Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Thoughts on SE Asia thus far

IT has taken me a very long time to get the ball rolling on my description of my experience thus far in Asia. I think that there are a number of reasons for my late beginning. The easiest is that there has been no time. Pretty much every waking (and a lot of resting) moment has been spent doing som sort of activity. I think that the real reason is that it has taken me a couple of weeks being here to really be able to grasp the surroundings enough to relay them on. All of my travels to this point had been in western countries. Of course there are some major differences in the cultures, but for the most part life is the same. The landscapes were adorned with the same types of grasses and trees. Even the dirt was the same. Everywhere I went made up what is described as “Western Culture.” Things are different here. I guess I could call it “Eastern Culture,” but I still have not figured out exactly what that means. There are the obvious thins like the language 9of which I do not speak a single word), the writing (no idea there either). The problem is that that is not it. Maybe It is not for me to figure out just accept and adapt. Maybe that is what it means to be a traveler.

This is a brief recount of the trip so far

Well, back on the road again. It was a it longer break from traveling than i initially planned. But with barely one week of planning I managed to finagle my way on to a cheap flight and with another GAP group through Southeast Asia.
I arrived in Bangkok at around Mid night after a 27 hour day of travel that wasn't quite as bad as it sounds.. I managed to score a few seats in a row on the plane and was able to spread out a little bit. After a few hours of sleep I met up with the group for the eight hour drive to Cambodia. The group consists of me, Lek, the tour leader from Thailand, Mike from Belfast, Ben from Australia, Alexandra from Switzerland, Inez from Germany, Tom and Emma from England, Kieth from England, Alicia from Whales, and Dan and Melissa from Chicago , but living in Doha, Quatar.. The age range is between 20 to 52.. Of the people on the trip, Only Mike, Ben, Kieth, Alicia, Lek and I are continuing all the way to Loas.
Of the travels that I have done so far, Asia is the most different and difficult to adjust to. It is n ot just the language and the writing, it is the society and customs. Latin America had it s differences, but for the most part, it is very similar to the US, this place is like a whole new world to me.
Our First stop in Cambodia was Siem Reap home of Ankor Wat and several other Buddhist/ Hindu temples built between 900 and 1200 AD. Our tour of the temples started with a 5 am pick up to head to Ankor Wat to see the sunrise. Even before the sun rise it was hot and very humid. By 7 am it was around 94 degrees with 100 percent humidity. Our tour consisted of several breaks throughout the to allow everybody to rehydrate so that we could go out and sweat it out all over again. The temples were very impressive. Pretty much every wall in Ankor Wat is adorned with intricate carved frescoes telling tales of triumph for the king who built the it. We payed to have a guide take us through the ruins and describe the history behind all of the things we saw. I've found that many times these tour guides are a bit loong winded for my short attention span, to this one add extreme heat and a very thick Cambodian accent. I think my advice to someone else would e buy on of the $1 books from the thousands of locals selling them throughout and go through at your own pace. Siem Reap appears to have come a long way over the last several years. there are some very posh looking hotels and condos scattered throughout the area. I had trouble figuring out exactly how these places prospered considering the fact that a couple of days was more than enough time to see everything.
From Siem Reap we had a 9 hour bus ride to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Phen. It is a decent sized cit y of around 2-3 million people. It was also my introduction to what I like to call scooter frogger. Traffic laws are optional so far in SE Asia, and, judging from the way people ride, stopping a moped must be detrimental in some way. So, if you want to cross a street, the only way to do so is pick your spot and go and and never stop moving, either laterally of horizontally, never stop moving.
Cambodia has a very dark recent history and is the site of one of the most horrific genocides in history. In the early to mid seventies the country was controlled by a faction called the Kamir Rouge. Their goal was to return to Cambodian routes and create idealistic agrarian society. The plan for doing so was to murder all those who had the education and courage to speak against the ideals of the ruling force. The Kamir Rouge began by clearing out the cities. Sending millions of refugees to the countryside. They then began getting rid of slaughtering teachers, college professors, journalists, doctors, lawyers, ect. Not only were the head of the family killed, but also their wives, children, parents, and in many cases brothers and sisters for fear of retalliation in the future. We saw the SK 21 prison where people were held and tortured before they were sent to the killing field about 4 miles outside of the city. The prison is pretty much the same as it was back in the seventies and the rooms are filled with the mug shots of all of the men women and children who were held there. Only four of the over ten thousand people who were held there survived either the prison or the killing field. There are 14 gravestones of the last fourteen people to be killed by the prison guards just before the prison was overtaken by rebel forces. The beds on which they were shot are still in the cells and photos of the decayed bodies are hung on the wall. It is the most horrifying place I have ever seen.
Much more somberly, we went to the killing fields. Immediately you notice the pagoda shrine built to honor the dead. the nine story shrine is filled with the exhumed remains of the 80 plus mass graves found on the site. The first three floors of the pagoda are stacked with the 9500 skulls the other six are stacked with the bones that have been found so far. Next on to the killing tree where guards would nonchalantly smash the heads of babies before they threw on their mother's already lifeless body the graves. The rest of the tour is a blur. I was in shock for the next couple of days. I have never been to Auschwitz or any other concentration camp, but I cannot imagine a more cruel place and time in history.


1 comment: said...

I don't think you encouraged me to make Cambodia the top of my travel agenda. Wow! Mom