Editorial | Articles about Cambodia | Khmer

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Reshuffle Priority

Reshuffle Priority
September 27, 2005
By Kok Sap

Since France regrettably spat it out in the 50's, Cambodia desperately needs others to respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity to the fullest.But most non compliant. It lives with intolerable sense of inferiority and insecurity. The cunning neighbors continue to mull Cambodia left and right whether economically or militarily up to this moment. In order to command respect from others, a nation needs a strong well trained and compensated force that is willing to lie down and defend it. This may be unappetizing to many but undeniably Cambodia has always put its priority backward. No other way but to put this bluntly in order to re-evaluate what's important to resolve the situation. Truth is not pretty but each must accept this unjust prejudice and bias.

For its national security and self determination, however, Cambodia had short changed its active armed force men at best. For the longest it is irresponsible of the governments that its armed forces have to argue to get fed and paid. Of course this seems provocatively relevant to one another in term of societal responsibility and reciprocity.

Appallingly the society was more responsive and readily to provide to the massive of ordained men without reservation in the whole land. My question here is what most of these men have done for Cambodia beside their most willingness to elevate and influence people with no comprehensibility of the dead foreign languages daily. Practically playing flute for the buffalo ears. What's Khmerization to them? Khmerization is nationalism.

Shame to say at least other religion for instance Christianity is on target as it readily in providing its following its Holy book in excellent Khmer translation. Other hand Buddhism in Cambodia is still remaining critically ineptitude and servitude in term of literacy and comprehension since mid 1200's. Is it a coincidence? Not really.

Buddhism is an extended arm of monarchy to solidify its control over population at the expense of real democracy as each has its own dialect respectively to belittle Cambodia intelligence. In return Cambodia Constitution is falsely stipulating its present motto: Nation? Religion? King? Implied one can't do without other. As far as the religion, Cambodia is no longer a single religion country but its Constitution overtly misrepresented its true intent. Not a law but a lie.

Do not get this wrong it will not be a respectable democracy if people can't have rights to believe and practice beliefs.

Regardless of what period, it is absurd and indicative disrespect for the government to mistreat armed forces which bear a sacred duty of its defense. The existence of Cambodia thus far is not because of the religion or the King but purely nationalism of the falling men and women of generational armed forces. Other thing armed forces are not to be bought or affiliated with any particular party otherwise it will be fallen into the feudalistic fiefdom wherein this regard Cambodia is exactly.

Defense depends on force which made up of men who need decent and respectable livelihood in orderly society. These men trade their life and family hope for less than a bottle of whiskey cost per month for some high ranking officials in Phnom Penh. They are proudly to die if needed be for the country. Why people and government do not try to uplift these men necessity. Is it making sense, if we do not want to feed people but yet force them to do the utmost extreme for our very existence?

A lot of people say quantity but I say quality is much important. For example Israel of less than 2 million people in the 60's but it had beaten Arabs of hundreds million pants downed .Each of its citizen has an obligation to serve and defend the nation. They did not fight harder but smarter with tremendous support from their compatriots and government. Remember Israel is no better than Cambodia now it still lives off US charity all these years since its illegal homestead of Palestine after WWII.

In real life people tell me all the times "Every man for his Own" and I agree "So Does the Country." If a man can't be decent how can be his government? For that reason, just look at the Cambodia so called modern armed forces, you'll see.

Astoundingly true that Cambodia people would do what it takes to defend their land as long as their government is for them. There were times that Cambodia had broken down its enemies will despite of capability and size. Therefore the government needs to give undivided attention and respect to armed forces in case Cambodia facing its hereditary violators unexpectedly.

If Hun Sen requires two thousand strong men to protect his, so what's the real need for Cambodia of 13 millions? How comes these men will indiscriminately killed anyone who may attempt to harm their feeder? It is not out of natural love but mere survival as Hun Sen beefing up these men with vanities. Therefore they are more than willing to take bullets for the sake of their rice pot as supposed to the whole nation.

SUBMITTED BY: Kok Sap, Email: koks....@yahoo.com Tue, 27 Sep 2005

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Angkor Wat by Bicycle

Angkor Wat by Bicycle
by Antonio Graceffo

“Gi gong. Gi gong!” I repeated, switching to Khmer. “I want to ride a bicycle around Angkor Wat.” I insisted.

“But it is more than thirty kilometers.” Protested the clerk at the bicycle shop. “And besides, it is raining.”

Thirty kilometers isn’t a huge distance for a bicycle. But, he did have a point about the rain.

“When do you think it will let up?” I asked, considering postponing.“In a month or two.”
“Give me a bicycle now.” I decided. I paid my two dollars rental, and made the clerk’s day. Now, when he went for lunch with his colleagues, he would
have a great story to tell.

