International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Laos
There she was, 5'2 of pure unadulterated, uninhibited fun,breasts
unbefitting of someone so small; and all yours for $5. Welcome to
Cambodia: Under the expert guidance of our very own chewbacca we
navigated our way to the Lakeside area. With a back deck that spread
across the lake, a pool table and a very cool little dude working
there callled 'Chilly' we settled in.
Phnom Phen is hard
to imagine. It is a lawless, hectic, smoggy, people-hole and it is not
the place for the fainthearted.
Day one saw us chilling out, we had just been scammed from Laos.
Here's the Scam:
Don Dhet lies in the south of Laos, a little place called the Four Thousand
Island where the Makong encapsulates the land and divides them. Upon
arrival in this place we had noticed that we all had little money kleft
and there was no ATM's for at least 200 miles. We, as a group of seven
at this point, pooled our money. All of us had enough to get to Phnom
Phen as long as we made it in one trip. Our day started with the driver
claiming that he wasn't allowed to drive. He said he had a friend who
would take us. This all seemed fine. We got to the bus station and managed
to find a driver, and funnily enough a van.
Out from under a huge sheet of Tarpolin limped a blue mini-van. This
was to be our chariot so we thought. The van had been sitting so long
that a nest of mosquito's had formed in the AC resevoir. As soon as
he turned it on we got flooded, our comfy space suddenly became a malaria
mini-van. Ten miles down the road he ran out of fuel.
At this point we were still in the van, waiting from a replacement bus.
Then behind us appeared a massive fat french girl attached to a scooter
-enter 'le baguette'- she had to get on our bus, and rightfully so she
had to pay for it. However, she happened to be the only girl travelling
the country with only Australian dollars. This caused confusion as three
taxi drivers all tried to figure out what it was, then they tried to
use us as an exchange bank, we had no money, eventually the behemoth
got in. And the oxygen got out.
"On the road again" was sung as we approached the border.
Everything was going smoothly, we had avoided the 1$ surcharge that
makes border police richer than the rest. Walking away it turns out
that the baguette, not only had she hijacked our chariot, she had also
overstayed on her Visa. Not wise. So another delay. As you can imagine
by this point tempers were freying.
Through the border "On the road again" got sung, again. We
had been going for about two hours in this sweat box when he turned
off the road, onto a smaller road then a smaller one again and again
and again, eventually we pulled into a guest house.
From here on in the driver miraculously forgot how to speak English.
Lucky for him. He tried to get us out. 8 people, we were not moving.
He tried again at which point the other guy, who was sitting awaiting
our arrival decreed that we could not get to Phnom Phen, there was no
ATM and we had to stay in his hotel.
By this point Ray was ready to kill someone, Paul was reading his book,
Jo was smoking, and I had manouvered myself into the front seat.
Randomly I started blowing the horn. Being a little idiot as you can
imagine. This went on for an hour. We had a cavalcade of Cambodians
ready for a fight, the tour operator from the Cambodian side and THIS
IDIOT who owned the hotel.
In the end we had to stay. Everybody paid one dollar, I took everything
from the room in an act of divine retribution. Toothbrush, comb, TV
if it had fitted in my bag.
We left at 7am on a local bus, for free. The guy got his mini-van back,
and in the end we made it to an ATM.
Back to Phnom Phen.
The Russian market is like Toys'R'us for big kids. You literally could
buy a child here if you wanted. The food was great and I got some 'real'
aviators. After the Russian market we went to S21 and the killing fields.
can prepare you for this. Three huge blocks, think 1960's high school.
Iron bars on all the windows, barbed wire over the edges to deter
people from committing suicide, a gallows in the middle where people
where tortured. Rooms upstairs for women and children. Pol Pot used
this place to interrogate largely innocent people and torture them.
I took one photo. That was it. Rooms full of photo's of women, children
and men young and old who where killed within these walls. It gives
you the shivers.
Then, to brighten
up our day we went to the killing fields. This is where people were
brought after S21. Here they where maimed, beaten, raped and humiliated
before being clubbed over the backl of the head to die in a mass grave.
Signs around the place inform you that:
"This tree was used to beat children"
"Here they hung loud speakers to drown the noise of those who where
dying" and my favourite: "Please do not walk through the mass
In the middle of this complex there is a huge monument full of skulls,
skulls of those who died here. I didn't really enjoy that day, I found
it hard to smile after. I had to go to KFC.
Phnom Phen was coming to an end. So we went out on a bender to a club:
"The Heart of Darkness" We walked in, a straight invisible
line was drawn down the middle that seperated the foreigners and the
locals, we went to the locals. I did not come travelling to play shit
head all night with people from Brighton. I came for the experience
and boy did we get one.
At some point during the night everybody apart from Gringo and Felix
left. Somehow, Felix managed to bring a girl home, innocent enough.
The bus left at 8am. Felix and Gringo got back in at around 6am. They
missed the bus. They awoke to find a girl sleeping in their bed, a khmer
girl. Dashing around like idiots, they ate breakfast in three minutes,
packed and went back to the room to find this khmer girl asking for
money. "We didn't do anything, if anything you should pay us for
the room!" they exclaimed and left. Leaving the girl in the room
with Chewie, who had absolutely nothing to do with it.
That is how I left Phnom Phen in a blaze of glory to the sound of Eric
Claptons "I feel free".
We certainly did for those five days feel unbelievably free.
© Charlie Graham
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