Thursday, May 27, 2004

May 26th, 2004 - Journey from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Saigon, Vietnam

The bus journey was pleasant. There were no flat tires or rebel pirates attacking our bus to steal our backpacks full of dirty clothes. On the journey with me were a couple from England and a fellow American who I had met in my Guest House back in Phnom Penh. We chatted away about a certain individual that we were happy to leave behind and hopefully never seen again. I wont go into details but to give you an idea - this individual backpacker did not even know where the hell Saigon was.

That is all I will say about that.

The border crossing of Moc Bai looked like a bomb had destroyed the area. I felt as if the Vietnam War had never ended. There were muddy roads and scattered shack buildings. We got our exit stamps on our Cambodian visa's and then walked over into Vietnam to get our passport stamped for entry. The entire process took nearly 2 hours. And the afternoon sun and the humid heat did not add to our enthusiasm to go through this tiring immigration process.

In Lao and Cambodia I had heard from fellow backpackers of how ruthless and pushy the Vietnamese were. I had heard horror story after horror story of how backpackers had been cheated in many elaborate ways out of their money. As a result I was not looking forward to arriving into Saigon.

But before I get talking about Saigon I should mention that I had my money changed at the border. Since I was not careful at all at counting my Vietnamese dong I latter realized that the lady who changed my U.S. dollars had shorted me about $5 worth of dong.

Ohh well . . .

The first two thing that will shock you upon your entrance into Saigon are: One, the unbelievable number of scooters overcrowding all the roads crisscrossing this way and that with little regard for traffic lights or simple road rules.

Two, the size of the city. Saigon seems to stretch in all direction forever. There are no skyscrapers tearing apart the sky though. Most building are usually no more than 5 or 6 storeys.

Our bus dropped us all off on Bui Vien road which is also like the Khao San Road of Bangkok. It is a road full of back packer Guest Houses, travel agencies, and restaurants. No touts attacked us when we got off the bus. I was surprised. And as I went on my search for a Guest House with the friends I had traveled with in my bus we all found the Vietnamese to be very pleasant and apathetic of trying to sell us anything. As a result I immediately began to like Saigon. All through out Thailand and Cambodia I was harrassed to get into a Tuk Tuk or buy some illegally copied book, or T-shirt, or whatever. In Saigon there is far less of that.

After showering up in my immaculately clean single room I decided to walk around Saigon to see what I would happen upon. I found millions more scooters parading around all the streets, beautiful Vietnamese school girls wearing their traditional Vietnamese uniforms, Vietnamese food vendors - with their thatched cone hats - walking around and carrying two large steel pots that hung from the opposite ends of a long stick they placed on their shoulders. I also found two unusual buildings that I believe served as brothels. The buildings were extremely dark within but there was a neon sign on the outside advertising it as an Ice Cream store. But it was an uninviting place to get ice cream. As I stood watching the activity around these two buildings I realized that for its size (4 storeys), layout, and the men and women working outside of it that it was an up-scale brothel of some sort.

I walked a bit more and soon enough I ended up in a French Cafe eating a baguet sandwich and drinking some ice tea. I then retired to my room for the night.

May 25th, 2004 - Happy Pizza Relaxing Day

Today was uneventful and restful. The Happy Pizza I had had the night before had made me extremely tired and sluggish. I was in no mood to do anything today. I just wanted to rest and attempt catching up on my digital journal.

After breakfast at Tara's Guest House - Tara is a Canadian girl I had met back in Siem Reap - I went to the internet cafe. I typed and typed but found my ability to focus a bit off and slow. After that I returned to Tara's Guest House and simply took a nap on a hammock on a porch terrace over looking Boeng Kak Lake.

After that it was more pleasant sleeping.

And that was simply my day.

I should mention that Tara's Guest House is at the end of a ruined street. On my walks to her Guest House at night I was always approached by a Cambodian teenager who wanted to sell me either Marijuana or Cocaine.