Cambodia is great for adventure tours, but if you are afraid of water, (is that called hydrophobic?) you shouldn’t come in the rainy season. The air temperature is always pretty high, so a cool drizzle feels good. Besides,
twenty minutes into a bike ride I am usually dripping with sweat anyway.

The bicycle, a cheap Chinese copy of a mountain bike, was easily the worst
bicycle I had ever ridden. Neither the gears nor the brakes worked, which
was a lot of fun in the rain. The seat post and wheels were bent, and the
rear axles made a loud klunking noise once each revolution of the wheel. The
chain also went completely slack at times, causing the pedals to spin
independently. They would usually come around and crack me on the shins. It
was a lot like when I was learning Khmer Kickboxing and had to kick tree
trunks with my shins.

“You will be a champion some day.” Said Thavrin, who would be my companion
for the entire Cambodian adventure.

I’ve had better bicycles. But no bicycle ever gave me as much as this one
did, taking me around Angkor Wat. It is one of the Seven Wonders of the
World, and I was there on a bicycle. Not bad for a boy from Brooklyn who
once believed you would fall off the Earth if you went beyond East 78th

Khmers think foreigners are all insane. In Khmer culture, anyone with enough
money to go on vacation could afford a driver, or at least a car. They don’t
quite understand why we would chose to ride a bicycle. For me, aside from a
need to work off all of the free four-star meals I had been eating in this
trip, I feel a bicycle is the best way to tour anything. It is faster than
walking, which can sometimes get tedious. You can barely walk thirty
kilometers in a day, much less stop off and look at interesting temples. A
car is too fast. And there is something both decadent and displeasing about
stepping out of an air-conditioned vehicle, snapping a digital photo, and
then driving to the next interesting temple. A bicycle is somehow more

From the town of Siem Reap to the Angkor Wat complex is only about two or
three kilometers. Less than one kilometer out of Siem Reap, the noise level
drops to zero. You follow a beautiful, tree-lined path to the mote. No
matter how many photos you have seen of Angkor Wat, nothing will prepare you
for your first glimpse of the actual temple. It rises up like some beautiful
creation of the gods.

Entrance into the park is free for Khmers. For foreigners, it costs $20 for
a day pass, or $40 for a three-day pass. The park is so incredibly large,
that it cannot be seen in a day, or even three for that matter. If you have
already paid thousands of dollars for a plane ticket to Cambodia, you might
as well stay the extra two or three days and really experience Angkor Wat.
Once again, like all of the temple complexes in Cambodia you are free to
wander and do pretty much whatever you want to inside of the park. But, it
would be recommended to hire a guide. English speaking guides run about $20
per day. Guides for other languages are more expensive. The guides will
explain the intricacies of ancient Khmer architecture, as well as all of the
legends from the Ramayana and elsewhere, which appear on the walls of the
great temple. Without a guide you are just wandering aimlessly about,
snapping photos of interesting stoneworks, which will all look the same to
you when you get the photos developed after you return home.

At the park entrance, the guard told me I had to buy a ticket. Since I had a
krama, a traditional Khmer scarf, wrapped around my head, and I speak Khmer,
I tried to get in for free.

“I am Khmer.” I told him. “I don’t have to pay.”
Many Khmers have never heard a foreigner speak their language, and the guard
was noticeably taken off balance. Finally, he formulated the question that
had been running around his head. “If you are Khmer why is your skin so

“My father is Chinese.” I said.
“But your Khmer doesn’t sound perfect.”
“My mother died in the war.”
This almost convinced him. But then he asked. “Why do you have round eyes?”
“I was adopted by an American family.” I said.

I don’t think he actually believed the story. But there must have been
nothing in his training course to prepare him for a foreigner trying to pass
himself off as a half Chinese war orphan. Finally, we both burst out
laughing, and I felt a little guilty about my clumsy attempt at deception.
Of course, the joke was on me, because now I had to shell out $40 for a
three-day pass.

“Tell your mother she can get in for free.” He told me, as he waved me

Maybe he had believed me after all.

Once through the gates, there is a choice of two routes to take, the Grand
Loop or the Small Loop. I chose the Grand Loop, which measures about thirty
kilometres all the way around the complex. Roughly the first kilometer takes
you past the main Angkor Wat temple, which you are familiar with from
postcards and T-Shirts. And, if you have had the good fortune of living in
Cambodia for a year and a half, as I have, you will have received at least
one gift, a dinner plate, paperweight, or toothbrush, which bears the sacred
image. Angkor Wat is the symbol of Khmer pride; its image even adorns the
Cambodian flag. The time of the Angkor Empire, 1100 AD is also referred to
as The Glorious Age, when Khmer civilization was at its peak, and Cambodia
was more than twice its current size.

