Category Archives: Cambodia

Troops of Doom

Before we start with this post, we just wanted to say that we have decided to go to Hellfest 2012, in France – which we will do a full report. The line-up is beyond awesome this year, with Black Sabbath, Death Angel, Exodus, Girlschool, Saint Vitus, Pentagram, The Devil’s Blood, Necros Christos, Napalm Death, Blue Oyster Cult…. and 60 other bands which are to be confirmed. Sounds like one hell of a party to me! We will be joined by my best friend Alice… BLACK fuckin’ SABBATH!!! ARGHHH!!!!!!!!


So, here goes for the rest of our Cambodian trip, which was quite horrifying, but mostly beer fueled (and relaxing)!

 

Phnom Penh
Cambodia might have a glorious past (see previous post!), but as most of you know, they have a really, really horrific one as well… it is all over the international news these days too (the remaining leaders are finally being judged in court). The Khmer Rouge were in power only a few years in the mid 70’s, but they left one hell of a bloody streak on the country, killing what is thought to be one QUARTER of its population. It happened not that long ago, and you still see traces of it everywhere.

The Khmer Rouge was led by a madman politician under the name of Pol Pot. Basically, he forced people living in the city to relocate to the countryside to work in collective farms and forced labour projects.

They wanted to form a communist, classless society, abolishing money, schools, private property, law courts, markets… they forbade religion, family ties, and stupid stuff like colourful clothing! Everyone in the country worked for “Angkar” (the Khmer Rouge Empire), which meant “The Organization”. But instead of doing it gradually, they tried to do it overnight by announcing over loudspeakers that the US was going to bomb Phnom Penh, commanding and forcing all citizens to leave their homes and take “refuge” in the countryside, in their home villages. This journey alone lasted many weeks, and many Cambodias died of exhaustion and starvation along the way… but it was only the beginning! The combined effects of forced labour, malnutrition, poor medical care and executions resulted in the deaths of 2,000,000 to 5,000,000 people (Cambodians, as well as a large population of Vietnamese and Chinese, and Thai, Laos, and a few  foreigners) over a period of almost 4 years. They murdered doctors, teachers, government leaders and even Buddhist monks.

With François’ parents, we went to visit the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21), which is a former high school used by the Khmer Rouge to interrogate people whom they suspected of being “enemies of the regime”. They were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured and killed. Out of 20 000 people that were sent there, only 7 survived. It was a truly horrific experience. Read this text if you are not faint of heart!

The entrance to the prison

The main part of the prison, where they held prisoners. There is barbwire everywhere to prevent suicide and escape.

The first floor cells, made out of bricks.

Another view of the prison in its preserved state

A torture room. They used all sorts of torture methods including beatings, electric shocks, hot metal burning, hanging, knife cuts until heavy bleeding, suffocating with plastic bags, pulling out fingernails and then pouring alcohol on the wounds, holding prisoner's heads underwater... arghhh, it was crazy! Notice the dark spot under the bed, it is a gigantic blood stain!!!

The only 7 survivors

The leaders. Obviously people hate them with a passion!

Some prisoners after being interrogated. Notice the wounds... and the poor little kid at the top right

Prisoners were forced to smile on the camera, so they tried to tickle them until they would smile (see hand on left side of the guy)

Thousands of women were killed

My friend Piotr Dubiel, a fellow record hunter whom I know from many years, had told me about his own experience at this prison. I remember he was very much scarred by the “menacing” and “undefeated” looks of the prisoners on photos. This one in particular shared the shit out of me:

You might kill me, but you will never kill my spirit!

At first, they buried the dead corpses around the prison, but after running out of space they had to bring the people alive to a field, which was once a Chinese cemetery, to kill and torture them there…

Skulls dug out from around the prison

Photo of skulls and bones in a warehouse in the Killing Fields, before putting in a communal Stupa

So we actually went to visit the Killing Fields themselves, which were located about 30 minutes drive outside of Phnom Penh. It was transformed into a beautiful garden with a lake, trees and some flowers. We had a really well done audio guide that told us what happened in parts of the fields. It was a creepy experience for sure. There were dozens of mass graves with up to two hundred people buried in each… People there dug their own graves, and were killed not by being shot as ammunition was in short supply, so they were beaten to death with pick axes or other instruments, or their skulls would shattered on tree trunks, etc.

