Archive for January, 2005

Temples after torture

January 31, 2005 Leave a comment

Here we are in Siem Reap, ensconced in the Tokyo Guesthouse which has a crocodile pit next to it. We can look out our window and see about 25 crocs lazing about, occasionally grumbling but generally not doing much. Which is good.

The other day we went to Toul Sleng and the killing fields at Choeung Ek, just outside Phnom Penh. Toul Sleng was a high school until the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia, and they turned it into a prison/interrogation (torture) centre. Going there was a sobering experience to say the least. They have a gallery of the thousands of people interred there (about 17000 people all up). All bar 7 died in the place. That and the killing fields… well, I just don’t have the words to describe what it’s like and think of the absolute evil the Khmer Rouge visited on their fellow countryfolk. Men, women and kids of all ages, none were spared. It made me wonder what kind of threat they saw in pre-teen children and grandmothers. In one of the rooms at Toul Sleng, displayed with some examples of torture implements, were two damaged busts of Pol Pot. I had to fight a strong urge to kick them.

Siem Reap, fortunately, will provide a far more positive vibe. Temples and monuments of Hindu and Buddhist nature, the oldest being built in around 900AD, jungle growing around and occasionally through them. We’ve not seen Angkor Wat yet, today we had a look at Prasat Kravan, Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm. Amazing majestic structures built long long ago.

It kinda saddens me to think that I’m flying out of this region in 9 days. But I do miss home as well.

Hope everyone is doing well, I’ll be seeing some of you all in a few weeks.

Karsoe/Paul C.


Holiday In Cambodia

January 26, 2005 Leave a comment

The Sex Pistols said that…

Well, here we are in Phnom Penh, and the feeling is… dodgy. There are no ATMs in the entire country, and most of the streets in the city don’t seem to be paved. It reminds me of Vietnam in a way, complete with hassling by moto/cyclo drivers and vigorous tootling aplenty. The only thing that’s missing is the ominous feeling of Government everywhere. In Cambodia, it feels as though there is no system of anything. Almost lawless. We’re safe though, so don’t all start freaking out.

I just discovered that I have only 2 weeks until I depart. :( But we’ve still got a few big things on the agenda, namely a visit to the huge Khmer temples around Siem Riep. There are a few things around Phnom Penh we’ll look at first, things I think will fully smash me around. I’ll try and write about those if it’s possible.

So far we’ve had an interesting time of it. Bus ride at the crack of dawn from Trat (Thailand) to Koh Kong (sort of limbo between Thailand and Cambodia). The border crossing was the most chaotic yet, with about 20 Westerners trying to cross the border and three billion taxi and bus drivers competing for their business. We filled out a declaration stating that we didn’t have SARS and paid a 100 baht processing fee, got 17 different stamps on the passport, a cab to the ferry. The ferry was due to leave at 8:00am and there’s only one a day. We left the border checkpoint at 7:53. The driver stopped and said we could get money changed, baht to riel, but the ferry won’t leave for another twenty minutes, I promise. Jen changed US$100 into riel and got a block of cash back which made her look like the perpatrator of a bank heist.

Picture 127

True to his word, the ferry hadn’t left. About 4 hours later we were in Sihanoukville and battled another 16 million tuk-tuk/moto/cyclo drivers at the wharf, had passports checked again and got another cab to the New Paris Hotel. A grand old big clean cheap place. This country has a reputation for having a heavily armed citizenry, so Jen and I decided to start taking a “gunshots heard” tally that night. The score so far: a rather surprising 0.

Tonight we’re staying at the No. 9 Sister guesthouse at the lakeside on the recommendation of Liam and Cerri who I met in Vietnam. I’ve managed to locate all the places Liam mentioned to me so far and they’re all as wikkid as he suggested.

Cambodia feels very much like a dodgy place. Phnom Penh is the capitol of dodge. Brett, you should be mayor of this town. They have a music shop here which will rip, mix and burn CDs for you. They’ll also do MP3 format, mini-disc, whatever. DVDs too, I think. All for about US$1.50 a disc. Or you can swap your tunes with them.

That’s about it for right now y’all. Have a good Australia Day for those in .au, I’ll catch you later.

Take care ey!

– Paul C./Karsoe


January 24, 2005 Leave a comment

“Bloody hippies!” :)
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Well, as much as we liked Koh Chang (ants excluded), one of the things which disturbed up greatly was the state of one of the beaches near where we stayed. Bear in mind that this is a National Marine Park, and many of the beaches on the island are actually very clean and swim-in-able.