Don't worry, I didnt buy anything :)


P.S. I will never have another Happy Pizza again.
May 24th, 2004 - The Shooting Range, The Killing Fields, S-21, and Happy Pizza

I arrived at a shooting range far outside the city of Phnom Penh in a group of three - Shane, Annie, and I - upon scooters navigated by Cambodian men.

I had first heard about this shooting range while I was living in Japan; and now there I was in the middle of an open field sitting at a table looking over a menu of firearms that I could rent and shoot.

The Menu of Fire-arms read as follows:

AK-47 - 30 bullets - $20 U.S.
M16 - 30 bullets - $30 U.S.
UZI - 30 bullets - $30 U.S.
K50 - 30 bullets - $30 U.S.
Shotgun - 5 bullets - $20 U.S.

CZ75 - 13 bullets - $26 U.S.
K59 - 8 bullets - $16 U.S.
K54 - 8 bullets - $10 U.S.
45ACP - 7 bullets - $10 U.S.
Revolver 38 - 6 bullets - $12 U.S.
Rager 22 - 10 bullets - $12 U.S.
Hand grenade - 1 grenage - $20.00

M60 - 100 bullets - $100.00
RPD (Russian) - 150 bullets - $100.00
Rocket Launcher - 1 missle - $200.00

I had heard from backpackers in my Guest House that for an extra hunderd dollars - on top of the $200 for the rocket launcher - you can attempt to blow up a live cow.

Sitting at the table I asked one of the men working at the Firing Range if I could attempt to incinerate a cow if I rented the rocket launcher. He nodded his head yes. A man from Holland then asked, "Can we keep the meat?" The man said no but that they would cook the cow and I could eat it after I blew it up.

I could not believe it. Still now I dont believe it. But the next day I heard from other backpackers explain that they saw other travelers shooting ducks and chickens at the same Firing Range.

So, as a perk to traveling to Phnom Penh you can rent guns and rocket launchers and kill innocent animals ???

I was not going to kill any animals but I did want to experience firing an automatic weapon, so for $20 U.S. I rented an AK-47 loaded with 30 rounds of bullets. I was escorted into an enclosed brick building with an extremely long hall. At the end of the hall was my target. One of the Cambodian men working at the firing range prepared my gun and after I put on my headphones to protect my ears I shot my first round. I turned to Shane who accompanied me into the building with a face filled with shock. Firing this weapon was one of the scariest experiences I have ever had. The gun kicked back with extreme speed and the bullet was invisibe . . . it is simply amazing to see with your own eyes how incredibly fast a bullet is. I could never imagine being shot by a bullet - feeling it tear through your skin, throwing you back by its force and speed. I then looked into the gun's sight and fired again and again trying to hit my target. My sight was no good. I missed and missed. I then changed my aim by interpreting where I had seen the bullet hit the target on the mounds of dirt behind it. Then the Cambodian man changed my AK47 setting to automatic. From then on it was chaos - simply holding down the trigger and feeling the weapon spit out the rest of my bullets in less than a few seconds.

It was then Shane's turn to shoot a Colt Revolver. For his first shot I didnt have my headphones on and as a result my right ear went slightly deaf with a constant ringing within it.

Guns are incredibly loud. After firing a weapon you will find that all Hollywood movies are a load of crap. By the time you fire your weapon three times you will be completely deaf in both ears. They are that loud! Just imagine sitting in a fox hole during a war with three other soldiers all firing their weapons. You will be completely deaf by the end of it. And you will need to scream at the top of your lungs to communicate with the man just next to you.

Shane and I both found that the sights on or guns were useless. We found that we eventually hit our targets by adjusting our aims based on seeing where our bullets hit. Im sure over time your aim improves.

It was an interesting experience to fire a weapon. It is something that I hope to never do again. I will use the experience in my future fiction writings for my Dark Legacy books.

From there Annie, Shane, and I headed to the Killing Fields - Choeung Ek. In 1980 - a year after the fall of the demonic Pol Pot regime - 86 mass graves were opened and 8,985 bodies found. These bodies were found blind-folded, beheaded, and bound and beaten to death - in an effort to save bullets. There are still 43 mass graves that have yet to be opened. The majority of those brought to these killing fields were brought from the S-21 prison which I will discuss in just a moment.