The killing fields! This tree was used to smash kids and babies' heads before burying them in a pit beside the tree. It was cheaper than using ammunition. Pieces of skull, teeth and brain as well as blood was found on the tree trunk. Why kids? So they don't seek revenge for the deaths of their relatives.

A mass grave pit. This one was used for women

A close-up of a sugar palm tree. Instead of using knives, they used this palm thing to slice people's throats so they'd stop screaming.

Fragments of bones and teeth found surfacing from the mass graves after the rainy season

Clothing of the corpses

In the middle of the fields was a large stupa monument, which was built to house the victims’ skulls. You could enter it, and see the skulls from closer…

The skull stupa in the Killing Fields

Some skulls. I got the "death chills" here... last time was in that weird cemetary in the unknown Peruvian ruins! By the way, the broken skulls were smashed before the bodies were buried.

Blahhh, it was quite a downer to visit all these places – but at least we had something to cheer us up… A real, ass-kicking metal bar!! Owned by Mr. Jun, an immigrant metalhead from Taiwan, ZEPPELIN CAFÉ in Phnom Penh was the bar with the best music we’ve heard since we’ve been traveling. It felt just so good to drink beer and listen to REAL metal with no compromises, no poseur songs, no nu-metal, no irritating glam rock… Jun, who is also the DJ, put some incredible set-lists with songs from Trouble, Saint Vitus, Hawkwind, Motörhead, Venom, Judas Priest, Danzig, Blue Cheer, Uriah Heep, Anvil… it was a killer night! In fact, we liked it so much that we found a hotel right next to it hahaha! On top of it, it mixed food and metal, so it made me very happy… they served some excellent home-made Taiwanese fried dumplings. Hell yes!

Inside Zeppelin Cafe

Metal dumplings

Jun is a die hard VENOM fan

Showing off some of his vinyl collection

Phnom Penh was of course not just about metal and prisons and killing fields; it is actually a pretty nice city with a lush green park and some cool buildings. We visited the Royal Palace, some temples (who were partially destroyed by the Khmer Rouge regime) and had some nice dishes.

Phnom Penh Royal Palace main bulding

The national museum. We couldn’t take photos inside, but it was basically only sculptures taken from Angkor and a few other things

The worshipping of Lady Penh. (Legend says that in 1372, an old nun named Lady Penh went to fetch water in the Mekong and found a dead tree floating down the stream. Inside a hole of the tree were four bronze and one stone Buddha statues.)

A lotus flower offering

A weird statue on the back of a temple... I guess it represents some guy starving

Mini temple cat

A huge tree full of... BATS! Yes! Bats in daylight, it was loud and it was the weirdest thing ever!

Fish amok (some kind of fish cake with coconut milk) and rice

We had a taste of a weird local fruit, the "mangosteen". The inside was like a creamy mandarin mix with a lychee texture and after taste!

Poor François has started a bronchitis and is now on 15 days of pills! I tease him that he's now like a grandfather with his dose of pills hahaha

Alas, after spending a month together, we unfortunately had to part with François’ parents, which we are going to miss! Merci beaucoup pour tout vous deux, on vous revoit dans quelques mois!!!

Our goodbye meal – green papaya salad with grilled chicken

The family!


Sihanoukville
Sihanoukville is a seaside town, and has some totally underrated beaches. The town itself is ugly and has no character, but we spend 9 days on the beautiful and quiet Otres Beach – which was 4km away from the town. Most of the time we were sleeping in a bungalow of Don’t Tell Mama, a nice group of bungalows and rooms run by a very hospitable German couple. It was total luxury… white sand, comfortable beds, mosquito nets, hot water… we totally relaxed and pretty much did nothing for the whole stay. We did walk alot though, and went on a boat trip to some islands.

Our bungalow at Don’t Tell Mama

At siesta time, there was always a bird who hung out on the roof, and made the funniest and weirdest sounds. Sometimes he would do psychedelic moog type sounds, monkey cries, chirps… anyway, it was quite entertaining. Check it out:

Basically, our days consisted of waking up, working on the Cauchemar European tour, having lunch, reading, taking a nap, having some 50 cent beers, eating, then heading home and relaxing before sleeping again. Haha! It was so perfect!