All the same, Jen and I embarked on a too-small cleanup operation of this beach yesterday before departing. There was a horrible black slick thing oozing over the surface of the water and we saw two deceased marine creatures on the beach. We also managed to collect the following from an area roughly 50 meters long and 10 wide (about a fifth of the total beachfront)…

Plastic bottles – 6
Tetra packs- 10
Instant coffee sachets – 4
Bits of styrofoam – 9
Plastic bags – 81
Shampoo bottle – 1
Instant noodle packets – 5
Asthma Inhaler – 1
String (varying lengths) – 41
Velcro strip – 1
Aerosol can (wood laquer) – 1
Cassette tape – 1
Miscellaneous bits of plastic – 108
Remains of pineapple – 1
Straws – 10
Hook/pole thing – 1
Bottle caps (plastic) – 2
Biscuit packet – 1
Candy wrappers – 11
Glass bottle (intact) – 1
Tin cans – 1
Crisps bags – 7
Rope (varying lengths) – 10
Pieces of balloon – 3
Cigarette packs – 2
Remnants of tarpaulin (buried, unremoveable) – 1
Broken glass – 15
Plastic cups – 3
Home-made broom – 1
Plastic spoon – 2
Cigarette lighter – 3
Bottle caps (metal) – 5
Sanitary wrapper – 1
Styrofoam containers – 2
Tarpaulin fragments – 2
Flip-flop/Jandal/thong – 1
Watermelon hald – 1
Laundry detergent bag – 1
Bundle of sticks tied together – 1
Egg shells – 3
Cooler/chilly bin/Esky – 1
Chilli pepper – 1
Wire cable – 1
Bits of wood with rusty nails in ’em – 2
Beer can – 1
Woven rice sack – 1
Strainer/colander – 1

City Of Angels

January 14, 2005 Leave a comment

Hello from Bangkok.

Officially known as Krung Thep.

More officially known as Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.

It seems as if any city known as the City Of Angels has a very long official name. Los Angeles, for example, is officially called El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porcincula.

Jen and I are still here, but have booked bus tickets to Koh Chang on the way to Cambodia. We head off tomorrow, ETA in Cambodia currently unknown. We have visas, that’s the main thing.

We’ve been having loads of fun exploring the city, finding new and cool placs for food and drink, visiting temples and other sacred areas (the pub for instance). :) And meeting some very friendly cats at a monastery. Getting a bit of writing done. And some reading. Letting the important lessons of life filter through my mind and into my heart. And also getting some tips on how to bring it all back to Australia with me and make it a part of my everyday life. That’s one thing I really hope to accomplish.

So yes, the amazing adventure continues. Not sure of the Internet situation in Koh Chang, but I’ll be sure to get in touch when I can.

Paul C./Karsoe

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Home again?

January 9, 2005 Leave a comment

Here I am, safe & sound and significantly less hung over than when last we met…

Getting on the Thai Air flight from Siagon was a little strange. I was greeted by the flight attendant with “Sawadee ka” and felt instantly comfortable. I could’ve only felt in more familiar surroundings if I’d stepped onto a Qantas plane and met with a “G’day”.

Landing in Bangkok 65 minutes later was also a very cool feeling. It really did feel as familiar as landing in Mascot.

Getting through to the outside world, however, was a total balls-up on my past. Knowing you could get a visa on arrival, I then proceeded to follow the completely wrong process and delayed my exit from the airport by an hour. Grr… I then got a taxi but failed to factor in the Friday arvo traffic. Another hour to the guesthosue Jen was staying in.

Seeing the tuk-tuks, Golden Mount, Democracy Momument, Grand Palace, and yes even Khao San Road filled me even more with a sense of coming home rather than landing in a foreign country. And while there’s a lot more traffic than in Vietnam, it’s also a lot quieter. No vigorous tootling of any kind. :)

FINALLY met up with Jen, we talked, we laughed, we ate some great food, we spoke vaguely about our next move to Cambodia, and we slept soundly. It was the first bit of quiet I’d had in 18 days. Magical.

This evening after dinner we found a department store and bought a kettle so we can enjoy the Vietnamese coffee I bought in Hué. Then bought a few more things from a nearby supermarket. The whole time it kept hitting me that this felt truly like where I lived. It was weird, but very cool.

[yawn!] I suspect I’m still somewhat knackered from my Vietnam adventure. :) So I’ll head off and wish you all a good night.

Foolish behaviour in Saigon

January 6, 2005 Leave a comment

Well, to be honest, this sort of foolishness would have taken place wherever there’s a gathering of Aussies and sufficient alcohol. And some classic OZ music.

Last night I chanced upon a bar called the Blue Gecko, which I heard was rather a cool place. Staffed by some very cute Veitnamese girls and patronised by a bunch of Westerners. I walked in, ordered a beer and noticed a green & gold autographed cricket shirt on the wall. Then I spotted a VB coaster, a few Ettamogah Pub cartoons on the walls.

Bloody hell, I thought, and I asked the girl behind the bar, “Is this an Australian pub?”