When you enter the fields you will first see a Memorial Stupa filled with human skulls organized and separated by age and sex. You will notice that many skulls have a sizable hole at the side of it. This was caused by a hammer or a farm tool such as a plow. Cambodian prisoners were forced to sit on their knees blindfolded. A Khmer Rouge soldier would then execute them by slamming a hammer into their skull and then throwing them into a giant mass grave pit 4-6 meters deep. Other prisoners were beheaded not with a sword or with a sharp man-made implement but with the sharp edges of palm tree branches - I have pictures of these palm tree branches for I cant really describe it appropriately. These palm tree branches found near the top of a palm tree have very course but sharp edges. The Khmer Rouge used these to slice and cut and slice and cut into the necks of live prisoners.

There is also a hanging tree where many prisoners were hanged. And there is another tree and a mass grave pit just next to it. It was here that the Khmer Rouge grabbed the legs of babies, lifted them, and slammed their heads straight into the trunk of the tree to kill them, and then throw them into the mass grave pit like a piece of garbage.

As you walk amoung these mass graves you will find just below your feet fragments of bones, teeth, and clothing still seeping up from out of the ground. And you will see these bones, and teeth and bits of clothing from the victims exterminated here nearly 25 years ago in all directions. You are literally walking over the decayed remains of corpses. So many people were killed here that it was not possible for all their bodies to be excavated from the ground. Many were simply left in the ground. And there you are walking over this place that was once filled with the horrific cries of mother's who saw their own infant children smashed against a tree, husbands beheaded, daughters gang raped, grandfathers poisoned, and gandmother's electricuted to death. It is a tortured place. And in the night locals say that they hear the screams and cries of the ghosts that haunt this wicked place.

This is my understanding of events in the early 1970's- for more information please investigate for yourself:
In the early 1970's the Nixon/Kissinger administration launched a "secret war" in which they decided to begin bombing Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. They were targetting the Ho Chi Minh trail which swerved in and out of Laos and Cambodia from Vietnam. As a result 2/5th of Cambodia was heavily bombed. This left unexploded ordinances (UXO) all over the country. As a result Cambodian farmers and members of their families fell victims to land mines or bombs that shreded them to pieces.

2 million refugee Cambodian running from the carpet bombings of the U.S. fled to Phnom Penh. Many, in their attempt to reach Phnom Penh, came across landmines and bombs and were either killed by them or lost limbs to them. These 2 million refugees lived in refugee camps all around the capital city. As a result of the horrible and unsanitary conditions they were living in TB (tuberculousis) began to spread.

During this time (1970) there was a Coup d'etat against Cambodian Prince Sihanouk. In an effort to reclaim his "kingdom" the Cambodian Prince formed a guerrila army later known as the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge was backed by Communist China but once they had sacked the capital of Cambodia - Phnom Penh - they told the Prince to F$%K Off and then began the reign of Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979. In 1979 the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and freed millions of Cambodians who had been working in concentration camps at near starvation levels from the brutality of the Khmer Rouge.

From The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek I went with Annie and Shane to the Genocide Musuem of Tuol Sleng (which was the former Khmer Rouge S-21 Prison). This prison was formerly a high school. It was here that Cambodian intellectuals were brought after the fall of Phnom Penh to be interrogated, tortured, imprisoned, and executed. From 1977 to 1978 it was estimated that the prison held on average about 1,200 to 1,500 prisoners at any one time. Prisoners were kept there any where from 2 to 4 months. Some political prisoners were kept there from 6 to 7 months.

"The prisoners were kept in their respective cells and shackled with chains fixed to walls or the concrete floors. Prisoners held in large mass cells had one or both of their legs shackled to short or long pieces of iron bar. The short bar was designed for 4 prisoners and the longer bar was designed for 20 to 30 prisoners. Prisoners were fixed to the iron bar on altering sides, so they had to sleep with their heads in opposite directions.

