Cambodia and onward

We spent two nights in Phnom Pehn, and that was enough for me. Siem Reap, although touristy, was less impoverished and desparate. Although I was at Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek for a few hours, I have been slowly digesting what I saw and learned that day. Had a “discussion” with a couple of my travel compatriots over the guilt/innocence of the soldiers who implemented Pol Pot’s orders. As I mentioned before, people were sent to the fields to work long hours to grow rice and other crops, which were sent to the Chinese. The workers typically were allowed a few grains of rice a day in a watery gruel. If you wanted to eat better, you snuck in some grasshoppers and other insects (which could not be cooked, or it would garner unwanted attention from the guards). If you took a piece of fruit or vegetable, you could be killed. If you wanted to eat well, you joined the KR. Many kids were also separated from their parents. Combine the abolishment of Buddhism and Christianity (the only religion allowed was “Angkar” the name of Pol Pot’s government) with the loss of family structure and upbringing, hormones, and desire to impress their peers and those higher up on the food chain, and the killing machines were in place. And yet, I’m not convinced that those who did terrible things to people that went above and beyond orders should just be labelled as victims and let off the hook. Religion or not, there are universal codes of conduct. Tell someone whose mother was “raped for fun” by one of these soldiers that he was a victim, and see how they react. My compatriots and I do agree that the bulk of the blame goes to Pol Pot and his gang.
As for Cambodia itself, the people were very warm and friendly and many had a good sense of humor, in spite of what they had been through (almost half the population of Cambodia died of execution, torture, disease, and/or starvation). There isn’t one Cambodian alive who didn’t lose a relative to the genocide. The presence of many NGOs and such has helped improve the lives of many Cambodians, but overpopulation, disease, and rampant poverty aren’t going away any time soon. Vietnam helped “liberate” Cambodia from the KR regime, but they are profitting from Cambodia’s tourism (they run it) and run a lot of operations behind the scenes. Despite the depressing aspects of Cambodia, I was glad I came here.
Now to Vietnam: we took a speedboat down the Tonle Sap River to the Mekong, all of which was flooded due to heavy rainfall. The border crossing was a bit of a trip–they had a tough time mooring the boat and I thought some of the baggage was going to end up in the water! The checkpoint is in a rural area, so there are dogs and chickens, and a few water buffalo nearby. We then went to Chau Doc, and took a motorcycle ride to Mount Sam, where we saw awesome views of Vietnm and Cambodia. Had a tasty Chicken in lemongrass dinner at the riverfront, where a family of black cats lived.
Yesterday we took a bus to Saigon–took us about 6.5 hours, due to congestion from a traffic accident. Most people in Saigon use motorbikes to get around–they are small, fuel efficient, and manuever well around the traffic. That said, when you cross the street you are playing chicken. Saw Notre Dame Cathedral and the Reunification Palace. Today we took cyclos to the Jade Pagoda and another temple in Chinatown. Vietnamese practice a different form of Buddhism than the Cambodians and Thais do. The temples wre beautiful and atmospheric. The cyclo tour was fine, but like taxi drivers everywhere we were screwed way over in the price, which cast a damper on the rest of the morning. It is hotter than hell outside, so I’m taking a break in an internet cafe, since the hotel employees were busy with the one at the hotel. Tomorrow am off to see the War Remnants museum, but first some lunch and a bit of shopping.
All for now–Aimee

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