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Angkor: The best of Southeast Asia

by becca on November 18, 2009

We spent most of this week in Siem Reap, where the Angkor Temples stand. From these temples the great Khmer empire ruled most of Southeast Asia from the 5th century to the 14th century. For centuries, many of these temples were forgotten by all of the world save for the Buddhist monks living in the most famous temple, Angkor Wat. In 1915 a French explorer stumbled across the temples, abandoned and over grown by the jungle, and shared his findings with the world. Some of the temples, such as Ta Prohm, were totally taken over by the jungle and now nature and the remnants of man exist together, creating a surreal setting, fit for the likes of the movie Tomb Raider, which was actually filmed there.

We spent two days exploring the temples, traveling from one to another with our handy tuk-tuk driver, Jon. On the walkways to the entrances were bands of disabled musicians playing traditional Cambodian music, people selling fruit and cold drinks, of course other tourists, and small children hawking crafts and postcards. We brought along handfuls of chocolate coins to give out, thus thwarting their sales pitches. Their reactions ranged from pure joy to “give me one more?” but always ending in a smile.

Both days the temperature must have reached 90 degrees, but the shade of the temples provided a cool retreat and when walking past temple corridors soft wind wistfully greeted us.
At some points the grandeur of the huge structure, the carvings covering every inch of temple, the roots of centuries’ old trees hugging the battered stones, turned us back into children in a make-believe land, as we stared in awe at the beauty man, nature, and time.

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B-52s Litter Cambodia

by becca on November 15, 2009

US bombing in Cambodia

The United States dropped over 2.75 million tons of bombs in Cambodia between 1963 and 1975. Intended to attack the North Vietnamese troops along the border, more tons than all bombs used by the Allies in WWII, including the nuclear bombs used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombing started under Lyndon Johnson and was continued and increased by Nixon, who was decieving the American public about the situation in Southeast Asia. This information was only revealed in 2000 when President Clinton gave Cambodia the Air Force data to help assist with locating the unexploded ordinance that now litters the country and still devastates families more than three decades after the fact.

“There are no American combat troops in Cambodia. There are no American combat advisers in Cambodia. There will be no American combat troops or advisers in Cambodia. We will aid Cambodia. Cambodia is the Nixon doctrine in its purest form….” – President Richard M. Nixon, November 1971 to the American people

“They have got to go in there and I mean really go in…I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them. There is no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget. Is that clear?” – Nixon to National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger

“He wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies, on anything that moves. You got that?” – Kissinger relaying Nixon’s orders

This bombing instead of killing the Vietnamese Communists and halting the Ho Chi Minh Trail, just drove them further into Cambodia. It also helped the Khmer Rouge to recruit villagers by uniting them against the American bombing and killing. Innocent people were dying, their villages being blown up, their rice fields and other farms destroyed. Where else could they turn? The Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 when the US backed government was overthrown and the four-year reign of terror began.

Have we learned from our mistakes? Have we stopped bombing the innocent to get to the enemy?

Between bombs, land mines, genocide and the continued fighting of the Khmer Rouge from the jungle until 1998, Cambodia had been in a state of war for 40 years. Today, over 50% of Cambodia’s population is under 18.

How does a country of scarred adults and children, many orphaned, poor or permantly injured from the war’s leftovers, rebuild itself? Tourism is helping and Japan and Korea are pouring in investment money. There are NGOs like Sak Saum changing the country by investing in individuals. But is it enough? The Cambodian people are beautiful and resilient but the devastation has been great and I fear it’s a long road to full recovery.

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Boating Across the Tonle Sap

November 15, 2009

From Battambang we took a 5-6 hour boat ride to Siem Reap via the Tonle Sap, which in Khmer means roughly “Great Lake.” The boat was small, with about eight rows of wooden benches under an aluminum roof. It rained in the morning, which was actually nice because it kept the air cool for a [...]

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Volunteering in Phnom Penh

November 14, 2009

Nate and I spent the past 5 days doing a quick volunteering project with an NGO in Phnom Penh called Sak Saum. In Khmer (Cambodian language), Sak Saum means “dignity.” They provide a safe environment for women in Cambodia who have been or at risk of being trafficked through a one-year program that combines counseling, [...]

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S-21 and the Killing Fields

November 12, 2009

The day we arrived in Phnom Penh we visited two of the cities most dramatic remnants of the Khmer Rouge’s bloody reign of terror: Tuol Sleng (S-21), and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields.
The experience was chilling. The torture rooms were golden with sunlight pouring in through the windows yet in the middle lay the [...]

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Hello Cambodia

November 9, 2009

We’re in Cambodia now. We crossed the border at Ha Tien, a newly opened crossing basically on the coast where Cambodia and Vietnam meet. We took a mini bus with a few other folks to Kampot, a small town near the Gulf of Thailand with vivid architectural reminders of French occupation (and progress). My favorite [...]

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