragons beat the shit out of that guy.

Next up, the Reunification Palace. When the tanks rolled through the front gates in 1975, the President immediately gave up basically saying to the VC "here's the keys to the executive toilet... enjoy." He had only been in power for 43 hours because the previous head of state had seen the writing on the wall and to quote the song "got the fuck outta dodge." The place is a living relic as very little has been changed or moved since that day. Its like the place has stopped in time hence the desk still waiting for the Americans to phone saying they're sorry for invading and then abandoning the South Vietnamese to be slaughtered or live as second class citizens for the next twenty years (simplified version of complex politics).

It also had some of the president's possessions including his lucky elephant foot umbrella stands... eww!

They also had a section dedicated to international politicians who have visited the Palace including this guy "President of the Lower House of Australia, his excellency Bophanvercon." Good old Bop, he did some great work.

We also went to the War Remnants Museum which has very confronting images of the war such as photos of victims of napalm and agent orange. I don't know how tourists can react to it apart from thinking "my god, we were a bunch of arseholes." Anyhow, complex politics again made simple when they're not, I know, I know. I did like the section dedicated to peace and had examples of protests of the time and a number of peace gestures since then. This photo is from a protest in Sydney. Good on ya kids, you made me proud: war is indeed stupid, pointless, and fucked.

Sunset over Saigon. I'll have a mojito thanks...

We then moved onto Mui Ne which was basically 11km of beach with hotels and guesthouses along it. Its a bit of a hotspot for kite surfers because they get all the winds from the Phillipines apparently. This was the view from our beach front bungalow. Yes, beach front bungalow. I liked watching them but there was one guy who kept speeding in and jumping over anyone who was swimming. That guy was a dick.

Sunset over Mui Ne. More mojitos please.

Sunrise over Mui Ne. The one thing about this place is during the day it is the domain of sunburnt tourists and dickish kite surfers but at night the locals come out to fish the bay. They trawl from the shore and there are probably about eighty boats out in the bay. By the time the first lazy tourist has woken up they're long gone. It really is beautiful.

We left Mui Ne yesterday. It was nice to be a place where there wasn't much to do. We went to some amazing white sand dunes that reminded me of this video. I've been singing this song ever since. Sadly, the photos aren't ready to be put up yet. We're now in Dalat, a holiday town in the central highlands ("number 1 domestic tourist destination and honeymooner capital of Vietnam") that was not bombed during the American war because of an agreement between the VC and the Southern Vietnamese. Apparently both groups had chalets up here. The generals would come up for holidays and plan their next war strategies, often at the same time. Weird.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Thailand through Cambodia - pictorials are back mofos!

At the base of a statue dedicated to a local Mae Hong Son hero, people left offerings of horses and elephants. I was tempted to play horsey with them but after some thought, I figured it was inappropriate.

Mae Hong Son was my favourite place in Thailand. This is a picture of it just as night was falling. Chilled vibe, lovely people, markets and food stalls by the lake every night. Brilliant! (Did I say chilled vibe? I feel like my capacity to speak has been taken over by a 20 year old hippie... WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?!)

This is Malon, we met her in her village on the Burmese border. She was lovely and Ruth and her chatted for a while. (There's a long dialogue that goes here about the politics of visiting hill tribes, military check points, the dispossessed of Burma, refugee camps and the incredibly complex situation of the Thai/Burma border but... ahh another time.)

Malon then rocked us to our very souls with a beautiful folk song.

Being in Thailand, we felt we had to ride an elephant. Yes, animal lovers, we enslaved a magnificent beast for half an hour to get our tourist thrills. How was it? Kind of uncomfortable and that the elephant demanded food every three steps was kind of annoying. Sadly none of the shots of us on the elephant turned out that well but here's one of Ruth feeding the little beggar post ride.

The three Buddhas of Guantanamo, Chiang Mai.

One thing I loved about Thailand was there were dogs everywhere. They sleep in the middle of intersections; they follow you around; they roam free without fences and boundaries. Frankly, the dogs of Thailand don't give a fuck and I love them for it. I was going to put lots of pictures of dogs up but its seems a bit excessive. I'll save that for slide night when I get home.

Although I couldn't resist this one for some reason.

Anyhow, onto Siem Reap, Cambodge. The obligatory tourist shot in front of Angkor Wat. You know you love it even though its a terrible photo!

Some shots of Angkor Wat... urm great.

The pictures above are from one of my favourite temples. Each section represented a different level of being. The lower level was hell, the middle being earth and the top one was heaven. Heaven consisted in a bunch of rectangular columns with a huge head on each side. Impressive much. Haven't got my handbook so don't know what its called but it was pretty.

This temple is famous for the tree roots pushing through the buildings BUT also where Angelina Jolie shot Tomb Raider and no doubt adopted fifteen children at the same time. I don't know what was more exciting, these amazing temples or that I was walking in the footsteps of Angelina!

You might think the life of an international jetsetter is all glamour, photo shoots and cocktails at sunset. But we work hard for it. One day at Angkor plus sunscreen and mosquito repellant produced this level of filth on our feet.

Sunset over Siem Reap. Where's my frickin' cocktail biatch?

In Saigon. Leaving soon.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Three things I know to be true

1. Khmer food is plausibly the tastiest food on the planet.

2. English subtitles to western films in Asian countries are the best. Did that bird really call Happy Feet "a motherfucker"? Did they really write "black bastard" when the guy said "block buster"? Yes they did. Brilliant.

