Thursday, June 29, 2006

Blogger's choice in Phnom Penh

Without hesitation, I recommend the Dara Reang Sey hotel in Phnom Penh if you are looking for a family-run base which offers a friendly welcome, affordable rooms between $6-18 per night, good quality Khmer food and a great location near the riverfront. Two sisters, Dara and Reangsey, are in charge and make a real effort to look after their guests. I've stayed there countless times and have never received anything other than a great welcome and first-class personal service. They've recently expanded and opened up more rooms just across the street and have plans to open up a sister hotel in Siem Reap in the near future. To find out more about this home from home in Cambodia's bustling capital, go to:

Dara (left) and Reangsey (right) guarantee a warm welcome at the Dara Reang Sey Hotel in Phnom Penh.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Madeleine Giteau - curator of history

Madeleine Giteau left a rich body of scholarly work including publications on Khmer sculpture and iconography and the art of Laos, when she died in February 2005, aged eighty-six. She was a prominent member of the Ecole Francaise de l'Extreme-Orient (EFEO) - the French institute dedicated to the study of Asian societies - and was the last French curator of Cambodia's National Museum (known as the Albert Sarraut Museum) in Phnom Penh for a ten-year period from 1956. In 1963 she also took on the re-organisation of the Wat Po Veal and the Provincial Museums in Battambang. On leaving the curatorship in 1966, she took over as the head of archaeology at the Royal University of Fine Arts before the political upheavals in 1970 saw her return to France.

Giteau spent the next fifteen years as a senior professor at universities in France including the Sorbonne before resuming her studies in Cambodia, publishing three more books on Angkor and Laos, before her death last year. She was in fact the last in a long line of French explorers, curators and scholars who have each made invaluable contributions to Khmer history, art and archaeology that include: Henri Mouhot, Louis Delaporte, Etienne Aymonier, Lunet de Lajonquiere, Henri Marchal, Maurice Glaize, George Coedes, George Groslier, Henri Parmentier, Philippe Stern, Louis Finot, Jean Boisselier and Jean Boulbet.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Recollections of horror

The French embassy scenes from the film The Killing Fields live long in the memory for those who've watched the movie, and for those who were part of the real-life drama itself. One such individual was Dr Murray Carmichael (left), whose story is told in an on-line Sunday Herald article at Carmichael was the anaesthetist in a Scottish medical team brought out by the Red Cross and who commandeered the Hotel Le Phnom as a neutral zone. However, when Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge on 17 April 1975, he and the other 800 westerners in the city sought refuge in the French embassy, alongwith another 700 nationalities, mostly Cambodians. After a fortnight, the Khmer Rouge ferried the western contingent to the Thai border and Year Zero had begun.

Reading Murray Carmichael's recollections of the dying embers of Phnom Penh before the Khmer Rouge stopped the clock, reminded me of three other accounts of that era that have been published. One of my favourite memoirs of that period is by Sunday Times journalist Jon Swain (right), who devotes fifty pages of his River Of Time book to those chaotic few weeks. Francois Bizot, an expert on Buddhism at the Sorbonne in Paris, was a key figure in the French embassy and in negotiations with the Khmer Rouge and 120 pages in his book, The Gate, recall his involvement as the story unfolds. Thirdly, Sydney Schanberg remembers the same period in his account, The Death and Life of Dith Pran. In it, he recalls the heart-stopping moment when he tells Pran of their failed attempt to forge him a British passport. The next day Pran walks out of the embassy gates to a certain death.

Dith Pran - one-man crusade

Dith Pran is a name known to many around the globe after his incredible fight for life and survival was portrayed in the film The Killing Fields in the mid-80s. Today, he travels extensively across the United States speaking to high schools and colleges of his experiences, is a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR and is also a photojournalist for the New York Times. In his own words, "I must speak for those who did not survive and for those who still suffer. I don't consider myself a politician or a hero. I'm a messenger. If Cambodia is to survive, she needs many voices."

