Monday, October 10, 2016

Setting sail in Phnom Penh

Our Mekong River cruise kicked off in the capital of Cambodia on a brand new boat that launched last year. It was our first experience on a vessel this small and I must say I'd highly recommend it. We visited the Tonle Sap Lake via a cruise down the river. It reminded me of the mud gumbo waterways where I grew up in Southeast Texas. The poverty was pervasive, but the adults and kids we saw were hard at work making the most of the circumstances they were dealt.

Above you see a family planting rice by hand in the paddy. The great thing about this itinerary is that we got to see a mix of big modern cities and the local villages in the countryside. En route to the river, we passed by some interesting sights. I asked our guide about the liquor and soda bottles I saw displayed along the side of the road. He said it was a "drink" for the motor scooters that were a popular means of transport in the country, filled with gas for the tank on these back roads where you couldn't just pull into Buc-ee's. Folks back in Texas know what I'm talking about. The net and light rigging below that is all about snacking. At night the lights attract crickets and they fall into the water filled area beneath the plastic tarp. They're collected the following morning and fried up as a tasty treat.

The electricity poles were quite entertaining, weighed down with dozens of lines running to and fro.

I knew little about the Khmer Rouge, but got an earful on this tour. We visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school where prisoners of this sadistic regime were tortured and killed them in a bid to wring confessions and family member names from them. One of only a handful of prisoners that survived of the almost 18,000 housed here was onsite and I purchased his autobiography. I don't even want to think about the things he witnessed.

Next we toured the Killing Fields Memorial, where the you walk past the shallow pits where they executed and buried approximately 1.3M victims of the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror.

Friends and family know that I have a fascination with cemeteries. It's not ghoulish, but rather an interest in cultural rituals and art that memorialise the dead. The SE Asian version of mausoleums are called stupas. Many of them were quite colourful. 

Lastly are two final animal moments from our time around the capital, involving oxen and a dog. The dog in the pic belonged to a local silversmith we visited. He was chillin' while we learned how to tell the difference between solid silver vs silver-plate. The oxen were used to take us on a cart ride. The tour guide joked it was the local version of a Mercedes Benz.

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