Some beautiful emerald colored water

Ruins of a failed hotel that we found walking on a deserted beach

Some killer vegetable “amok”. We had that meal everyday, it was so tasty! Kind of like a really thick coconut curry.

Some woman coming to sell coconuts at 8AM on Otres

A beach breakfast – oven roasted baguette with a potato/mozzarella omelette. Not very Cambodian!

The coast of Bamboo island, which we reached by boat

An evil looking sea urchin, that was picked up by our boat driver. These guys are venomous and will drive its spikes into your skin if they are scared, leaving black spots in your flesh. Its long spikes can grow up to 30 cm! The hole you see at the top of it... is his anus.

A quiet little fishing boat on the seashore

We ate a yummy BBQ on the side of Otres Beach

Otres beach-side camp fire and sunset

A fire dancer, entertaining us during our beach BBQ!


Kampot
After spending time on the beach, we decided to go to Kampot, an even quieter place, located about two hours from Sihanoukville. Known for its pepper cultivation (apparently the best in the world), we spent 5 days of tötal relaxatiön. It is also there where we had the cheapest hotel room so far; 4$ USD a night, including a shower! The food was also very cheap, we could have meals for 1.50$ for two – including skewers, cabbage or green papaya salad, and even dessert. People were also really friendly, as it is less touristic than other places and I guess sometimes they are still not very used to seeing foreigners. The town was once colonized by the French, who built a resort on a nearby mountain.

Our hotel dog was very cute and it slept in the shoe rack, like a cat would do… haha. I had to snap this picture:

Shoe rack dog

What remains of the French colonial architecture

The best thing to do here is to drink beer while watching the sun set on the river... and then go to have some street side beef skewers. Miam!

We took a boat ride on the river. The scenery was very lush and green!

One of the first things we did was to visit the market in search of strange and different food. It was not quite as chaotic as other markets we’ve visited, but it was as colorful (and smelly) haha

The market of Kampot

The speciality here is also the cultivation of "dorian" fruits - which smell like nasty 100-year old used socks

We discovered some yummy bbq’ed bananas covered in crunchy coconut rice. I only saw these once and wish I could find more – they were absolutely delicious!!!

Bbq'ed bananas in banana leaves

Unwrapping 'em... arghhh, they were so good!! They cost 25 cents each.

I also had some beef with the famous local green peppercorn. The freshest and tastiest pepper you can have! It was a real treat – I’ve been putting loads of pepper in my food since hahaha – got me totally addicted!

Beef and green peppercorn stir fry

And at another place, we tried some Beef Lok Lak, which was really good as well:

Beef Lok Lak with egg

Like I mentioned, the only touristy thing we did here was to visit the Bokor Mountain, with the ruined resort on top. We read that we could visit the totally destroyed casino, which is often shrouded in mist, and has a creepy ghastly appearance inside…. but the locals were actually RENOVATING the ruins (apparently to make a museum or something)! They were removing the Khmer Rouge bullet holes that were creating ghostly sounds with the wind! So basically, we arrived up there and saw this:

The ruined casino that is being renovated... what's the point?

A bullet stuck in a nearby rock

Close to this casino was a church, which was still standing – but was turned into a squat (Cambodian people are living in it now, but it was also squatted by the Khmer Rouge during their regime):

The abandoned French catholic church

The squatter's clothing

There was also a monastery, which was half in ruins. I think people were still sleeping in it as well, but I am not sure…

A room in the monastery

The view from the mountain was pretty cool, but we couldn’t see much from all the clouds and mist hiding the scenery haha. There was a huge jungle down there, with apparently tigers and elephants, but we obviously didn’t see any. Upon returning to our van, a tiny monkey (a gibon, I think?) jumped into the van searching for food, and wouldn’t get out! He got on my head and scratched François haha, he was a pain in the ass… I got to take a photo of him:

The annoying van monkey

Oh yeah, I forgot to write how Cambodia was weird for its Lexus and deluxe big car craze. It kind of makes me think of the “bling bling” culture of North America – you live in the hood (in shit wooden houses in this case) but you show that you have money by having a nice big car and a tv. It’s pretty obvious that it’s only about the brand – as they put the logos in really big on the side of the car. It’s absolutely surreal – you can see Lexus cars everywhere! Some restaurant owner told me that Cambodia was the country with the most Lexus cars per capita. It’s all about saving the “face” around here. In Siem Reap, we passed in front of a streetside “house” out of metal scraps (it looks like something you’d build in your basement as kids) and we heard TV playing!