Pran was born near the Angkor temples sixty-four years ago. Before joining the New York Times as a stringer in 1973, he worked on the film Lord Jim in the mid-60s and as a hotel receptionist in Siem Reap before moving to Phnom Penh and taking on the role of guide and interpreter for the foreign journalists flooding the city that brought him into contact with Times' correspondent Sydney Schanberg. The story of his friendship with Schanberg is a key thread running through The Killing Fields though its his miraculous survival of the Khmer Rouge takeover and subsequent holocaust, that provides the film's backbone. Though Pran survived, his father, three brothers and one sister didn't.

Schanberg's New York Times article that grabbed the attention of the film's producer David Puttnam appeared in January 1980 as The Death and Life of Dith Pran. Bruce Robinson's screenplay was brought to life by director Roland Joffe and filming took place in Thailand in 1983. Haing S Ngor, a doctor not an actor, took the part of Pran in the film and made such an impression that he deservedly won an Academy Award. The photo on the left shows Pran (left) with Ngor and his Oscar. Ngor's own life story was as harrowing and absorbing as Dith Pran's. Tragically, Ngor was killed by gang members in February 1996.

A book with 29 survivor stories - Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields - was compiled by Dith Pran, edited by his wife Kim DePaul and published by Yale University Press in 1997 . Also visit the non-profit Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project at To read more about the film, The Killing Fields, go to:

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Kek Galabru - human rights activist

One of the leading lights in fighting the cause of human rights in Cambodia is Kek Galabru, the 64 year old head of LICADHO (Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights). Her elegant style, diplomacy skills, fluency in French, English and Khmer, and extremely active schedule make her a powerhouse for human rights and a constant critic of the government. But she's honest about the difficulties in raising awareness of people's rights. "If you look at all the problems in Cambodia at once, you cannot work. Like you build a house, you build it brick by brick. If one day you save only one victim, be happy for a day. The next day, save two. Don’t look for quantity, look for quality. It will take a long time to advance human rights, but we keep moving."

While Cambodia's civil war was raging in the 80s, Galabru, a Cambodian living abroad, arranged negotiations between the main parties that eventually led to the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1991. In the wake of the peace agreement, she recalls, "my parents, my husband, two of my daughters and I decided to set up a human rights organisation to monitor the situation of the Khmer Rouge." LICADHO was founded in 1992, one of the first human rights organizations.

LICADHO promotes human rights, with a special emphasis on women’s and children’s rights, monitors violations, and disseminates educational information about rights. During the 1993 elections, they taught voting procedures to sixteen thousand people, trained nearly 800 election observers, and produced and distributed one million voting leaflets. Since then, they have continued to monitor abuses, provide medical care, legal aid, and advocacy to victims, as well as to offer direct assistance to victims of human rights violations.

Galabru's family is well connected. Her parents were both members of the government in the Sihanouk regime, her mother was a member of parliament and the first woman minister, her father was until recently a member of the Constitutional Council. Galabru herself began studying medicine in France in 1960, returning in 1968 to work in the public hospital in Phnom Penh. At the time of the 1970 coup, she was married to a French diplomat so they returned to France and she continued her work in Canada, Brazil and Angola before her return in 1992.

To read about the work of LICADHO, go to:

Tony Hinnigan - far too talented!

Some people are just far too talented! Tony Hinnigan is one such individual. If you haven't heard of Tony, you will have heard his contribution to music. It was his penny whistle that accompanied Celine Dion on the massive hit single, My Heart Will Go On, from the blockbuster film Titanic. His panpipes were the backbone of the haunting and evocative sound from The Mission and his soulful flute and whistle melodies stirred the senses in the action-packed Braveheart. His numerous film soundtrack credits also include Troy, The Mask of Zorro, Legends of The Fall, Patriot Games, Field of Dreams and so on. He's a workaholic and in great demand for his undoubted talents, both by heavyweight Hollywood film composers like James Horner but also as a member of the touring Michael Nyman Band. My first introduction to Tony was as one-half of the duo that popularised the panpipes with the group Incantation in the early 80s.

