08 November 2009 – day 23 – Sunday – Bangkok, Thailand
Today was our last day in Cambodia, so we had to make the most of what little time we had left. Which is true for life in general, but I digress.
We started out at the Killing Fields Memorial. Actually, Chantha said there were 170 different Killing Fields Memorials throughout Cambodia. It was set up so that the people could remember the atrocities committed by what Chantha called the “Genocidal Regime”, the government led by the dictator Pol Pot. There is an American movie about this tragedy called “The Killing Fields.” I haven't seen it.
I don't remember much about Pol Pot and his reign of terror, but it happened in my lifetime. Like the Vietnam war, I was still quite young and don't remember it. Chantha told us his side of the story.
Apparently Pol Pot came to power as many leaders do: by overthrowing his successor with his own private army. Accordingly to Chantha, he decided that Cambodia should become the world's number one exporter of rice. To that end, he decided that everyone should grow rice, and if you didn't grow rice, you were worthless, and worthless people should all be killed. So he systematically began rounding up all the intellectuals, professors, artisans, and relocated them to rural locations so they could plant and harvest rice. Anyone who did not cooperate was killed, and apparently hundreds of thousands or even millions of people were killed and their bodies were left to rot in the fields.
Chantha also gave us a personal account, which was very interesting. He looked young, but he was there as a boy, at the same time that I was a boy. He said his father and family were rounded up. His father had some friends in high-up places who were able to protect him for a while, but eventually he was killed like the rest.
Chantha and his family were sent to a refugee camp where he lived for a very long time, like five years or something. He saw people being tortured. He saw people being brutally killed. Eventually, he escaped the camp and made his way to the Thai border where he was safe. He also told us that, unlike many of his countrymen, he would never grow rice, because he was so resentful of what Pol Pot did.
He also said the movie was only 60% of the truth. He said it was softened for Hollywood. It was actually much worse than they portrayed.
The memorial wasn't anything like I expected. Apparently, the government turned many of these killing fields into Buddhist temples, and they monks prayed and restored peace to them. So we were actually at a small Buddhist temple.
At the center was a shrine that showed the bones of some people killed by Pol Pot's regime of terror.
Meanwhile, Buddhist monks walked around the grounds and prayed at the altar. There was beautiful, peaceful music that pervaded the air. We went into the temple to investigate and found a band of live musicians playing. It was very calming.
Some of the dead were buried in more traditional graves like we've seen before.
Our next stop was a artisan school, a place where people were trained on how to create authentic-looking reproductions of famous Khmer carvings. They did painting, silver-plated copper, wood carving, stone carving, and so forth. It was fun to see how they hand-crafted the items, and they produced some beautiful work.
And of course they had a shop. Kathy and I bought some nice pieces. After all, we were getting toward the end of the trip and hadn't spent much money on our library piece.
For those of you who haven't read my other travelogues, I'll explain what this is. Every time Kathy and I take a big trip, we collect a “nice” piece of art that represents the religion of the countries we were in. For example, we have a large Buddha from our Thailand trip to represent Thai Buddhism, and a nice Ganesha statue to represent Indian's Hinduism. We also have icons of Jesus and Mary to represent Christianity in Greece and a beautiful plate filled with writings from the Koran to represent the Islam of Turkey.
We've been looking at items for our library the whole trip. We weren't completely empty-handed because we had bought the green statue at Marble Mountain and a wooden carving at the Siem Reap night market. Still, we found a nice piece and bought it.
Outside, they had some very different looking flowers. I took photos because I was bored. After the Khmer temples from past days, I was destined to be bored.
Next, we drove to another silk factory. This was a very small-scale operation compared to the one we saw previously in the trip. Still, there were some interesting differences. For one, this place actually grew the silk worms. The previous silk factory got their silk cocoons from the local people in the village who bought the eggs and cared for the worms until they made a cocoon. At this place, we could actually see how the worms were raised and went through their cycle of life. Chantha told us that people actually eat the silk worms, but I find that disgusting.
Another interesting thing was that the Cambodian silk was yellow in color, whereas in Vietnam they were white.
As we walked along the path, we spotted a small snake. We treated it with extreme caution because, unlike Minnesota, there are deadly snakes here and I don't have the knowledge to tell them apart. Chantha seemed to think it could be dangerous. Still, I had to have a photo!
The silk factory was in full production.
Kathy and I were not interested in buying silk products, so while everyone else was in the shop buying things, we went to the bathroom. When I sat down, I was surprised to find a pair of eyes staring at me! On the shelf of the bathroom stall was a large frog creature. He was facing me, staring at me. I slowly lifted my camera and took several photos.