"Before the prisoners were placed in the cells they were photographed, and detailed biographies of their childhood up to the dates of their arrests were recorded. Then they were stripped to their underwear. Everything was taken away from them. The prisoners slept directly on the floors without any mats, mosquito nets or blankets.

"Every morning at 4:30 a.m., all prisoners were told to remove their shorts, down to their ankles, for inspection by prison staff. Then they were told to do some physical exercise just by moving their hands and legs up and down for half an hour, even though their legs remained restrained by iron bars.

"The prisoners had to defecate into small iron buckets and urinate into small plastic buckets kept in their cells. They were required to ask for permission from the prison guards in advance of relieving themselves; otherwise, they were beaten or they received 20 to 60 strokes with a whip as punishment.

"Unhygienic living conditions caused the prisoners to become infected with diseases like skin rashes and various other diseases. There was no medicine for treatment.

" . . . The number of workers in S-21 complex totaled 1,720 . . . within each unit, there were several sub-units composed of male and female children ranging from 10 to 15 years of age. These young children were trained and selected by the Khmer Rouge regime to work as guards at S-21. Most of them started out as normal before growing increasingly evil. They were exceptionally cruel and disrespectful toward prisoners and their elders."

Although the vast majority of prisoners at S-21 were Cambodians there were foreigners imprisoned and later executed there or at the "Killing Fields". These foreigners came from Vietnam, Lao, Thailand, India, Pakistan, England, the U.S.A., Canada, New Zeealand, and Australia.

If you would like to learn more a good place to start is at this website:

This day ended among backpacker friends at a Happy Pizza restaurant. Yes, I ate a Happy Pizza. A Happy Pizza is a pizza with bits of marijuana within it. While we were all waiting for our pizza'a the waiters gave us two "joints". We passed it around smoking - "yes, I inhaled" - and ate our pizza's as we watched a couple of pirated DVD's on the restaurant's TV screen.


Wednesday, May 26, 2004

May 23rd, 2004 - My Mom's B-day and travels from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

On the bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh I met Jacky from South Africa, and James, Shane, and Tina from England. We spent the first half of the bus journey joking around about our experiences in Cambodia and in Southeast Asia. About two hours from Phnom Penh we stopped for about half an hour in a town called Skuon. There we saw women selling basket plates piled high with fried spiders. These werent small spiders but big furry creatures that were fried in some kind of cooking oil. The locals in Skuon are famed for eating these spiders for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Yummy!!! It is believed that this unique taste for spiders evolved from the work camps during Pol Pot's regime in which enslaved Cambodians, who were all in a constant state of starvation, began eating insects, spiders, and rats to survive.

We arrived in Phnom Penh around 2:00 or so. We crossed the Tonle Sap river via the Chruoy Changvar bridge. Our bus stopped somewhere along the river and as soon as we all stepped off the bus we were all immediately attacked by touts trying to take each one of us to their Guest House. Jacky, James, Tina, Shane, another girl named Annie, and I all teamed up to take separate moto drivers to search for a Guest House over looking Boeng Kak Lake. This was the second time that Jacky, James, Tina, and Shane had been to Phnom Penh and so Annie and I simply followed them from one Lake Side Guest House to the other until we finally found the one that they had stayed at before.

The street that our Guest House was on is just south of Monivong Boulevard. This street is filled with Guest Houses all over looking the Boeng Kak Lake. The street itself is a dirt road and there are a few travel agencies, Happy Pizza restaurants, and internet cafe's as well. It is sort of the "Khao San Road" of Phnom Penh. After getting settled a bit in our Guest House and eating a bit on the deck that sits right on the lake Annie, Jacky, and I decided to explore the city.

Annie wanted to buy some pants and so we all decided to walk to the Central Market. The Central Market is located within a giant concrete circular building that has four long "legs" filled with shops selling anything from clothing to toys to shoes to food. The food section is always a curious one in Southeast Asia for you will find cut up pieces of pig, cow, or chicken flesh hanging out in the open humid air with flies all over them. Again . . . Yummy!!!