Tony's own website has now been on-line for a year. In addition to his regular and humorous news updates, there's a heap of mp3 downloads that range from his own track samples to video of him in the studio and much more. He's also just about to commence a series of weekly podcasts of radio shows presenting music that he likes. The shows, each of which lasts an hour, will be on his website for a week at a time and will be downloadable as an mp3 file. Go to Tony's own website at:

My own webpage on Tony and his music is at:

Nine Men Down

I spotted the film Nine Men Down in next week's TV listings, which will be shown on the History Channel in the UK on Friday 30th June at 9pm. Here's the story behind that film.

In 1970, as the Vietnam War spilled over the borders into neighbouring Cambodia, journalists followed the fray. But what appeared at first to be a side note to the main story soon became a tragedy in which those covering the news played the starring role. Approximately 150 journalists were sent to Cambodia to cover the expanding conflict. By the end of that summer, 25 of them had gone missing or were confirmed dead. And nine of them were killed on the same day. Filled with the recollections of those who were there, Nine Men Down is an extraordinary picture of the risks journalists take to be the first to file a story from the front. From the disappearance of the first two reporters to one man's 20-year quest to bring the victims home, it captures every aspect of the summer that journalism will never forget.

Nine Men Down is also the story of one of the journalists who survived, CBS cameraman Kurt Volkert. Volkert felt he should have been with the downed journalists that ill-fated day, but by a twist of fate he escaped his friends' tragic destiny. Volkert made it his life's mission to return to Cambodia to bring his dead friends home. Nine Men Down revisits the war that shaped an entire generation. It tells the untold story of war journalists and pays tribute to those who died bringing us the news.

On the same topic, one of my favourite novels that covers the disappearance of a photographer inside Cambodia during the 70s is Christopher J Koch's Highways To A War. Another fave book of mine is River Of Time, a memoir by journalist Jon Swain who was immersed in Indo-China at the time and was one of the lucky few who were captured by the Khmer Rouge but lived to tell the tale.

Yaz Alexander 'live'

Very short notice, as I only heard 'bout it today...Yaz Alexander is playing at the Manchester Bob Marley One Love Reggae Festival tomorrow (Saturday 24 June) at Fallowfield, Manchester. The festival kicks off at 1pm and lasts til 9pm, it costs a fiver to get in and on the bill as well as Yaz will be Italist (who played at Yaz's Newtown gig a few weeks ago and is a very promising singer), Abelwell Foundation, Angola, Kwabena and many more. Looks like the weather will hold out as well, and its an opportunity to give yourself a break from the World Cup footy before Sunday's important showdown, England versus Ecuador.

Next up for Yaz will be an appearance on stage in Centenary Square in the center of Birmingham on Saturday 8 July to celebrate the release of a new CD by Gotham-Records called Christmas In July. Yaz expects to be on stage around 8pm and will sing her contribution to the release, an original composition called At Christmas. No doubt she'll be supported by her two backing singers Anne-Marie and Emma B, and the latest I hear is that she's seriously looking to put together a female backing band.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Pete King's brand new Sound System

I've just received this notice of what sounds like a great night's entertainment.

If you love your reggae, dub and rock steady, get along to the New Priory Hotel, Stretton Sugwas, Herefordshire, England tomorrow (Friday) 23rd June for the debut of the 'Soul & Power Sound System'. The Soul & Power Sound System is run by ‘Bookster’ AKA Pete King, producer and manager of Steel Pulse for their first three albums. Bookster started playing Blue Beat when he was 11, only had one turntable but did some great gigs, used to run a big Hi Fi sound system called Shoop Shoop, in Birmingham.

He has just started out again with his original collection, that goes back to when he started. These days called, the Soul & Power Sound System, playing rock steady, blue beat, reggae, island records reggae, lots of rare dub, rare groove, a little funk and soul. The Sound System is high quality, is being expanded for larger venues, expected to reach full steam by the New Year, the train is rollin!! The gig starts at 8pm, everybody gets a welcome Caribbean punch drink, its a fiver to get in, and it will be regular from September. For further info please contact 07733 282968.

