Aushwitz along the Mekong

Phuket Thailand
27 December 1997
e-Searching. Computer time is 60 Baht per hour, 150 when I'm on-line...


Download from lonelyplanet.com

Commercial flights to Phnom Penh were temporarily suspended following the July 1997 coup-de-tat. Limited flights have since recommenced to Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), But connections are not reliable. Phnom Penh's Pochentong airport terminal was destroyed in the fighting, so don't expect to wait around for your flight in an executive lounge.
Even before the violence of July 1997, Cambodia was no picnic; a decision to travel there now would be courageous at best. All visitors are advised to register their presence with their embassy and seek advise on the current security situation. Non-essential travel outside Phnom Penh and Ankor should be avoided. Although the danger of being kidnapped and murdered by the Khmer Rouge may have waned with the organization's collapse, banditry is widespread and foreigners have been particularly targeted...


Download from the U.S.Department of State
Cambodia - Travel Warning
October 31,1997

The Department of State recommends that U.S. citizens defer non-essential travel to Cambodia. While political tension in Cambodia has lessened since the July 5, 1997 crisis, there is still potential for political violence and criminal incidents. There has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of armed robberies and assaults, often during daylight hours. In several cases, victims, including Americans and other foreigners, have been robbed and then shot. Recently, two Americans died due to robberies and criminal activity...


13 January 1998
0630 Pick up from Hotel Sintawee
0800 Flt.TG-340 Phuket to Bangkok
1215 Flt.TG-696 Bangkok to Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

I'm sick as a dog... Somehow I make the flights... The airport ordeal is pretty simple. Down the ramp, across the blistering tarmac to a low building serving as a temporary reception hall. Then an asian-style que to get the visa (Elbow your way to the front and wave your papers and money in some officials face until he takes notice, but be polite...). Wait forever for the bags to show up. No visible customs control, but plenty of smilely, mildly aggressive touts pushing their hotel or van to town. And a lot of kids selling the three English language papers. I buy a month old issue of the Bayon Pearnik.

"Hobbies, in and around Phnom Penh"
Bayon Pearnik, December 1997, Page 4

I chose the Beauty Inn as it seems central. And the price is in my range for the services I want... 28 bucks for the two of us, Hot Water, AC, Satellite TV, and an ice box... The van to town is 7 bucks.

We have entered the dollar zone. People use Riels but the U.S.Dollar is preferred. Like in Viet-Nam and the Lao PDR people use dollars for everyday trade, not just for hoarding.

Click to see an enlargement...
Central Market
Built by the French in the 1930's.

Phnom Penh is a flat, low-rise city of a million people with not one operational traffic light. Traffic (Swarms of 50 & 90 cc taxi/motorbikes and NGO-mobiles, large suburban-assault-vehicles with an equally large and impressive NGO flag fluttering on their butts.) slow at major intersections and weave their way, like schools of fish swimming through each other, to the other side. Knots of heavily armed "police" lurk in the shade near by, not to enforce any traffic rules but to keep order (and perhaps extract a few bribes) when the inevitable fender-bender becomes a brawl. After more than twenty years of civil war and chaos hand-grenades are insanely easy to come by...

Note..."ROAD RULES... If there are any road rules in Cambodia it is doubtful that anyone is following them." Lonely Planet Cambodia Travel Survival Kit

The reception desk for the Beauty Inn is in the rear of a Chinese restaurant that reeks of glue. They are using the stuff to hang fresh wallpaper, or it may be on the menu. The porter shows us to a large clean room on the second floor, overlooking Preah Sihannouk Boulevard. I particularly like the girlie pictures (Penthouse June 1993) framed on the walls. The bathroom is equally large and clean. I tell the porter that we'll take the room, kick the bathroom door shut, and engage in five minutes projectile volmiting. By the time I emerge, Cindy has found the frig has been stocked with Mekong Whisky and 7-UP... and the hotel porters understand Thai for ice. I feel better, and it's time to find something to smoke...