Lexus parked beside the bus station in Kampot

So, in two days we will depart to Bangkok metal city, in Thailand! We will be spending a full month in Thailand – a week in Bangkok, week and a half in the North (including xmas and new year’s), then going south on the beautiful Koh Phi Phi Island before reaching Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.


The Temple in the Underworld

We landed in Siem Reap in mid day, and right away we were swept by the intense heat of the Cambodian sun. The first day we arrived, I got skin allergic reactions from all the heat (I come from Canada, we rarely experience such high temperatures!) but I guess I got used to it, because it got better in a few days. We of course cooled off as much as possible with the local beer, “Angkor” (also the brand name of cigarettes):

Angkor beer! Kind of tastes watery, but ohhh is it ever refreshing at such high temperatures!

Of course, we were in Siem Reap for one goal: to marvel and explore the millennium-old ruins of Angkor. I have been introduced to this magical place by one of my ex-coworkers, Christophe, at the (then) small Montreal graphic design firm Bivouac Studio. The pictures were branded in my mind; intricately carved stone temples destroyed by the Cambodian jungle… it blew me away. Now, five years later, I was standing on those very grounds.

The reign of Angkor (meaning, “city”) has started in AD 802 and lasted until 1431, when the area was sacked and its population migrated to Phnom Penh. During those years (and especially between 900-1200), the Khmer (residents of Cambodia) built some of the world’s most incredible architectural masterpieces. Over one thousand religious buildings were produced; some very minor of course, and some absolutely mind-blowing like Angkor Wat (on which 30 000 people worked for 50 years!). The area covers 1,000 square kilometres, and speculators suggest it contained a population of up to a million people. Angkor was eventually abandoned, and was rapidly cloaked by the jungle… until it got “re-discovered” by a French archaeologist – which cleared the forest and helped renovate and re-assemble the ruins.

The temples were influenced by quite a few religious movements; indigenous cults (worhip of ancestors), royal cult (god-kings), hinduism (shavaism/vaishavism) as well as buddhism. Sometimes temples were defaced and re-engraved with figures of different religions!

We went to visit the ruins of the temples by “tuk tuk” (a moto with a trailer), which brought us anywhere we wanted. It kind of felt like luxury to have your own driver haha!

Downtown Siem Reap, and a bunch of tuk tuks lined on the street

Andrée and Yvon on the tuk tuk. We used that to go everywhere!!!

A typical countryside scenery we would pass by with our tuk tuk

So, here are the ruins we visited… I put them in chronological order so you can see how they evolved over the years:

Preah Ko – Built: 879 AD – Religion: Hindu (Shiva)
Preah Ko, meaning “sacred bull” is one of the first major temples of the empire, located in the early Khmer capital of Hariharalaya. Its six towers have been built on a platform, and you could still see carvings dating from that time:

Preah Ko. Notice the grass growing on the ruins! Shiva’s sacred bulls are right in front of the temple.

Some really cool ancient Hindu sanscrit written on the door frames

All that remains of a building on the grounds

Bakong – Built: 881 – Religion: Hindu
Standing 15 meters tall, and as big as 650m x 850, Bakong is based on a temple-mountain architectural formula… The middle tower is higher because it represents the Mount Maru – which in Hindu mythology, is something like 30 times the height of the earth, haha! For years to come, the next temples will be influenced by this style.

Bakong temple-mountain

Another view of Bakong

François and myself, in front of Mount Maru

Some cool ruins surrounding the temple (don’t you think it would fit on the cover of a Pagan Altar record?