To read the Pete King story and his involvement with Steel Pulse, go to:
Here's a recent picture of Pete with a BPI silver disc he was given for sales of Steel Pulse's first album, Handsworth Revolution.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Rain Falls from Earth : Part of My Soul

A documentary film that explores the impact of the Khmer Rouge period on the Cambodian people is Rain Falls from Earth, produced and directed by Steve McClure, and scheduled for release this Autumn in the United States. Filmed in Cambodia and the US, it will feature exclusive, personal interviews with Cambodian holocaust survivors like artist Vann Nath and Teeda Butt-Mam, as well as former Khmer Rouge soldiers.

It's a film that McClure felt needed to be told as he set about finding Cambodians prepared to relive some of the most horrifying moments of their lives in order to tell their stories of courage, survival and eventual triumph over adversity. In his words, "Its goal is to educate and raise awareness so this type of atrocity can never happen again." The film's website at provides more detail from the film. McClure is currently seeking a household 'name' to narrate the film.

Part of My Soul: The Odyssey of a Child of Genocide, a documentary that features author Loung Ung's riveting account of her survival under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, has won a television Emmy award in the United States. For Outstanding Achievement in Documentary - Cultural & Historical, the NECN news station's documentary came out on top. The film chronicles Loung's childhood memories of the loss, starvation and exploitation that she endured, her escape to the US, and her eventual reunion with her sister, Chou, that she left behind. It also explores how Loung has become a celebrated author and human rights activist. A film crew accompanied Loung on a return visit to Cambodia at the beginning of 2005 and the photo below shows Loung (in red) with her sister Chou [photo: Ryan Scafuro].

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Author's choice in Siem Reap

Time for a plug for my favourite guesthouse in Siem Reap, the jumping off point for your visit to the temples of Angkor. It's called the Shadow of Angkor, and has a great location on the riverside, just a block away from the old market and the main tourist zone, with its collection of Western bars and restaurants. The Shadow is run by Seng Hour and her family, in particular her adorable teenage daughter Kim (pictured), who speaks excellent English and when she's not at school, you'll find her on reception. She can talk for Cambodia and has a mischievous sense of humour. The rooms are clean and comfortable, the quality of food in their restaurant is very good and the genuine hospitality they provide to each and every customer makes it a special place to stay in my view. To find out more, go to:

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Casualty in Cambodia

Regular readers of my blog will be aware that Cathy Shipton, the actress who plays the character Duffy in the long-running and very popular BBC tv hospital drama series Casualty, has been out in Cambodia to film a special double-episode of the programme to celebrate the series' forthcoming 20th anniversary in September. You may have even been expecting an update from the visit. Unfortunately, Cathy (pictured) is laid-up at the moment recovering from one of those nasty stomach bugs you can pick up in third-world countries but she did say that she had a fantastic time on all fronts, spending the first week getting to grips with Phnom Penh and her surroundings before getting down to the serious business of filming. She wasn't alone, a 25-strong crew and actor group made the trip with her. When I hear more, I'll let you know.

I've just received a second request from the travel trade quarterly magazine Tourism Asean for permission to print another of my Cambodia Tales. This time Kompong Cham will come under the spotlight in their July-Sept issue. I've tarted up one of my old stories and sent it off to Singapore with some of my photos.