Annie spent a good hour looking at, trying on, and bargaining for pants. Jacky and I were patient. Soon enough we were off and traveling further south into the city. We found a few "massage parlors", food vendors, more shops and plenty of people on scooters traveling this way and that in a city that seemed nearly devoid of traffic lights. We came across a small Chinese temple and then another local market but this market was dedicated to food. Within it we found more chickens - alive and dead - and more cut up pieces of rotting meat hanging from hooks waiting to be bought. There was plenty of fish being cut up and fruits and vegetables.

Soon enough we arrived on Sisowath Quay which is a street that runs parrallel to the Tonle Sap river. After seeing this street along the river with all of its upper scale hotels and restaurants catering to tourists I immediately fell in love with Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh in my opinion is a hidden gem in Southeast Asia. It has tremendous potential to continue to grow and soon become a very romantic city. The private view of the Boeng Kak lake from my Guest House combined with the wonderful walking path between Sisowath Quay and the Tonle Sap river really make Phnom Penh a pleasant city. I felt safe, curious, and extremely relaxed in Phnom Penh. But, there is the poverty. It is everywhere but I have become used to it. It does not affect me as much as it used to.

As Annie, Jacky, and I continued our pleasant walk along Sisowath Quay we found an incredibly skinny and weak boy - who was perhaps 17 years old - laying on the grass beside the side walk. Annie pointed to him and I looked down to his side and saw something I have never seen before in my life. The area just beneath his ribs on his left side had a massive hole. There simply was no skin or flesh. There literally was a hole - the size of my hand from finger tips to the base of my palm - on his left side. I could actually see into his body from this hole and see his lungs. Flies were hovering above him and nesting within his hole. Jacky, Annie, and I all freaked out. We simply did not know what to do although we wanted to help him out. We couldnt even bare to look down at his wound. We decided to run to a hotel and figure out how to call an ambulance or a hospital for help. The day before I had gone to the concert that Dr. Richner was giving on behalf of his non-profit hospitals. I knew that his hospitals were free so I looked the two up that I knew were in Phnom Penh and called but no one answered; it was Sunday. Jacky and I then looked through out Lonely Planet book and decided that the Calmette Hospital was our best bet. I called them and spoke to a doctor who thought I was sick. I tried to explain that I was bringing in someone. But he didnt understand. I then tried to find out how much it would cost to bring someone in but of course the doctor did not know. He would have to see the patient himself. I then told him I was on my way. From there Jacky, Annie, and I left the hotel and I grabbed a bicycle rickshaw. I told him to cross the street. On the other side of the street I found another bicycle rickshaw. The homeless boy with the giant hole in his side was helped up by a few of his homeless friends. They put him on the bicycle rickshaw and away we went to the Calmette Hospital. I had to leave Jacky and Annie behind.

The ride took about 15 minutes. Once we arrived I got out of my rickshaw and then led the other rickshaw that was carrying the boy into the hospital emergency area. There two men came out of the hospital with a stretcher and we all lifted the boy and placed him on it. Then the two men took the boy inside. I gave the rickshaw driver $4. I told him that $2 were for him and the other $2 for the other rickshaw driver. I repeated those instruction to him several times. He just smiled and walked away.

I then went into the emergency room and saw 4 other extremely poor patients that had been brought in. Most of them were with their families. The boy I brought in had no one to comfort him. I waited to speak to the doctor and when he was free I took him over to the boy I had brought in. He looked at the hole in the boy's left side and asked him a few questions. The doctor then turned to me and thanked me for bringing him in and that I could go. I asked what was going to happen to the boy. The doctor said that he would undergo surgery to have his left lung removed. He said that the boy would spend several nights in the hospital free of charge. I then asked if there was anything else that I could do. The doctor simply said that I could give the boy some money so that he could eat when he left the hospital. I then walked to the boy and gave him $10 U.S. He thanked me and I stepped back and away. I then left.

When I walked out of the hospital I saw the rickshaw driver who had taken me to the hospital but who had not entered in with me. I asked him if he got $2 from the other rickshaw driver. He didnt really understand me but when another local stepped in to translate I discovered that the other rickshaw driver had run off with $3 and had only given this driver $1. I was pissed that this rickshaw driver had cheated one of his own people.