According to my guide, Samban, from Phnom Penh Tours, in ancient times,
Cambodia bordered China, Thailand, Lao, and Myanmar. Effectively, there was
no Vietnam at that time. Ho Chi Minh City, Saigon, was part of Cambodia.
But, eventually, the Kingdom of Vietnam encroached on Khmer soil, until
Cambodia no longer reached to China. Later, the French ceded the lower half
of Cambodia, called Kampuchea Krom, to Vietnam. Thailand also infringed on
Cambodian territory, even occupying Angkor Wat for some brief periods of

Although Angkor Wat is both a world heritage site and the single most
important, artefact of Cambodian history, the temple is not some isolated
relic. It is a living, breathing part of modern Khmer life. Bamboo huts of
neighbouring villages are built right up to the mote of the ancient temple.
Hawkers earn their living selling products to the visitors, with constant
shouts of “Mr, OK, you come eat drink, ok.” The mote is so large, that
people make a profession of fishing in it. Children ride bicycles along the
great stone walls, but not the whole thirty kilometers, only foreigners were
that dumb, and we saw several others doing the same as us.

One of the nice things about travelling by bicycle is that you are
guaranteed a warm reception wherever you go. I wanted my first day at Angkor
Wat to be about the people who lived along its perimiter or made their
living directly from the temple. On a bicycle it was easy to stop and
converse with people anytime we chose. And of course the Khmer people were
always willing to chat.

The first people we stopped to talk to was a group of small children doing
traditional fishing. They waded into the marshy areas on the fringes of the
mote carrying a scoop-shaped screen made of woven bamboo. They stooped down,
and pushed the screen, like a sledge, through the water. Similar to panning
for gold, when the screen was full, they would pick through the silt and
weeds. After discarding the muck on his screen, a small boy put a handful of
tiny fish in a plastic jug.

“Do you do this for business?” I asked him.
“No, for soup.” He answered.

The children tried to teach me to use the screen but I couldn’t get the hang
of it. The trick was to trawl jut deep enough to collect water, but not so
deep that the screen fowled on the long weeds growing up out of the water.
Even for experienced fishers the job was not very rewarding. After hours of
fishing, the children had collected about thirty fish, each the size of your

We crossed over the bridge at the North Gate of Angkor Tom. The tops of the
railings along the sides of the bridge were seven-headed naga (giant
serpents from Hindu/Buddhist mythology). The thirty-meter long naga were
supported by stone figures, each of which depicted a different character
from Hindu/Buddhist mythology. The figures fighting for good were on the
left side of the bridge. And the evil characters were on the right.

At the end of the bridge we passed beneath a massive stone arch, which
displayed bas-reliefs from the myth, entitled, The Churning Sea of Milk (Go
Samut Duk Dah). Set atop the arch was a Buddhist satva. Samban explained. “A
satva is someone on his way to becoming Buddha. The Dali Lama would be an
example of a Satva.”

We rode on to a lesser-visited attraction, which is not on the itinerary of
the one-day tourists. Samban led me from the road, down a quiet green path.
We climbed up an embankment, and stood atop a stone parapet. In the ground
below us gaped an oval shaped hole reminiscent of an ancient area. The pit
was approximately three meters deep, and the area measured approximately
100m squared.

“It is believed.” Said Samban “That the ancient Khmers would drive wild
elephants into this put and train them for the army.”

At that moment it dawned on me that not only were the ancient Khmers gone,
but the elephants as well. In addition to being home to the most powerful
empire in Indochina, Cambodia had also been home to elephants and tigers.
But, like so many other resources in the country, countless years of civil
war, poverty, and corruption have driven the animals nearly to extinction.

Back on the bicycles we enjoyed the serenity and invasive green of the Khmer
rainy season. It would probably have been better to ride a bike on a sunny
day, but at least the rain kept us cool. In the dry season the heat would
have been oppressive.

Our next stop was at Preah Khan, which was originally built as a Buddhist
temple in 1191 by King Jaya Varaman VII, who instituted Buddhism as the
national religion of Cambodia. But, when he died, King Jaya Varaman VIII
changed the national religion back to Hinduism. The new king ordered the
faces of the Buddhist statues destroyed. Today, the temple is adorned with
15,000 faceless Buddas.