These made me think of some kind ankhorian stonehenge


Banteay Srey
– Built: 967 – Religion: Hindu (Shiva)
Banteay Srey, meaning “citadel of the women”, has to be the most beautifully decorated temple I’ve seen. It’s more than a thousand years old, but it has incredible carvings and engravings in pink sandstone that have been miraculously preserved! Every carving is symbolic, and some tell some Hindu stories…

Banteay Srey, viewed from the surrounding pool

Inside view of Banteay Srey

Intricate carving of vegetation, which is supposed to purify you when you pass beside it... or something like that haha

A demon who protects the temple, and scares evil spirits away

Some kind of hindu mythology scene

Monkeys fighting! Notice the bullet holes - these were done in the 70's, during the Khmer Rouge regime...

Not part of the original construction, but a gigantic ant hill built beside the temple haha... scary!

Angkor Thom – Built: Late 12th century – Religion: Buddhism
Angkor Thom is actually a 3km2  walled royal city that includes many structures, including the famous Baphuon and Bayon temples. It has 5 heavily decorated gates, one for each of the cardinal points – as well as a victory gate.

The South gate leading to the royal city

Baphuon – Built: Around 1050 – Religion: Hindu
Baphuon was first built, and then integrated into Angkor Thom. It is a huge temple-mountain, which is dedicated to the Hinduism linga cult (phallic symbol of fertility). It is mostly in ruins, which makes it even cooler looking!

Baphuon temple

Its unfinished gigantic reclining Buddha. You don’t really see it, but trust me, it’s there!!

A nearby temple that looks strangely like some ancient mayan ruins...

Bayon – Built: Around 1180  – Religion: Buddhist
Bayon is one of the biggest and most important temples in the area. It was in fact a state-temple, and is easily recognizable by its 54 towers sporting 217 carved faces. It is also well known for its bas-relief carvings, which has everything from dancing nymphs to cockfights!

You can take an elephant ride to visit the Bayon temple!

Bayon temple Southern entrance

Dancing apsaras

A devada, heavenly nymph

The towers with the strange faces

A close-up of one of the faces

Andrée, Yvon and François exploring the temple (they are too tall to enter the next room haha)

More dancing apsaras

Bayon temple from the East

Angkor Wat – Built: Early 12th century – Religion: Hinduism
Angkor Wat is visually, architecturally, and artistically a masterpiece. It is also the best preserved temple in Angkor, and one of the largest religious structures in the world! Its three towers, which are made to look like lotus flowers, rise up to 65 meters from the ground! It is again a temple-mountain, dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. It has also served as a state temple, but some speculate it was a funerary temple/tomb due to it facing westward…

François and Yvon at the entrance gate

After crossing the gate, on the way to Angkor Wat. Notice the epically spectacular blue cow-pattern outfit the Chinese woman on the left is wearing!!

Some of the beautiful carvings inside Angkor Wat. This one describes a battle.

Top pillar representing Mt Manu

Spectacular view of the entrance of Angkor Wat from the top

Devadas

Inside Angkor Wat walls at the sunset

Angkor Wat reflecting on one of its pools, by sunset!!

Banteay Samre – Built: Mid 12th century – Religion: Hindu (Vishnu)
Banteay Samre was built around the same time as Angkor Wat, using the same architectural style… but of course, it is nowhere as big. The carvings are still in good condition, but the temple has been looted quite alot in the last few decades.

Benteay Samre building

An amusing worshipping of (what remains of) Buddha’s feet

Inside one of the wings

Ta Prohm – Built: 1186 – Religion: Buddhist
Although all the other temples are really cool, this is by far my favourite one. Surrounded by the jungle, which has merged itself into the temple – leaving it as decaying ruins, Ta Prohm makes you feel like you are almost the first one discovering it. It is a really other-worldly experience to walk in there. It surprisingly still had some killer carvings as well! My expectations were largely surpassed.

The Entrance of Ta Prohm

A friendly Buddhist monk that was hanging out on the premises! He let me take his photo, and gave me such a friendly smile!!

Using all my strength to keep the temple walls up!!

The entrance to one of the corridors

A tree taking over a wall

A tower

The “crocodile” tree in Ta Prohm. Don’t ask me why they call it that!!

Total ruins with devada nymphs

The coolest mix of nature overtaking human work... this right here is a silk-cotton tree on top of another tree, and covering picturesquely an obscure doorway...

More killer ruins!

DEATHCRUSHED!