From there I walked back to my Guest House to rest. Later that night Jacky, Annie, James, Tina, Shane, and another Shane from Australia, and I decided to go for dinner back on Sisowath Quay. We all got along wonderfully. It was a pleasant way to end an unusual day.


Monday, May 24, 2004

May 22nd, 2004 - The Beatocello Concert

I wanted to get caught up on my digital journal today so that was what I did but before I went to the internet cafe I met a couple from California while having breakfast. The came with me to the internet cafe and for most of the day I was with them.

For lunch we went to the Dead Fish Bar and talked about our travel's, California, how they met, and their plans since they were going to be returning to the U.S. to move from San Francisco to L.A.

In the evening I went to a free concert a the Jayavarman VII Children's Hospital. Dr. Beat Richner - who started and runs the Kantha Bopha Foundation ( plays his cello before tourists and travelers alike every Saturday night in Siem Reap. Between his performance of several musical pieces the good Doctor educated us on the health conditions and problems in Cambodia. This is what I learned from the good Doctor.

Last year there was not one tourist that came to his hospital in Siem Reap to give blood or make a donation. The reason for this was the SARS scare. Dr. Richner explained that since SARS was affecting financial capitals such as Hong Kong and Singapore it was a Western 1st World Nation concern. As a result the media paid heavy attention to the SARS epidemic. But, there was not one single case of SARS in Cambodia. Nevertheless the number of tourists traveling through Cambodia dropped significantly due to the SARS scare. For once Cambodia was the safest place to be in Southeast Asia during the SARS scare but no one came. At the same time there was a massive Dengue Fever epidemic in Cambodia. There were 9,000 children's cases of the fever in Cambodia but yet CNN and the BBC paid no attention to that fact. Instead they focused on SARS, SARS, SARS because it was affecting Western capitalist cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

Poor nations such as Cambodia have no lobbying power in the West. Their problems are simply not the concern of 1st World Nations and Organizations such as UNICEF and WHO.

Last year there were 67,000 children who were admitted to the Kantha Bopha Children's Hospitals in Cambodia. That is about 120 to 240 severely sick children a day. The Health Care system in Cambodia is a disaster. 80% of these children would not have survived if it wasnt for these three Kantha Bopha hospitals.

The number one killer in Cambodia is TB which is due to three things: Pol Pot's regime, Western attitudes toward how to handle health care in 3rd World nations, and the July 2003 Dengue Fever epidemic. A child needs a blood transfusion for Dengue Fever but health organizations such as WHO and UNICEF explain that it is simply too expensive for 3rd World Nations to receive funds to check their blood supply properly for STD's and the HIV virus. As a result for every 100 blood transfusions 7 children will contract the HIV virus - simply because WHO and UNICEF does not condone the spending of money to check the blood supplies in third world nations of STD's and the HIV virus.

In 1970 Nixon/Kissinger launched a "secret war" in Cambodia which resulted in the bombing of 2/5th of the country. 500,000 Cambodia civilians were killed as a result. Also as a result the refugees from these bombings flocked to the capital city of Phnom Penh. There were 2 million Cambodian refugees in Phnom Penh seeking refuge from the bombings. These refugee camps were the breeding ground for TB. Then during the Pol Pot regime TB began to spread more within the extremely horrible and poor conditions the Cambodians were living and working in within Pol Pot's concentration and work camps.

Today 45% of the children hospitalized in Cambodia have TB. TB weakens the child and although it is a common virus it can prove fatal for children. TB can lie dormant within an individual and as a result even though a mother may have a dormant TB virus within her she can easily pass on TB to her child through her milk.