The temple was topped by a tile roof, and constructed of heavy stone blocks
connected with metal joints. Temples were protected by tremendous bas
reliefs of the three mythical animals garuda (half man/half bird), naga, and
lions. These were the symbols of power and were permitted to remain on the
temple after the ascension of Jaya Varaman VIII. All three figures garuda,
naga, and lion have since been accepted by both Buddhist and Hindu kings of

Both the enormity of these temples and the beauty of the detailed
craftsmanship is difficult to take in. That devotion to a god unseen drove
men to create such structures is unfathomable today, when most of us cant be
bothered to go to church. But, one of the most amazing aspects of the
temples is that no one ever lived in them. Even monks and kings were housed
outside, in wooden structures. The temples were strictly the dwelling places
of the gods.

Many of the temples were surrounded by a mote, and enclosed behind
stonewalls, which bore a martial appearance. Reminded of European castles, I
asked Samban if the temples had played any military role, if perhaps in
times of war, they would have been used as fortresses. Any discussion of
Cambodian history always tuns to the unhealed scars left by the Khmer Rouge.
The Angkor Empire had departed from the Earth hundreds of years before
anyone had heard of Pol Pot. But the precious stones of Angkor Wat were
witnesses to genocide.

Samban explained that during the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, form
1979 to 1987, the Vietcong turned these temples into garrisons. Siem Reap
was the primary battleground during the war between the Khmer Rouge and Lon
Nol, 1970-1975. So, obviously tourists weren’t able t visit the temples at
that time. During the Khmer Rouge period, 1975-1979, no foreigners were even
allowed to enter Cambodia. The first tourism officially began in 1987, when
the Vietnamese government created a state-run tourist agency. At that time,
there were very few tourists, and mostly from Communist Block countries.
But, the area around the temples had been so heavily mined by Vietnamese
soldiers that you couldn’t visit most of them. Siem Reap remained a Khmer
Rouge stronghold until 19991 when UNTAC arrived (The UN peace keeping

“In the 60s there were tourists here.” Exclaimed Samban. But then, because
of the KR, the temples were neglected or destroyed. “I saw photos of the
temples in 1989, they were completely overgrown, reclaimed by the jungle.”

On the way back to our bicycles we stopped off to interview a band of
musicians, all landmine victims. They were seated on the ground, displaying
their amputations, playing traditional Khmer instruments. One man, Wan Yun,
was only 32 but already blind in one eye and was missing a leg.

“Did this happen to you in the army?” I asked.
“Yes.” Answered Wan Yun. He looked sad, but he was still smiling politely,
which is the Khmer way. One would think that working at Angkor Wat he would
be tired of tourists. But, he seemed genuinely excited to be talking to me.
Maybe it was because most tourists just walked past him, or gave him money,
without taking the time to recognise that he was a human being who needed to

In most countries, asking if someone had been in the army was enough. But in
Cambodia the next question had to be “Which one?” In recent memory, Khmer
men and women have served in the Royal Army, under King Norodom Sihanouk,
the Republican army, under Lon Nol, the Khmer Rouge, Under Pol Pot, The
Khmer Serai (free Khmer army) under a number of different leaders, the
Kampuchea army, under the Vietcong, or finally, the Royal Cambodian Armed
Forces, under Prime Minister Hun Sen. If you conducted enough interviews, it
was not difficult to find men in their early fifties, who had served in
several, or all of the Cambodian armies.

Wan Yun told me that he had been injured in 1993, while serving in Hun Sen’s
army, fighting the Khmer Rouge near the Thai border. Two years ago, he had
been taken into a government program, and was taught to play music. Now, he
and the rest of the band members lived in a government run shelter, and
supported themselves by performing for tourists.

Two massive, headless guardians protected the entrance to the temple. “I
brought a tourist here in 1999.” Explained Samban. “She was shocked when she
saw the heads were missing from the statues. After she returned to her
country she sent me copies of the photos she had made here in 1969. The
heads were on the statues at that time.”

“Who stole them?” I asked.

“It could have been a number of people.” Answered Samban. “The Vietnamese
took a lot of our historical artefacts with them when they left. It also
could have been Khmer Rouge.”

“Could it have been some poor people who sold them for food?” I suggested.

“Absolutely not!” Samban was emphatic here. “Poor people have no idea the
value of these artefacts. They would also have no idea how to sell them.”

“How are they sold?” I asked, just in case things didn’t work out as a
writer, maybe I could become a temple raider.

“The artefacts have to be transported to Thailand, then smuggled across the
border, and sold on the Thai black market.” The border with Thailand was
still quite pores, but in the Khmer Rouge time, before 1994, it was even
worse, with KR cadres passing back and forth at will. It is also a
well-known secret that Thai border police accept bribes. Some Khmers go as
far as saying that the Thai allow the transport and sale of the Khmer
artefacts out of spite, just to rid the Cambodians of their cultural

Regardless of Thai complicity, to take a massive stone sculpture and
transport it through numerous military blockades and police roadblocks,
before even getting to the Thai border, would require permission and
protection from someone high up. Said another way, the sculptures weren’t
sold by a poor farmer trying to feed his starving family. They were sold by
powerful people, Vietnamese or otherwise, to buy a new Land Cruiser, while
the family of the poor farmer continued to starve.