“Yes,” she said. “Where you from?”

“Sydney,” I replied, and laughed at the fact that of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, I had to walk into this one.

Struck up a conversation with some blokes from Melbourne who are now living here. The place was breifly invaded by a group of teenagers from the Gold Coast. I played, and had my arse kicked in, a few games of pool. Drank. Listened to some Cold Chisel, Hunters & Collectors, Crowded House (Ok, they’re Kiwi but we claimed them anyhow).

The Aussies on this spam list would probably be familiar with a song that came out about 20 years ago by a band called Redgum. The song is called I Was Only 19 (A Walk In The Light Green). It’s about a kid who gets shipped to Vietnam during the war and sees one of his mates get killed, and how he’s struggling with life back in the world. It’s a powerful song, and I’ve not heard it in a long long time. Being half-smashed in a bar in Saigon and hearing this was for me quite a moving experience.

Then they played Khe Sanh, and all felt right in the world. :) They also played Holy Grail, The Boys Light Up, Reckless… it felt really good to have that kind of familiarity for a while.

I drank a lot with 2 Vietnamese guys who now live in the US. Turns out that one of them is a sales rep for Tiger beer, hence we had quite a few freebies. :) At least I can justify my feeling like utter shite that way. I only spend about 125,000 dong all night, quite cheap really.

I somehow safely navigated the streets for 3 kilometers back to my guesthouse. I can barely remember getting there, I must’ve woke the owners to get in. I do remember apologising many times to them.

I was actually prepared to not like Saigon, given how noisy and intense I found most of the rest of the country. But I have to admit that I really like this town! Kind of reminds me of Sydney, strangely enough.

I’m flying back to Bangkok tomorrow to reunite with Jen, and today I’m too hung over (and it’s now too late in the day) for me to do a few things I wanted to. But I’ll be back at some point. :) It’s just up the road from home, innit?

Not a lot of spirituality in Saigon from me, I’ll admit. But I’m starting to learn now that once you’re on the Path you never really leave it. You might stop and rest for a while, but it’s still the Path.

So… having a blast, love you all, take care, all that bollocks. :)

Karsoe/Paul C.

“Tootle Him With Vigor” – Near-death experiences on the Roads in Vietnam

January 6, 2005 Leave a comment

“I know you won’t break the rules; there aren’t any.”
– Dr. Dealgood, ‘Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome’

If you ever need a sharp reminder of your own mortality, take a quick jaunt on Vietnam’s roads. And if you don’t invoke the name of a deity at least once, I’d be very surprised.

There are 3 factors involved in driving in Vietnam:

1. Maximum speed.
2. Use as much of the road as is deemed necessary.
3. Sound the horn at every available opportunity.

The third one, for me, was one reason for me thinking that this is the noisiest and most intense country anywhere.

A very good piece of advice (and also among my favourite examples of mangled English) comes from a dodgily translated brochure for a car rental company in Japan.

“When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.”

This is something the Vietnamese drivers have taken to heart. It’s considered very courteous driving practice to indicate your presence to all & sundry (I doubt this includes neighbouring countries, despite common opinion). This is done by “tootling with vigor” as you approach someone. Hence, even the smallest of towns can end up sounding like downtown Manhattan. The ubiquitous Honda Dream motor scooters aren’t too bad, but with a thousand of them it can be a bit daunting. They, at least, have a relatively subtle “beep beep” horn. Some of the larger trucks & buses sound as if they have the entire brass & woodwind section of the London Philharmonic Orchestra installed behind the grille.

My first night in Vietnam was spent sleeplessly in the town of Dong Ha, where the north-south running National Highway One intersects with Route 9 to the Laos border. Dong Ha seems to be the major venue for World Championship Vigorous Tootling contests, which start at about 5am and seem to abate at roughly 10:30pm. And it’s the same *everywhere* in Vietnam.

The tootling can get very vigorous indeed when overtaking occurs. Watching vehicles overtake in Vietnam is a very fun & exciting spectator sport, provided that you are at a respectable & safe distance. For this purpose, I recommend Mars.

If you’re unfortunate enough to actually be in one of the vehicles involved in such lunacy, this is when things start to get rather religious. especially if the overtaking is being done on a blind curve going up a steep mountain road while it’s raining. And it will be. Has been, even. The overtaking vehicle sounds it’s horn *constantly* while passing, and any oncoming traffic in the other lane will pull off the road as far as possible without any actual reduction in speed. Unless the oncoming vehicle is bigger than you, in which case your driver will jump on the brakes and duck back behind the vehicle he’s trying to overtake. This will be done at the last possible nanosecond, giving you ample time to count the number of bugs on the windshield of the truck you nearly had a head-on with.

And the truly frightening thing? They say it’s safer than flying…