Finally, I've been welcomed with open arms into the wonderful world of blogging by a bunch of fine people, who are already well-established bloggers, and who deserve a thank you from me for their support and approval. Below is an example of a recent post from one such friendly blogger, who resides at If you have time to surf, please try some of the links and blogs on the right-hand side of your screen.
For my Dutch-speaking friends: no, this has nothing to do with beer (brouwer means [beer]brewer in my language)... Andy Brouwer is an Englishman who has been running one of the oldest - if not the oldest - travelogues on Cambodia (and much more). His adventures in Cambodia date back to 1994, and are an absolute must-read. If you want to see how Phnom Penh and Cambodia looked like a few years ago, head over to
Andy's website. And now Andy has joined the blogosphere. Up to date information about Cambo - spanning a wide gamut of interests - all written in Andy's eloquent style. Go read.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Angkor in 3D

In Australia's Monash University, lecturer Tom Chandler is working hard to recreate the glories of Angkor using sophisticated visual and simulation computer technologies, as the picture above shows. So far his 3D animation lasts little more than twenty seconds and took six months to create, but its the green shoots of a virtual heritage technology tool that could have a dramatic impact on the study of ancient cities like Angkor by scholars. Chandler's fascination with Cambodia took hold when he worked on an excavation project at Angkor, but its also a family trait, his dad is David P Chandler, the leading authority on modern Cambodian history. The younger Chandler previously worked in graphic design and multimedia in London and New York before moving to Australia in 2001. His work, under the title Visualising Angkor, was shown in Phnom Penh in February to generate enthusiasm amongst young Khmer animators.

Ennio Morricone - Maestro

How remiss of me not to mention The Maestro, Ennio Morricone in my blog to-date. Especially as he's now added a second concert date to his forthcoming return to London in mid-July. I was prompted into this post whilst watching the first episode of a vibrant new BBC2 travel series, Francesco's Italy, as a great chunk of the background score came from various Morricone compositions. His genius has created a vast volume of work to choose from, much of it tugging on our emotional heartstrings, as in the CD I've been immersing myself in of late, namely the haunting and evocative Fateless.

Britain has been blessed with two previous Morricone visits, in March 2001 and November 2003. I was at both, and will never forget either. At The Barbican in 2001, my wife and I even met the great man himself. This year's visit will be on 19th and 20th July and he will conduct Hungary's Gyor Philharmonic Orchestra in some of the compositions from his most celebrated film soundtracks including The Mission, The Good The Bad The Ugly, Once Upon A Time In America and Cinema Paradiso. I already have my ticket for the concert at London's Hammersmith Apollo on the 19th. A Morricone performance is to be savoured, they are particularly rare and as the Maestro approaches his 78th birthday, he won't go on forever. Experience him and his music live, whilst you can.

Read a lot more about Ennio Morricone at

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Youk Chhang - documenting the past

Youk Chhang has spent the last ten years cataloguing the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime three decades ago. As Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), Chhang alongwith the work of his organisation will become a key component in the forthcoming tribunal of those Khmer Rouge leaders still left alive, which is expected to take place early in 2007.

Yale University's Cambodian Genocide Program (CGP) was set up in 1994 to conduct research, training and documentation relating to the Khmer Rouge regime. They founded DC-Cam as a field office in Phnom Penh a year later under the leadership of Youk Chhang and it's abundantly clear that CGP could not have identified a better crusader for truth, justice and the power of history than this former refugee from the Pol Pot regime.

Having lost members of his own family in the Khmer Rouge genocide, Chhang, now 45, left his Thai refugee camp to make his way to Dallas, Texas, where he served as a community relations adviser to the Dallas Police Department from 1989-92. He returned to Cambodia in 1993 as an election observer with UNTAC and to manage and lead political, human rights and democracy training programs in Cambodia for the International Republican Institute. He then linked up with CGP and became Executive Director of DC-Cam in 1997. Chhang is an outspoken figure in his home country as he seeks to bring the Khmer Rouge leadership to book for their crimes. Its been a long hard slog but there's definitely light at the end of this particular tunnel.

To read more about the DC-Cam, who catalogue documents and oral interviews, map mass grave sites, provide training, maintain a library and produce a magazine called Searching For The Truth, as well as a series of books, go to:

Friday, June 16, 2006

Li-Da Kruger - documentary filmmaker

Li-Da Kruger is the subject of a powerful documentary called Belonging that appeared on British tv and was screened at several international film festivals around the globe. Her journey to Cambodia to uncover the story behind her adoption on the eve of the Khmer Rouge takeover of Phnom Penh in 1975 was a gripping personal narrative, with tears and triumph, humour and heartache in equal measure. Li-Da co-produced the documentary which was shown on ITV in 2003 and the History satellite channel last year. I urge you to watch it if you get the opportunity.