The sheer mass of the temple construction is impressive enough. But, then
you see the intricate details. Every inch of the lintels is covered in bas
relief depicting the Ramayana, the central myth of Hindu and Buddhism. The
walls inside the temple were rough and pockmarked. Samban explained that
they were once covered in bronze plates, many of which were gilded. In the
entire Angkor complex not a single metallic plate remains. They were all

The rain let up, and we continued on our bicycles, burning off the 18,000
calorie meals we had been eating. At the twenty-kilometre mark the tour
ended. Now, we had about fifteen kilometres to ride back to town, and return
the bikes. On the way, we passed some men throwing fishing nets from an
embankment. We stopped off to get our second fishing lesson of the day.

“Do you sell these fish?” I asked.
“No, we just catch them for our mothers and wives.” Answered one of the men.
“And if we don’t, there is trouble at home.” he joked.
The men explained that they were full time farmers and just enjoyed fishing.
Seeing them standing side by side, laughing and talking I realized that for
these men, throwing their nets out together was a social occasion, the
equivalent of an afternoon in the local pub. They could meet their friends
and discuss the things that mattered to them as well as those that didn’t.
But unlike westerners in a pub, these men were burning calories, not
absorbing them. And they were earning money, not spending it.
Even the rural poor had a lesson to teach the west.

Working a full day they could collect about half a kilo, or about $1 worth
of fish. Many poor Khmers exist on a diet of almost nothing but rice. Even
in Phnom Penh, some of the boxers I train with only get about 100 grams of
meat a day, not enough to build muscle. These fishermen were luckier than
inland farmers because the fish would add much needed protein to their diet.

Clumsily, I took the net from one of the men. They all laughed at how out of
my element I looked.

“You don’t have a wife or mother, do you?” Asked one of the men.
“No.” I answered.
“That’s good.” He said. “Because you would never be able to feed them.”

The net is large, perhaps three meters squared. The edges of the net are
weighted with bits of metal. The secret, apparently, is in the packing. The
fishermen knew exactly how to gather and fold the net, wrapping it over the
left shoulder and left elbow, and then dividing the weighted bottom between
their left and right hands. They would twist at the waist, and launch the
net into the air. The trick here was to throw the net high enough that it
would open completely before hitting the water, but not so high that it
would begin to ball up before submerging. Once thrown, the net would be
retracted using a lanyard attached to the left wrist.

When it came my turn to throw, I was surprised at how much the net weighed.
In fact, I handed my phone and valuables to Thavrin. “Just in case I wind up
following the net into the water.” I said. I could just see me throwing
myself off balance, falling in the lake, getting tangled in the net, and
then drowning in three feet of water. I put my pocket-knife between my teeth
just in case.

“Ang ay dong ut ite?” I asked my teacher.
He jut stared at me, wonderingly.
“Am I doing it right?” I repeated, after temporarily removing the knife from
between my teeth.
“Yes.” He said with a big smile.
We both knew he was lying, but he didn’t want to hurt my feelings.
I made a feeble attempt at a throw, and the net became hopelessly tangled.

“How did I do?” I asked Thavrin, hoping he would use Khmer decorum, and find
something positive to say about my failed effort.

“Your gums are bleeding.” He said, pointing at the knife marks on my mouth.

My cell phone rang. It was my sponsor, Long Leng. “I have been trying to
reach you all day.” He began. “Have you been going to look at the
attractions so you can write something?”

“Sorry.” I said, quoting a sign I had once seen on a country store in
Alabama. “Gone fishing.”

Contact the author at: antonio_graceffo@hotmail.com

You can reach Long Leng of Phnom Penh Tours at ppenhtourism@camnet.com.kh

SUBMITTED BY: Antonio Graceffo, Email: antonio.....@hotmail.com Sat, 17 Sep 2005

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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Adventure Khmer: Prelude to a Journey of Discovery