85% of the families that take their child to one of the Kantha Bopha hospitals in Phnom Penh are too poor to afford hospital fees. In Siem Reap 95% are too poor. The Kantha Bopha Foundation receives 50 million dollars a year and 90% of that is from private donations. As a result no family or child is ever turned away from the Kantha Bopha hospitals. All patients are treated and given prescription drugs for free. With these private donations Dr. Beat Richner keeps a very high standard for his hospitals. The hospitals are state-of-the-art and incredibly modern. The hospital's 1,400 staff are paid. 35% of the donations are used to pay the staff and 45% if used on modern medicine that is imported from 1st World Nations. They have sophisticated equipment. One instrument that they have in particular is able to detect TB in healthy children by using computer topography of the brain. This device in particular was not condoned by WHO or UNICEF. They argued that a poor nation such as Cambodia should not have such a device . . . yet.

Over and over Dr. Richner said, "Every child has the right for the correct drug, the correct procedure, the correct treatment." He does not understand why western organizations such as WHO and UNICEF try to prohibit 3rd World Nations from receiving the exact same kind of medical treatment that people in 1st World Nations receive. Dr. Richner also explained that the WHO and UNICEF recommend drugs that are prohibited in the West for their side-effects to be used to treat patients in the 3rd World.

After the concert I made a donation to the hospital. Although Dr. Richner at the beginning of the concert asked for the young members of the audience to give blood instead of money I was more than happy to simply give money - for I have never given blood before. I left the hospital relieved that no one after the concert who worked for the hospital approached any of the travelers to give blood. When I met up with my driver I expressed how unusual I thought it was that no one asked the members of the audience to give blood. My driver misunderstood me and thought I said that I wanted to give blood. The next thing I knew my driver was leading me to the hospital gate and then a security guard was leading me through the hospital to the blood bank. I was very nervous. I filled out all the paperwork and then I found myself lying down about to be poked with a needle to begin the "Giving Blood" process. I was uncomfortable but 5 minutes later it was over and I walked out of the hospital with a bag full of cookies and a T-shirt.

From the hospital my driver drove me to a restaurant. I said goodbye to him and then sat down outside for a bite to eat. A poor Cambodian girl came up to me asking for money. I didnt want to give her any money because I knew she would give it to her parents who were not too far from us. So instead I gave her the cookies that I got from the hospital. I then decided to buy her a sandwich from the restaurant. I told her to wait and there I sat at my table. The girl then sat on the ground before me like a dog waiting for food. I thought it cruel that I have her wait sitting on the ground. I then pointed to the chair infront of me and she got up and sat down at the table with me - she was my date for the evening. I was served the Coke that I had ordered but the girl pointed to it. I then gave it to her and with a smile she drank and drank my Coke. Soon enough my sandwich was served as was the girl's. Together we ate until Tawnya - Kent and Tawyna were the married couple from California I had spent the early part of the day with - saw me and sat down with us. When the girl had finished her meal she left. Then, later, more and more people I had met in Siem Reap passed by and sat down with me and Tawyna.

After eating and talking with everyone I went back to my hotel to rest.

May 21st, 2004 - The Temples of Angkor Wat

The day began at 5:00 a.m. The reason Robert and I left our hotel so early was so that we could catch the sun rise over the towers of Angkor Wat.

We drove through Siem Reap watching the sky turn from the black of night into the light blue of early morning. Other backpackers were converging upon Angkor Wat for the sunrise as well. Local vendors trying to sell anything from T-shirts to flutes approached us all trying to sell or invite us to their outdoor cafe for breakfast.

Robert and I walked down the stone bridge leading into Angkor. We were both heavily impressed with the size and scale of the moat around Angkor Wat.

Hmmm . . . for this entry Im not going to go into extreme details about all the temples that I saw today. I think that I will stick to my impressions and observations of the temples instead. A good book to read about Angkor is one called The Civilizations of Angkor by Charles Higham. There is simply too much history to cover in a single journal entry about these temples so I will not attempt to do so.

