Beautiful Cambodia

20140520_113500 20140520_173451

Latimer: This post has been such a long time coming. For various reasons I never got round to finishing off my South East Asian adventure posts! 

Yummy Fish Amok, a Cambodian dish

Yummy Fish Amok, a Cambodian dish, it’s inside a coconut!

Well, last time I left off, I was leaving Vietnam for Cambodia. I was really looking forward to this. One of the main reasons I’d gone on this trip was to make it to Cambodia. I’d heard such good things about it from my brother, who is still as taken with it now as it was when he’d first been there. It grabbed hold of him somehow. And, now I know why.

For those of you that don’t know, Cambodia was once the jewel of South East Asian; prosperous and full of very well educated people. It was once the ancient empire of Kampuchea; it ruled South East Asia.

That glorious past was blotted out in the 1970’s when Pol Pot’s terrifying Khmer Rogue communist organisation came to power. I wouldn’t get into the horrific details; these people, if you can call them that, declared that the country had entered Year Zero, and that meant going back to the Stone Ages in some respects. The educated people were viewed as traitors (the  were sent off to the countryside to work as labourers on the farm, the country entered a famine; neighbours were encouraged to ‘spy’ on each other and inform on each other (even though no one did anything, it was all about fear and mistrust).

Pol Pot’s regime committed genocide; they tortured thousands of people, wiped out whole families (men, women and children), sending them off to the Killing Fields.

People leave bracelets at burial markers in the Killing Fields

People leave bracelets at burial markers in the Killing Fields

20140521_113315

20140521_114037

When we visited one of the most horrific and infamous prisons, Tuol Sleng (S-21), our guide told us that in Pol Pot’s reign of terror (which he lived through), there were only two words; Friend, or Enemy… Friend meant ‘life’, Enemy meant ‘death’. The Khmer Rouge preached that they had the ‘eyes of a pineapple and ears everywhere’ – they preached that everyone should spy on each other (or face death), and so no one was safe.

20140521_082613

Tuol Sleng prison

20140521_090252

Our guide, his father (a Professor) had been taken by the Khmer Rouge during the regime. They never found out what happened to him.

20140521_082452

This is the dark side of Cambodia. To this day the Cambodian courts are trying the last living high ranking members of the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot died in the early 1990’s having never acknowledged how he’d tried to destroy his people and his country).

It’s very, very sad, but the Cambodian people are truly incredible. They are strong; stronger than I think I could ever be. I was very touched by what had happened to them, but I think they should be beyond proud of their resilience. 

It was a hard day when we went to Tuol Sleng and then the infamous Killing Field, Choeung Ek. A very hard day. But Cambodia is more than that, so when we went to the amazing Angkor, we got a glimpse back in time at the ancient Kampuchea Empire.

20140523_054243

Walking towards something wonderful

Angkor Wat is the most famous temple in the Angkor complex; it’s a Hindu temple originally. And it was interesting to learn that the languages and scripts of Khmer, Laotian and Thai derive from Hindu and India, not China as I always expected. Many of the temples in Angkor are Hindu; or at least originally, they later became Buddhist.

We got to Angkor Wat for the sunrise – which as it turns out it very popular – haha, of course it is. Anyway, it was packed full of people and I didn’t get a very good picture… but I was there and it was amazing. This is me trying to remember it’s not about the picture but the experience.

Angkor Wat sunrise

Angkor Wat sunrise

Angkor Wat sunrise

Angkor Wat sunrise

This is the sort of photo people try to get, where the temple is reflected on the lake in front... yeah we all tried!

This is the sort of photo people try to get, where the temple is reflected on the lake in front… yeah we all tried!

Inside Angkor Wat

Inside Angkor Wat

20140523_082919

A guy getting a Hindu bracelet in Angkor Wat temple… I still have mine!

20140523_073146

Blessing bracelets inside Angkor Wat

20140523_073152 20140523_073524 20140523_074310 20140523_074501 20140523_082508

After Angkor Wat, we went to Angkor Thom, the ‘great city’. This was an emperors capital city during the Kampuchea empire. There is a temple inside that has his face built into the walls.

20140523_094911

My travelling buddha makes it to Angkor Thom – onward Buddha, onward…

20140523_092417 20140523_093025 20140523_094030

We then went to the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple, where the first movie was shot. The temple is actually called Ta Prohm. It’s spectacular. You might know it as the temple with all the roots on it.

20140523_110215 20140523_110438 20140523_110817 20140523_111327 20140523_111657 20140523_112449 20140523_112544 20140523_112851

Cambodia really is an amazing country.

We had the opportunity to visit some schools, built and run by international donations and the people of the New Hope Cambodia organisation (which is fantastic). We had dinner at the school, cooked by local teenagers being trained to enter the hospitality industry, giving them a trade. We also sat in on an English class (the kids were amazing) – there’s one classroom called the Irish Classroom (I wasn’t in it) – it’s because there’s an Irish woman that donated a lot of money to the school. That’s great.