Adventure Khmer


Prelude to a Journey of Discovery

by "Antonio Graceffo" antonio_graceffo@hotmail.com

After nearly a year and a half in Cambodia I had finally finished writing my
Phnom Penh book, Letters from the Penh. A hands-on adventure-writer, in that
book, like all of my others, I had participated in every exciting or interesting situation I could find in Phnom Penh. I had boxed professionally, attended the coronation of the new king, interviewed colonies of families living in the city’s garbage dump, spent some time with the ethnic Cham Muslim minority, stared in a kung fu movie with the national boxing campion, attended a cock fight, interview survivors of the Khmer Rouge prisons, followed a group of glue addicted street children, freelanced for the Ministry of the Interior, learned about micro-credit and poverty, interviewed the commandant of a Khmer Rouge prison, appeared on TV,
movies, and posters, met an entire village whose homes had been stolen by the army, free lanced for magazines, heard gunshots, learned to speak and read Khmer language, caught the explanation of grenade attacks the next morning, got caught up in the internal squablings of the Communist Party, seen an entire street pick up sticks and beat an alleged thief to a pulp, surrounded myself with Chinese, listened to the vile talk of sex-pats, made a lot of friends, taught at the university, and become both enamoured with and repelled by my Khmer hosts.

In short, I was exhausted, completely out of energy and out of new ideas. I was disheartened and disenchanted with Cambodia. The country had shown me so much, but at the same time, buying in to Cambodia, developing an emotional attachment to the people and the nation had worn me down. It was human to care about the people and their future, but the roller-coaster of emotion, the ups and downs of a corruption ridden society where my young friends seemed to have very little hope for the future, had defeated me. I wanted to leave, although, like any addict, I was hooked. Filthy, dangerous, corrupt, violent, depraved, and alluring once Cambodia got under your skin, it wouldn’t let go.

In my time in Phnom Penh, I had met all too many lifers, ex-pats who swore they hated Cambodia, and talked about nothing other than the negative aspects of the country. Each year, they swore they were leaving. And each year, the signed on for one more year. Some of them had been here since UNTAC in the early 1990s. The most extreme ones had come on special visas immediately after the Vietnamese pullout or even before Poll Pot.

The bad ones were bound to the land by the easy availability of cheap drugs and depraved sex. The good ones couldn’t let go out of some unwillingness to accept a system so completely lawless. Not wanting to leave a mystery unsolved, they sacrificed years of their lives, trying to make sense of a world where up was down, black was white, and George W. Bush was a liberal. In reality, everything in Phnom Penh was shades of grey, but the images only made sense if viewed through lenses of experience.

My bags were packed. I was nearly out the door, but I just couldn’t leave. What if I had gotten it wrong in the first book? What if there were more to see? Maybe they had a cure for cancer out in the provinces? Maybe there was some truth to the myth of Angkor Wat…

I was wrestling with my departure, both craving an dreading the finality of the steel door slamming shut when I had left Cambodia for good. I knew that the moment I hit the submit-to-publisher button on Letters to the Penh, it wouldn’t be safe for me to return to Cambodia, possibly forever.

That was when my good friend, and sometimes sponsor, Bill Whurst showed up in Phnom Penh, and took me to dinner at Le Royal. Bill was a rarity, an educated gentleman in the classic sense, who dedicated his entire life to travel and adventure. He was a renaissance man, pursing intellectual interests in a variety of topics, reading and ingesting extensively the history of everything. It was Bill who had urged me to cross the Taklamakan Desert, Bill who had supported much of my writing in Phnom Penh, and Bill who was about to put up a large chunk of the money I needed to escape Cambodia and begin a months long expedition in Borneo.

And, it was also Bill who introduced me to Long Leng, of Phnom Penh Tours. They had been looking for an adventure writer who already knew a lot about Cambodia and who spoke Khmer, to travel the entire country, getting to know the remote regions and completing adventures as he went. They wanted someone who could ride elephants, scuba dive, handle a kayak, live with hill tribes, trek long distances, train with the Khmer traditional grapplers, fly a space shuttle, and cure lepers. Although I couldn’t I couldn’t do the last two, it seemed like a perfect fit.

“I have to warn you.” I said, honestly. “I am completely burned out on Cambodia.” “That’s OK.” Smiled Long Leng. “I will show you things you never even dreamed of.” “You aren’t just going to drive me around in an air-conditioned mini-van, looking at temples are you? Also, we aren’t planning to eat spiders, I hope.”

The look on Long Leng’s face said, that was the original plan, but that it had now changed. So, we made a deal. Long Leng made up a deluxe tour package for me. But, to jazz it up, we made the agreement, that where possible, I would travel under my own power, either on a bicycle, in a kayak, or on an elephant (elephant power). And, any crazy ideas I had, destinations and events to be added, Long Leng was happy to agree, and modify the trip.

But I still won’t be eating any spiders.

On our agenda is full of kayaks, bicycles, canoes, elephants, and some professional boxing (participating, not watching), but no spiders.

