Monday, March 03, 2008

"I was here in '69"

As old tropical bores might say ...

In '69 en route to Angkor Wat, where I felt like I was the only visitor, I stayed at the old colonial "Hotel de la Paix" - ironically named indeed when just six years later the Khmer Rouge took over the city and turned everyone out at gunpoint and force-marched them off to rural workcamps and, for many, death. The city today shows no sign of this trauma that I can detect beyond books in the shops retelling many aspects of the tragedy and photos on the wall of the Foreign Correspondents' Club (which features in The Killing Fields) of the events in '75. Today the spirit is all bustle, energy and a tinge of desperation, including a desperation to please - and be hired.

We got a taste of this in our first stop in Cambodia: Kratie (''Krachey'') when we were whisked away by a young entrepreneur on bikes to see the Irrawaddy Dolphins some 15km. north of town. A very endangered species which might be saved in this location if the income from tourists coming to see them (at a distance) outweighs the environmental controls (on local fishing techniques and on pollution) that are needed in the attempt to save them. [However, when the same young man wanted to sell us bus tickets at 20% over the normal price, we said we'd buy our own (and get to choose the seats).]

The motorbike ride and the two bus trips so far have given quite an insight into Cambodia today - apparently full of activity, opening up of agricultural lands along new roads in the north-east close to Laos (some loss of forest, of which there seems to be lots in the east), large industrial-scale plantations (esp. of rubber) further south towards the capital, and all the way people working and making do in a host of ways. Things look more prosperous now than in '69 - hardly surprising except for the huge step backwards from 1975 and the loss of an estimated 2 million people (Yale University research figures) in the interim. Of course, there has also been a big aid push from donor countries, the UN and NGOs, and signs of that are frequently visible. It is also a highly politicised country with party billboards everywhere but the ruling clique of the Cambodian People's Party, having finagled their way to pole position by a range of techniques, some borrowed from the Khmer Rouge, are not on the point of surrendering it to anyone less corrupt and more competent. Au contraire, the regime is busy consolidating itself by strategic marriages among its scions with a view to power into the next generation.

For us, no great love of cities means a swift move south tomorrow and the first view of the sea from Kep in two days time - the previous glimpse was 6 weeks away in southern Thailand.


Anonymous Stella said...


I just discovered your blog. Fascinating journey!
We are about to leave OH to move to Edinburgh, so I want to thank you at least via email for your help with the job application. That was incredibly helpful! I didn't get the job though. They did hire someone internally...
Safe travels!

Thu Mar 06, 09:25:00 pm GMT  
Blogger pangapilot said...

Thanks, Stella Maris and good luck in Edinburgh! Haven't got your e-mail address to reply directly. All the best, too, to Dirk, Aeneas and Leander!

Tue Mar 11, 07:43:00 am GMT  

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