Tuoi Tom Pong Market is a square block of dingy stalls sweltering under low ragged brown tarps, two blocks south of Mao Tse Toung Boulevard. It's the standard Asian market, with all the rice vendors in one area, vegetable vendors in another, shoes over here and stationary over there. The animal parts section is subdivided into barnyard, urban, and endangered... As I approach the ladies with tobaccos piled high, they all sing out, "Ghanga Mister Ghanga Mister Ghanga Mister Ghanga...". How do these old girls know my name? What the hell, I decide to make the best of it. They start showing

Three Bucks Worth

me bags of some real trash smoke. This must be what they try to sell to the hated Viet-Namese. After some joking better stuff starts to appear. One toothless old girl has pre-rolled joints (they look like fat Camels), twenty-three to a pack. I take three packs, that's sixty-nine joints. Someone else has a brick of some nice smelling Thai. I have her cut me a 100 gram piece (For those who are metrically challenged, that's more than three and a half ounces...) and toss in half a dozen joints of the Thai, just to sweeten the deal. I pay them a total of three bucks for the smoke and two more bucks for the Stones' "Bridges to Babylon" CD (hot off the presses...). With all this high finance I have attracted two beggars, landmine victims. I find my wad of "bum money" and peal them each 300 Riels. I step out of the market, into the sun, and light a joint... I feel like Daddy Warbucks. The tobacco ladies, the beggars and I, all feel great.

Note... BEGGARS...

In southern Asia many people believe in compassion and giving alms. Money is given to those in need and the giver gains merit for the after life... A sub-culture of beggers exists to service the merit gaining needs of the population. No beggers, no merit to be gained.

India: there are beggers at every stop and will hassle travelers relentlessly. If you gave to every beggar they would clean you out before you could leave the airport.
Bangkok: beggars are poor peasants (each with a baby) shipped in from up-country and are working a two/three month hitch for a local Mafia... The beggers get about 10% of their take. Much more than they would make on the farm, in the dry season, doing nothing...
Nepal: people will approach you with a snotty nosed kid on their hip and a hand full of medical bills from the local hospital...Works good.
Sri Lanka: the scam is a school for the deaf or blind... The problem after the third or fourth time you hear the same story, even I catch on.

In general I'm pretty hard when it comes to beggars. You have gotta have a real disability, missing limbs and the like, to put the touch on me...

Kampuchea there are a lot of landmines and a lot of blown-up people. In a country with no social services, if you happen to survive an encounter with a landmine, you have two choices... you can go to the temple and beg, or you can beg in the market. You can see travelers, clutching their day packs and jewlery in fear of some poor blown-up bastard, who is simply offering his services as a vehicle for gaining merit... For a measly 100 Riels (thirty U.S. cents) the traveler could gain some much needed merit and the beggar could get a little closer to that next bowl of rice...

Click to see an enlargement...
Foreign Correspondents Club

The buildings that face on to the river are three and four story colonial blocks. Here are the Foreign Correspondents Club and some western style restaurants. The pizza places use ghanga to spice up their product. The choice is, do you want your pizza "Happy" or "Verry Happy". Sitting on a third floor varranda, in the breeze, eating a mildly amused pizza and watching the river traffic, is a worthwhile afternoon.

Figuring she had just about enough of me, Cindy went out for a walk... As she neared the Victory Monument a listing, overloaded truck backfired. Looking around she realized that people around her were picking themselves off the ground and dusting themselves off. "If you can keep your head, while all around others lose theirs... Perhaps, you have failed to grasp the gravity of the situation."

In Kampuchea there is the belief in Aspra, erotic female spirits that give endless pleasure to men in the afterlife... As I settled into my seat at a restaurant I noticed four nice looking young ladies in colorful costumes, weaving through the tables towards me. Lining up before my table, each in turn bowed, folding their hands as in prayer, and said "Bir Bayon", "Bir Sing", "San Miguel Bir", "Kloster Bir". I noticed the last was wearing a decidedly Germanic outfit. I thought I had died... gone to heaven (perhaps Valhalla), and before me stood the first flight of Aspras (I eyed the Valkyrie with suspicion). I was relieved to find out, they were the infamous "Kampuchean Beer Girls" and I didn't have to die to use their services... my gold-card would work just fine.

To get to Siem Riep and Ankor Wat...

The Train... It's usually attacked and often doesn't come out the other end. Kampuchians take it only if they must and at their own peril. Foreigners will not be sold tickets...

The High Speed Boat... There's no boat since they stopped letting the westerners take the boat. When it did run, "... some of the express boats are probably accidents waiting to happen and get shot at from time to time by Vietnamese fisherpeople armed with AK-47s. Breakdowns are frequent, and can be relied on to occur in the middle of the Tonle Sap Lake at unswimmable distances from the nearest Khmer Rouge-infested mangrove." Lonely Planet Cambodia Travel Survival Kit

Royal Air Cambodge... makes the 45 minute hop to Siem Riep for a mere $110.00 USD. The windows on the aging twin-engine turbo-prop may be scratched up, but the view of the "Khmer Rouge-infested mangroves" from 20,000 feet... priceless.


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