The benefit of travelling with Long Leng and Phnom Penh Tours was that I was going to be driven in an air-conditioned minibus between my destinations. I had a translator and guide, Mr. Thavrin, and everywhere we went, we were met by professionals who could give me great information. At night, we slept in four and five star accommodations, and ate gourmet Khmer food.

This is an experiment in travel writing. Perhaps for the first time in the history of adventure, every single adventure in a country, namely Cambodia, has been carefully mapped out and planned. And I, an adventure writer, will follow the adventure trail, through the Khmer Kingdom, completing ALL of the adventures which the country has to offer. As I go, I will file stories daily, or as close to daily as time and energy permit. This makes my trip a nearly real-time web-broadcast of the printed word.

Not just another self-serving, diversion of a journey, this is adventure with a purpose. First, using my background and knowledge of Khmer language, culture, history, and customs, I will attempt to interpret and understand each adventure, giving the reader a unique cultural education on this land of turmoil. At the same time, I am on a personal quest to fall back in
love with this country, which has grown on me like an addiction.

And, if I run out of things to write, maybe I will just east some spiders.

Contact the author at Antonio....@hotmail.com

You can reach Long Leng of Phnom Penh Tours at

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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Cambodia Needs New,Fresh Dynamic

There are several thousand politicians in the country but it appears only a handful qualified for Premiership or the Assembly Speaker. Undeniably that grants Princely Rannaridh or Prime Minister Hun Sen tremendous power in suppressing potential rivalry in ministerial or mid level executive ranks. The impression is Cambodia will is not functional if both of them continue to serve as head of Executive or Legislative Branches. Barely 2005 ending, Samdech Krom Preah Rannaridh started his Wai tuk bong oeul trey prophetic propaganda already. Isn't he too anxious?

It appears that Legislative Chief begins to wield power in crossing line of Executive Branch , supposedly under Prime Minister jurisdiction,he threatens to do without individual partisan whom he thinks is not up to par.That should be Prime Minister discretionary call then submit it to Legislatures for approval, right? It is likely not only a confusion but plain conflict of jurisdiction and interest. Cambodia is still in state of divisive as my people and your people in term of true and valid democracy.

Timely 2008 are still far ahead yet and those endeavor democratic change need to pay close attention. Cambodia needs a fresh and new dynamic system of democracy to replace its present dilapidated and backward politic.

Without true non violent change and democracy in place Cambodia will live in inferior complexity, fear, and poverty ever. The world will abandon Cambodia once again if we, the people, do not take our own initiative. Let's take up responsibility to uplift the spirit of freedom and democracy in keeping Cambodia alive.

By Kok Sap

Email: koks....@yahoo.com

Mon, 5 Sep 2005

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Monday, September 05, 2005

Former King Open letter to UN Court dated and posted on September 1, 2005

The Honorable Norodom Sihanouk
Former King of Cambodia
Official Residence,
15 Dong Jiao Min Xiang
Beijing 100006, China.

Subject: Former King Open letter to UN Court dated and posted on September 1, 2005

Dear Mr. Sihanouk:

First of let me say thank you for the opportunity but before I go on I wish to point out that I have adhered to your decree on how to address you or proper salutation after your abrupt abdication.

Sir, frankly I am not impressed of your half hearted and history stated in letter addressing to the UN sponsored Court in regard to the long overdue tragic events before and after April 17, 1975 which despicably led to worst heinous crime in century done by people of whom you referred in this letter. Nonetheless the essence of this letter had not shown clear credibility of your claimed totally innocence of such crimes.

Undeniably Cambodia was ruled and suppressed by whether you and your governments up to the day that your very creation of National Salvation Government led by your very own friends and trust worthy generals Lon Nol Sisowath Sirikmatak at the urge of people representatives via your own well calculated plots to remove yourself from responsibility of your bilateral contractual agreement (treaties) executed by you and your paternal allies Viet Cong and Hanoi government personnel. Notably this self incriminatory evidence you dared not expressing of any bit in your entire letter.

On personal note, both generals especially Prince Sisowath Sirikmatak who shared your lineage and blood but he was more courageous and loyal to his homeland. He could have fled, but refused French diplomats invitation to leave his people. Too many mortals including French diplomats surprise, he showed his manly conviction of love for his motherland and feared not death done by your DK elements.

Other hand General Lon Nol with agony of half body paralysis versus life and death decision at the US final urge to leave Phnom Penh. The last we saw of him as he waved and cried out loud like a true patriot who felt unease of what would happen to people he left behind. All the times of his rule General Lon Nol had not belittled you or your blood line. He went out of his ways to provide safe passages for your ailing mother and your son Prince Rannaridh and family to join you abroad. With this gesture General Lon Nol showed how genuine a friend he was and died with dignity and more mercy in his heart.