My Impressions: I have never come across another archaeological marvel such as the Temples at Angkor. The size and scale of these temples are beyond belief. The temples were built from about 700 A.D. to 1400 A.D. I was most surprised to find that these temples had strong Hindu motifs and relief carvings. The successive Kings of Angkor would either follow a Hindu inspired religion or a Buddhist one. Upon the walls of all the temples you will see stone relief carvings of dancing Khmer women wearing elaborate head-dresses and dresses. All are bare-breasted and in the hand found in a pose near their lower stomach you will see that they are holding a flower - possibly a fertility symbol. It is rare to find a stone relief carving of men in the temples of Angkor. But, in a very large temple called The Bayon you will find a continuing series of stone reliefs all around the temple that tells a story of the Kingdom of Angkor. Here you will see relief carvings of the Kings and all the tribute paid to them by merchants and farmers and lords. You will also see carvings of men fishing and hunting and of crushing victories over enemies in far off lands.

A common motif for the entrance gates to certain temples is a short or long path lined on its two sides with a series of statues of Khmer men holding the long tail and body of a 5 headed serpent. The majority of the temples are in excellent condition, which is amazing considering that there are a few temples that have a two to three to four to five hundred year old trees growing over its stone roofs and walls.

Two temples that I saw in particular have been completely overcome by nature with the long roots of trees digging deep into its temple walls, breaking them down. An archaeological buff could spend a week to a month carefully looking at all the temples around Angkor. There are many to see and plenty of architectural details to investigate.

As I went from temple to temple I began to enjoy the selling verses and techniques that the children used to sell me a drink or a T-shirt or a flute or trinket. Over and over from little girls and boys I heard, "Hello, Where are you from? Ohh, Chicago. Your country's capital is Washington D.C. There are 285 million people in your country. You buy sir. You see, you buy. I have Cambodian T-shirt for you. Very good. You buy, you buy. 'Im sorry' doesnt get me anything. You buy. I sell this T-shirt for $3. 2 T-shirts for $5. No! It's not expensive. Please, sir. You buy. If you buy I pray good luck for you everyday. If you dont buy I pray bad-luck for you everyday. You buy, you buy. No! You are a bad man."

These children could say all this in not only English but in Spanish, Japanese, Thai, and even Chinese. They were all very bright and very clever children. They had a great sense of humor and a strong determination to sell their goods. They were excellent little sales children. I simply ended up buying drinks for my driver and myself.

At times I came across children trying to sell scarves and books in these temples but then suddenly they would run away. The tourist police did not allow locals to go into the temples to sell their goods. Most of the children and adults that were selling souvenir goods did so just beyond the temples. It was funny to see them swarm around a foreigner using every line they knew to sell and to then see the foreigner cross over an invisible line into the temple that these locals could not cross.

Funny enough later in the day I ran into two Americans I had met in Luang Prabang, Laos. Since we were in one of the "Jungle Temples" we decided to search for the doorway that serves as the cover for the Lonely Planet: Laos book. We searched and searched and met a group of Canadians that joined us in our search. Finally, one of us asked a guide about the door and we found it, we took plenty of pictures of it.

I spent about 12 hours looking at all the sites around Angkor. I took plenty of pictures - perhaps over 100 or so with my digital camera. I am still reading about the history behind these temples so when I return to the U.S. I should be able to talk a bit more than I can now about these temples.

Later that night the Americans and Canadians - I met in the temples around Angkor - and I decided to meet up for dinner at the Dead Fish Cafe.

The Dead Fish is a fantastic bar and Guest House. Their website is
The Dead Fish bar is probably one of the most unique bars I have ever been to. Next to the bathroom there is a pool in the floor filled with crocodiles that you can feed if you buy bits of chicken. There is also a baby monkey that you can play with. The bar has this elaborate pulley system that can send drinks up to the second floor of the bar and to the windows of its Guest House rooms. There is also a blind man with Ray Charles sun glasses playing lounge music - and he takes requests. The food and drinks are good and there is also free internet.

That night I simply sat with my banana milk shake talking and listening to the Americans and Canadians. We all had dangerous and funny traveler's stories to tell. One of the most shocking stories came from the two Americans and their friend Sarah from England. When they returned to their hotel in Siem Reap just the day before they discovered two hotel staff having sex on top of one of their beds.

It was a long day and I retired for the night at around midnight.