20140522_185816 20140522_190351 20140522_191657 20140522_205045

The thing to remember is after Pol Pot’s regime the country lost it’s teachers and educated people. The schools in Cambodia are far behind the rest of the world and lots of children don’t even go to school. So it was great to see that there are grassroots initiatives for Cambodians to help get their country back on track. 

It goes to show you that you can’t keep good people down; people are more resilient that you’d think.

20140524_182309

After a few days in Cambodia I was back in the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, where I’d started my amazing journey. I had some time to collect myself before flying back home.

As always, I’m thinking of the next adventure to come! 

Advertisements

The Art of Terracotta

giphy

Latimer: Overnight trains in China are an experience, let me tell you! On my tour I think I ended up taking 4 of them. I was really worried about the first one, because I like my creature comforts; I’m not proper backpacker material at all!

So, standing in an unbelievably crowded Beijing train station waiting to board the overnight train to Xi’an, my mind was racing with the thought – “I really don’t want to do this…”

164_o

Coming from a small Island where the longest journey from one end of the country to the other is probably about 6 hours, I sometimes get overwhelmed by the fact that 14 hours on a train doesn’t even take you from one end of China to another, not by half. It reminds me how vast the country is – I thought you could go to Beijing, see the Wall, then pop off to Xian and see the Terracotta Warriors, almost in the same day – oh what a fool!

The train to Xi’an could carry up to 1,000 people, and it felt like there were 1,000 people waiting to board it. I must have looked like a caged animal – there are more people living in Beijing than there are on the whole island of Ireland, I was well out of my depth!

The train ride wasn’t so bad in the end and by getting to Xi’an I was off to see the glorious Terracotta Army!

20140314_102852

Pit 1

20140314_101757

Pit 1

20140314_101744

Pit 1

20140314_103223

Pit 1

20140314_111356

Pit 2

Pit 3 (a lot left to find eh?!)

Pit 3 (a lot left to find eh?!)

Pit 3 (broken statues!)

Pit 3 (broken statues!)

The Terracotta Army belongs to Emperor Qin Shi Huang – he of the Great Wall fame.

He became the first Emperor of China at age 13yrs and started planning his tomb straightaway. He is buried inside a man-made mound that is overlooked by Mount Li (a scared mountain), in a valley that is considered to have excellent Feng Shui. The Emperor’s body is said to rest with his feet towards the Yellow River and his head towards Mount Li, because this is Feng Shui (which means ‘wind-water’).

The Emperor’s tomb has never been opened – it’s said to be an underground palace with rivers of mercury and Terracotta concubines. The reason it hasn’t been excavated is the technology doesn’t exist to open the tomb without damaging it. And the tomb is booby-trapped.

It’s also said to be full of great treasures. In fact, the whole city of Xi’an is said to rest on top of enough treasures of jade and gold to purchase the whole of America (I might take that with a grain of salt though!). No one’s excavated so it’s hard to know, but if it’s true there could be more amazing things yet to be uncovered in China!

The Terracotta Army stand in battle formation around the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. They face outward, ready to be led into battle by the Emperor. Each of the men in the army has a different face; this was a mandate by the Emperor, each warrior had to look as unique as any person did. If the artist failed to do this, he was executed and the warrior destroyed.

They used to be brightly painted but once they were excavated the paint faded and was destroyed. They were painted green, pink, gold and blue; bright colours that were lucky and said to fend off evil spirits. The one’s uncovered in recent times are sprayed with special chemicals to keep the paint from fading.

20140314_111211 20140314_111520 20140314_111530

When the Emperor died and was entombed, the army was buried in underground pits and covered over with wooden planks and grass to hide them from the rest of the world.

But after the Emperor died, there was a rebellion in China (called the Farmer’s Rebellion) and the rebels broke into the Terracotta Army pits to steal the bronze weapons that the army held. On the way out of the pits, the rebels set fire to the wooden planks, this caused a cave-in that smashed and buried the statues, so that today they find the warriors in pieces. There are always archaeologists in the pits trying to excavate the statues and piece them back together.

20140314_104228

3 pits have been uncovered to date. They contain; infantry, chariots (and horses), archers, lieutenants and generals. In the first pit there are estimated to be 6,000 warriors and only 1,000 have been excavated.

20140314_113557 20140314_113518 20140314_113152 20140314_113256 20140314_113338

The warriors were discovered in the 1970s by farmers. They discovered the head of one of the warriors in their field. They thought it was bad-luck (evil spirits) to their families and the village, so they smashed the head and brought it to a priest. The priest sent to the cultural department in Beijing and the excavation of the field began.

Today you can meet one of the old farmer’s at the site and shake his hand if you like!

Seeing the warriors, was amazing 🙂

On my way off the site, I managed to pick up my own mini warrior – it’s the General (pronounced Jun-Jwin in Chinese)… 🙂 well I couldn’t leave China without one!

IMG_20140410_171018

Previous post: Walking along a Wall