As for Mr. Son Ngoc Thanh had done what necessary for his beloved country and made ways for you to be known as the Father of Cambodia Independence from France. He showed no bitterness and ego against you and yet expressively pointed out the dangers resulted from your sweetheart relations with Viet Cong and Hanoi to his fellow compatriots. Categorically you owed the gentlemen Prime Ministers: General Lon Nol, Mr. Son Ngoc Thanh, and your Princely relative Sisowath Sirikmatak the eternal apology and obligation.

The US's CIA and Defense strategies have pointed out in letter that you were actually in violation of UN recognized non aligned and neutrality act since you switched allegiance from US in 1964. Sometimes, you have ignored that US, in fact, is one of the Permanent Security Council who steer the UN. Undoubtedly some keys players in DK regime as you have noted in letter were also claimed to be the instigators of violent protest in raiding US embassy in Phnom Penh in 1964. This may be a retaliation that no one knew surely but you. For this, you purposely omitted it for own skin sake. Everyone knew that you were no less but the trigger of such revolt. Many accounts showed you had arbitrarily dodged every question and delayed every of its inspection request. Since Cambodia had never been treated the same in the eye of UN Commission of Neutrality led by Poland.

The documents and history included your closed high ranking officers' witnesses proving the non transparency policy crafted by you in sheltering Viet Cong and serving as its primary arm conduit which was indeed a violation of your own declaration and UN. Some of them are still alive and well abroad. They said you were the primary haven of Viet Cong who subsequently manipulated the arm struggle between Khmer Nationalists as you conveniently called Lon Nolans and Khmer Rouge Rebel once you condemned that turned DK later which in fact you were their worldly victorious leader. In common sense as the leader you were responsible for everything they did whether at your direct or indirect directives.

You have said so people have the right to seek justice and defend themselves so should the country when its leader betrayed his own conscience and willingly in service of enemy agendas. In this case of whom other than US, that the very Cambodia government created by you should logically turn to for arm and financial assistance since the national treasury and arm forces was allegedly plundered under your watch. Can you please people in this with the exactly treasury and asset accounts at the moment you still at the helm before March 18, 1970. Can you also please people on what rational you had eliminated arm forces almost entirely as you were so intimidated by state enemy then?

Many sources and well respected intellectuals whom you also labeled as Thanhists and Nolans persistently pointed out that your leadership were hyperventilated and out of venue to appease US sympathy which you left the country under false pretense to allow the National Salvation Government under General Lon Nol lead opportunity to trump up US support to rid Viet Cong whom you had so much difficulties with then. Can you please people curiosity on this? In regard to that was it not true you had secretly sent letters to Kissinger and Nixon and lowly implored their assistance?

Again in 1979, was it true you cried out loud and sneakily begged Mr. Richard Holbrook mercy to haul you away from your beloved comrade Ieng Sary unrelenting watch at the UN? Was it not true you played US secret services and US Department of State to gain momentum from China in rendering unconditional assistance to you including your palatial residence staffed in hundred personnel in Beijing? Wasn't it an interest of Cambodia salvation or yours and crony skin?

Many people thought you were true Buddhist but we awkwardly shame to say that you have had breached every one of Panca Sila not to mention the Eight or Ten ones. You must need to reevaluate what you have done to Cambodia and citizens up to now. Repeatedly you have said one thing and done the other. It is to our dismay and disheartening to continue hearing you bashing the innocent who truly loyal to their mother and father land. A true statesman should ever utter such vulgarity against people who sheltered and forgave you for what you failed them over and over.

In belief each and every one of us was born naked and cried out loud to pronounce our suffering in entering the world yet live on. This means from birth on up you and the rest of us are not different in humanity. The real difference is that we make a man out of ourselves, our deeds, and true allegiance to our birth rights. In your letter shows there are so many differences in you as far as first being a man not to say as a statesman.

Retrospectively what you have said here was one thing what we have seen and witnessed have been other things. Which one of you shall people trust and believe? Overtly you have expressed your love for your families and children in this we are not less different than you. For the longest time you have also claimed you are adherent to laws of man made and god but up to this point there are so many evidences of your violations.

One thing to consider that each of us still has common intelligence and dignity to judge your deeds based on history and human conscience. It is my hope for my loved ones who cruelly perished during your DK regime shall reap confidence of the legal prudence, morality and weight of human dignity. I laud the relentless effort of UN and the humanitarian nations to bring closure to survivors and families in spite of implied objection. Thus the humanitarian court shall prevail and eventually determine any guilt and crime which you have perpetuated upon Cambodia people.

I thank you for your letter and time.


Prak Hap
Survivor of Killing Fields

Email: koks....@yahoo.com

September 3, 2005

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