Pology Magazine  -  Adventures in Travel and World Culture.
Travel and World Culture   
Image: Cambodia
  Photo: Wolfgang Richter-Kirsch
Image: Cambodia
  Photo: David Licence

Cambodia: Remnants Of The Khmer Rouge
By Kirsten Noelle Hubbard

The minibus trip from Bangkok to the border was four muggy hours long; so the subsequent hustle through the exit and entry offices was a blessed opportunity for leg stretching. It was also our first chance to glimpse examples of the disparity existing between Cambodia and Thailand. Twenty-five years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, the bruises still remained.

All around us, people with ragged holes in their clothing dragged along their wares in wooden carts. Over the side of a bridge topped by rusty barbed wire, we watched barefoot children play in a garbage-filled ravine. A boy led his blind mother from tourist to tourist, palm outstretched. It didn’t take long to realize that Thailand was iced Western, sugar-sweet frosting when compared with Cambodia.

After a huckster tried to wrangle us out of a third of our money by offering under three thousand riel for each American dollar (it’s a much worse deal than it sounds, especially considering Cambodians prefer American dollars), we were dropped off in front of an old, rickety van which was to serve as our prison cell for the next eight hours. We clambered in with the rest of the backpackers. The hot still air was nauseating. I eagerly waited for the van to start, because I assumed movement would bring air circulation, When the driver, a weathered man in his forties, finally started the engine, I closed my eyes in relief.

Those first few moments were smooth going, and then the bouncing began. The knocks ranged from uncomfortable vibrations to skull-cracking bangs that left everyone shrieking and groaning. One traitorous notch of my spine jabbed into a hard spot on the seat no matter how I shifted. It was too hot to close the window, but too dusty to leave it open. I was soon coated in fine red dust that eventually became a paste when it mulled with my sweat. As a result of their effort to lessen the jarring impact of the road, my perma-tense muscles seized and burned.

The entire stretch of country we crossed was water-laden. Water in lilied pools spiky with pink flowers, or in still dim ponds, or in furred checkers of golden-green rice paddies. Every hut was built over a pond. Some were hiked up on stilts, with rickety staircases leading up to the floor.

Beneath overhanging trees, children swam naked in the shady water. Women flocked with children and held peaked hats to their heads against the wind. Seal-slick toddlers bathed in jugs. Older boys play-fought while smaller ones watched. Farmers hung exhaustedly in hammocks like sacks of grain. Among dangling bunches of bananas and cans of American soda, merchants patiently peddled their meager wares.

After several hours the van pulled off the road. We stopped in front of a large roadside eatery with open walls and bamboo tables. I tumbled out of the van and discovered I’d lost my land legs. My limbs seemed interminably long, my joints turned to putty.

All menu prices were quoted in American dollars, the preferred currency in Cambodia, and so it was easy to see how much the kitchen was overcharging. I wasn’t delighted about paying three dollars for a bowl of glorified Ramen noodles I could buy in Thailand for seventy-five cents, but I wasn’t about to complain.

Halfway through our meal, a Cambodian man who had been riding with us approached my table. He was squat, with a plump, sun-worn face and a wiry moustache. After several weeks in Southeast Asia we were wary of small-talking strangers, and so it was no surprise when he began fanning out a display of dog-eared guesthouse brochures. I sighed.

I was a captive audience, and he proceeded to share his life story. His name was Beebee, and he made this journey once a week, staying over one night at the border. He complained that he couldn't sleep well without his wife and their three-year-old daughter.

I enjoyed his way of speaking English; he had a warm lighthearted air. I asked him why he wasn’t devoting much energy to selling his guest houses; and he mentioned that he wasn’t the owner; just the tuk-tuk driver; and he received commissions for harvesting guests.

“Do you know Pol Pot?” Beebee asked out of the blue.


Page 1 of 2   Next Page


All contents copyright ©2005 Pology Magazine. Unauthorized use of any content is strictly prohibited.