Exiting Ta Prohm

Preah Khan – Built: 1191 – Religion: Buddhist
Quite similar to Ta Prohm in both architectural and nature crushing ways, Preah Khan (meaning Sacred Sword) was once dedicated to 515 (!) divinities. It has many tiny corridors and dark secret passages…

A tree taking over the East wall of the temple

A spider that was hanging out in the temple (doesn’t it look strange?

An outside “library” or mini-temple on the promises

Inside Preah Khan, looking out

Sexy Apsara dancers

More killer trees, arghhhh!!

What I like about the whole Ankhor complex of temples is that, contrary to Macchu Picchu where only the rich can visit it, every Cambodgian citizen is allowed to enter for free. Unfortunately, at the same time, it attacts many annoying sellers to the sites… often, the sellers are even four years old! It makes it very hard to access and leave a site, as they surround you and try to sell you ugly souvenirs with a really high-pitched tone… and most of the time I just ran away haha! Of course, we are on their territory so we have to deal with it.

We also had some superb Khmer meals so far, my favourite being the neverending coconut curries. You can never go wrong with them! They are so good!!

Pumpkin curry. Yum!

“Tropical” stirfried chicken with rice

Beside the temples, we also visited something totally unusual; Kompong Phluk – a century-old Khmer village located in a flooded forest. In fact, the houses are built on 6-meter high support piers, on top of the Tonle Sap Lake – who’s water level changes every season. For most of the year, the lake is fairly small (one meter deep/2,700 square km wide). During the rainy season, however, water is pushed up into the lake, increasing its area to nine meters deep/16,000 square km wide, flooding nearby fields and forests. Right now, the water level was still very high, so you barely saw the mangrove forest, and there was less than a meter left before the water reached the houses! It looked really cool, almost like the entire village was floating! And you ask, why go through so much trouble building a village that gets flooded every year? The Tonle Sap lake is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia, and provides 75% of Cambodia’s annual inland fish/seafood catch. Building your village right in the middle of it makes fishing much easier! But soon, the waters will go back to normal. Kompong Phluk will see the ground and its residents will have to climb ladders six meters high to enter their homes (!!)… for now, everyone is enjoying the water; especially children (who are butt naked half the time!!)…

The boat we rode on the lake to get to the village. It had to sail around 30 minutes before reaching Kompong Phluk!

The main “road” of the village! Notice the temple at the very back...

Everyone is naked here haha, kids are either sailing or swimming, plunging directly from their porches. They might not have the best living conditions, but I’ve rarely seen such a happy community...

Some "floating" houses

Daily life!

Such a peaceful town...

The flooded mangrove forest

There are some restaurants, a school – and even a monastery in the village!!

The huge monastery!

The school, which seemed to be only for girls?

It was quite a refreshing experience… the people there were so friendly, I couldn’t believe it. I felt a bit voyeur to enter their daily life, but they seemed used to it – and everyone would smile!!!

We then had to leave Siem Reap and reach Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital… we have been there for a few days already, and are going to Sihanookville already, but I will leave these for a later post. In the meantime, here are some street food that was sold in between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh – where the buses would stop for pee breaks!

Some steamed buns, which tasted exactly like Vietnamese Banh Bao’s.

Inside of the buns! You can find pork, onions, ¼ egg, sausage, etc... sooo good!

Myself with some GIGANTIC pomelo’s!

Peeled pomelo. The skin is half an inch thick!

A beautiful cockroach salad... just kidding, don't know what kind of insect this is haha

And to my mother’s disgust (haha, sorry mom!), I tried a local specialty… fried tarantula! These babies, who are the size of a human palm and hairy as hell,  are bred in holes or foraged for in nearby forestland, marinated in chili and garlic then fried in oil. It is not clear how this practice started, but some have suggested that the population might have started eating spiders out of desperation during the years of Khmer Rouge rule, when food was in short supply. I was kind of put off at first, but tried eating its legs and found that they were good and crunchy! Kind of like crunchy chicken wings, you know? You don’t eat the body though, as it is either full of eggs or excrement.

The spiders in their spider bowl

Eating a spider!

OK, that’s it for now! Tomorrow we are leaving for a nice week on the beach. We got to relax sometimes hehe!