As I was finishing, Kathy asked me to come into the women's bathroom to see something funny. I told her the same thing! When I went into her bathroom stall, there was a medium sized tree frog sitting happily on the wall. Of course, she got photos too.
From there, we were driven to the airport where we flew from Siem Reap back to Bangkok for the last day of the trip. It's funny how Bangkok really seems modern after you've been in Cambodia for a few days.
The flight was short and sweet, but it took us a long time to get through customs, immigration and collect our luggage. By the time we arrived at out hotel (The Tawana again) it was about 4:00pm.
I was getting tired of running around so much, so I would have been content to rest in the hotel and maybe go out for dinner later. Kathy, of course, wanted to go-go-go. Together, we worked out a compromise. We decided to walk to the nearby park and relax there. Our Thai guide, Prin, had previously told us that if we got up early—five in the morning—we might be able to see the rare monitor lizards that lived in the park.
The park was not far from our hotel, only just a few blocks away, so off we went. It was beautiful, green and adorned by a few obligatory statues
and a small lake that was divided into two sections with a small pedestrian bridge across the narrow point. Lots of local Thai people were enjoying their weekend at the park and it was fun to see.
As we walked around the edge of the lake, we noticed something swimming in the water. Looking closely, we saw it was a monitor lizard, as large as life. Five in the morning indeed!
We followed him around the lake for a while, taking photos all the while, then we got bored and left.
We walked over to a kiosk where people rented duck boats. These were cute little paddle boats used to paddle around the lake for entertainment.
Sitting nearby was a vendor who sold fish food. We bought some fish food, rented a duck boat, and off we went paddling into the lake.
We started tossing the fish food into the water and were immediately converged upon by a large school of very big fish. The more food we tossed into the water, the more the water roiled with hungry fish bodies. It was fun.
Then we spotted a head sticking out of the water. It was a large turtle! He had come to visit us to see if he could get some of the food as well. We spent a long time feeding the turtle, but most of the food was immediately confiscated by the fish, and the poor hapless turtle was left hungry. He was tame enough to stick his head out of the water and I'm sure I could have fed him by hand, but I didn't want to get my fingers too close to his mouth. However, before we left, we made sure the turtle got plenty of food.
When we got bored with feeding the fish, we paddled our duck-boat over to the bridge. Near the bridge, we spotted another monitor lizard. This one was huge. It had to be six feet (two meters) long or more! I think he was eating the fish who were after the fish food. Eventually he climbed out of the water and hid under the bridge. He was big. He was scary big.
After a while raindrops started to fall. Why? Because my Frogg Toggs were back at the hotel. I could (and should) have given everyone my personal guarantee that it would rain. Sigh.
We paddled over to the nearest shore and saw a much smaller monitor lizard there too.
The rain got a little harder so we decided to paddle back to the landing dock and return the boat.
The duck boat had a small roof, and I hid my camera from the rain as best I could while we paddled our way back to the dock. We collected our deposit from the boat rental place and walked back to the main street in the park. Loud dance music was playing and several women were in the street exercising in the park, swinging their arms back and forth. Well, there may have been a few men, but I didn't notice them.
I didn't have my backpack nor any other way to protect my camera from the impending rain, so I suggested to Kathy that we leave the park and seek shelter. I tucked my camera under my t-shirt and used the plastic fish-food bag to shelter it. As we walked away, the rain got a little harder. We found a small shelter in the park where people were huddled and we joined them. As we waited, another soggy couple joined us under the tarp and we struck up a conversation. They were from Belgium and we had a pleasant conversation about travel and the virtues of Belgian beer.
When the rain let up, we walked back toward our hotel, under the tarp of the night market. We made our way to a restaurant near the hotel that had been recommended by our guide Prin. It was called the Mango Tree. I looked at their drink menu and, much to my surprise, they had my favorite alcoholic drink, Caipiroska. Kathy and I ordered one each, plus some food. The food and drinks were outstanding. We ordered a second round of caipiroska and got really trashed. But hey, it was our last day of the trip and we wanted to make it as fun as possible. We had a good time.
When we got back to the hotel, we found it all decorated and lit up for Christmas! That was somewhat surprising because Thailand is a Buddhist, not Christian, country. Also because it wasn't even Thanksgiving. It's hard to think of Christmas when you're sweltering in the heat, at least for a Minnesotan.
The next morning, we got up early, were taken to the airport and boarded the plane for our hellish flight back home. Kathy took some photos from the airplane.
It was sad to say goodbye to another vacation, but we had a great time.