3. You haven't been in a traffic jam until you've been in a Cambodian traffic jam.


Quick note. This is the last day in Cambodia and I love it here. It has been a profoundly moving experience being here and I'll think I'll come back. Anyhow, back to 'Nam tomorrow, I can hear those choppers a calling. I can't believe I made it to the end of my trip to Cambodia without mentioning the Dead Kennedies... oh shit.

PS two crazy kids I know have just got engaged but not sure if that's information for the entire world. Anyhow, my heartiest congratulations J&B, you know who you are, very happy for you both x

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Universal

So today I went to visit Tuol Seng prison in Phnom Penh. It was formerly a school but when the Khmer Rouge rolled into town it was converted into a prison/torture centre. Grim doesn't begin to describe it.

You start the tour walking through rooms with single steel beds on them equipped with metal restraining posts for prisoners. Overlooking the beds are portraits of the last vctims of that area which were found when the Khmer Rouge were overthrown. Shackled to their beds and set alight to burn to death. Next is a list of rules which is basically a bunch of rules like "While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry out at all." The next section is hundreds (hundreds!) of photos of men, women and children, arms restrained, sunken dark eyes in the back of their heads looking at you. Some are battered, some are crying some have quiet resignation in their faces, some of the kids are smiling. All of them are dead. Its about here you try to choke back tears.

And it goes on and you get a peek at what happens when you pass from the heart of darkness into the realms of pure, unrelenting evil. I don't know the madness that leads to a million people (conservative estimate) being killed within a four year period from mass executions, overwork and starvation. The paranoia that gripped the Khmer Rouge leaders which led to the death of anyone of being anti-revolutionary (even the loyalist soldiers) but not stopping there, killing their families, their children, even waiting until a pregnant woman gives birth THEN killing her and her newborn. Its beyond fucked up, beyond such rational thought. The soldiers were forced to work the prison or be killed as traitors, the thousands of people taken to the killing fields and bludgeoned to death to save bullets. There was no way out no matter what you believed. Death, death, death, everywhere.

And then to read this in the comments book:

"Cambodia has changed over the last few years to be a wonderful free place because of the truth and the word being sent out to the world. Cheer up!"

Cheer up? I guess they missed the photos of the slaughtered children. Fucking moron.


Wow, what a downer. The fucking moron is right in one respect, Cambodia is indeed a wonderful place. The people are lovely and the country itself is a crazed mishmash of its dark history and ultimate resilience through time to multiple invasions, occupations and its own internal politics. A true eye opener but no photos today. Too much today.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Insert obscure pop culture reference here

Insert small description of where you are and what's happening.

Insert witty comment about the cultural aspects of the place.

Insert comment taking the piss out of myself.

Insert vaguely amusing anecdote here.

Insert vaguely amusing anecdote but then follow it up with a serious comment.

Insert insightful cultural observation here.

Insert final commentary on how you loved it and where you're going next.

Insert PS about something irrelevant

PS heading back to Bangkok tomorrow and then onto Cambodia from the 8th so this will be the last of the pictorials for a while. I'm yet to cover Chiang Mai and an amazing trip to Mae Hong Son. There's also my shots of the dogs of Thailand who are a constant source of amusement for me but that'll have to wait. Laters, no more internets for me for a while...

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ghost in the sky

Ayutthaya - more pictorials

Our arrival in Ayutthaya was a bit of a problem. Arriving late in the afternoon every decent room within the city had been taken. Remember that scene in Trainspotting where it says something like "the dirtiest toilet in Scotland" or something to that effect, this was the "the dirtiest room in Ayutthaya." At the bottom of a building, the air vents were connected to a carpark and there was an unusual odour of sewerage everywhere. Whenever anything happens, good or bad, Ruth tends to make up songs* including one about the room which goes to the theme of Spiderman:

Skanky room,
Skanky room,
We hate you,
You smell like poo.

I guess you had to be there but we sung it for days afterward. Sadly, there is no photo but the upside of this was the skanky guesthouse that provided us a skanky room organised a night tour of the wats.

I like this photo of me in the tuk tuk heading out for the night so I thought I'd include it. The highlight of the tour was that we went to this one Wat just as it was closing and it was basically just us wandering around in darkness with no one but the stray dogs that roamed the place to keep us company. Very spooky but very moving and beautiful, it was hard to take photos but here's an attempt.

The next day we tried to replicate the bike riding fun of Kanchanaburi but it was a failure because it was even hotter and I was in charge of directions. Apparently, I'm not good with directions either and when you end up on the motorway on a push bike you know its time to quit. So I came home defeated and got food poisoning. Sadly no photos of that either.

However, the next day we went biking again and Ruth was in charge of directions after my total failure. We started with this guy.

I was tempted to put my head behind a beheaded Buddha like you would those old photo boards you find at the seaside in England. However, this sign dissuaded me.

I did my best to replicate the American Music Club cover but kinda failed...

Urm, here's a bunch of pretty pictures. The last one was a pretty amazing sight as a decapitated Buddha's head was embedded in the roots of the tree that had grown around it. It was pretty cool.

Apparently a few years ago, there was a huge lightening storm and a lightening strike went through the roof of the building and decapitated this Buddha. As the Buddha's head rolled around on the ground, I'm sure a lot of people were thinking "how did we piss this guy off?" They immediately built a bigger temple and his head has stayed on ever since. I'm not much of a believer in anything but even I think that's spooky.

We ended our time there doing a boat tour of the Wats and ended up at the one we started at the beginning but this time at Sunset. It was beautiful. (heaps more photos to put up but unfortunately dial up ain't the way to do it so more later).

* Ruth recently kicked my arse in backgammon even though she couldn't remember the rules. She sang a song about how she was the backgammon queen to which responded, "I will not have my misfortune put in tune."