It's part of a body of film and documentary work that she's produced working with the Fulcrum TV company as an assistant producer and researcher, before directing her own series of factual programmes shown on Channel 4 last year that dealt with personal experiences from survivors of the 2nd World War, and a series of programmes celebrating the 60s - The Beatles Decade, which will be shown on UKTV History next month. During my Cambodia travels at the start of this year, I bumped into Li-Da in Battambang where she was filming the work of the city's Circus, presented by the local NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak, that works with street kids. I didn't see the circus myself but Li-Da tells me its top-notch and well worth a visit. Read more about her own journey to uncover the past at:

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ramvong anyone?

Anyone who has spent more than a few hours in Cambodia, will have encountered the traditional Khmer dance called the Ramvong, which is basically a dance where everyone moves continuously round in a circle and which incorporates graceful hand movements and simple footsteps. Even foreigners can manage it, though some of my own efforts have left a lot to be desired in the past. At one hotel anniversary celebration many moons ago, I was the only foreign guest and was asked by nearly everyone at the party to join them in the Ramvong. Little did I realise that later that night, a video of the party was played on the hotel's tv channel and I cringed as I saw myself struggling to match the natural gracefulness of my hosts.

Well, if you fancy having a go at the Ramvong, the Cambodian Society in the UK - CASUNIK - are hosting a Ramvong Disco on Saturday 1 July from 7pm til midnight at the Vietnam/Laos/Cambodia Community Centre in Whiston Road, Haggerston, Hackney, London (Tel 0207 739 3650). The cost is £5 and the money raised will go towards Cambodian students. To find out more about CASUNIK, go to: And to get yourself in the swing of the Ramvong, try some of these practice moves.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Steel Pulse frustrations...

For the last few years whenever reggae legends Steel Pulse play concerts in England, you'll find me skanking with the best of them at the front of house and occasionally over the water in Europe if I can afford it. Read my website's Steel Pulse gig reviews for the evidence. You'd also think that hosting the largest internet website on the band would suggest I'd get to hear of future British gigs, album and dvd releases, etc early doors...well how wrong you'd be!

The band's official website added some future gigs today and I was ecstatic that they were playing at the Beautiful Days Festival in Devon on 20 August - their only British gig to-date in 2006. I mmediately logged onto the festival website to find that the line-up had been made public as long ago as the end of April and that all tickets for the festival were completely sold out before the end of last month. Talk about being gutted....I was also furious. But can do absolutely nothing about it. Its up to the band to announce when they are playing their gigs, so if they decide to delay the announcements, miscarriages like this will occur.

They are playing a few gigs in Europe, so I could flash the cash and hop on an EasyJet flight to somewhere like Eindhoven, which I did in 2003, but my wife has two holidays booked around that time, so cash-flow is against me. I'll just sit here and mope for the next few days, feeling sorry for myself.

An email arrived today from an agency representing the AT&T Bonnaroo Festival to be held in Tennessee this Friday, 16 June. They've asked me to publicise a live Webcast from the festival, featuring Steel Pulse on stage from 3:00 til 4:30pm (Tennessee time) at Of course, I'm only too happy to do so. And if anyone can tell me what time that will be in the UK, I'll be even happier.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Toun Sokheng - a priceless gem

On my travels throughout Cambodia I've been extremely fortunate to encounter many people who have left an indelible impression on me. One of those people was Toun Sokheng, pictured above with yours truly. In the above photo, she has just collected some firewood as we make our way back to her home for lunch.

I met Sokheng in January of this year when my pal Sokhom and I arrived in the village of Kalapia, literally in the middle of nowhere in northern Cambodia. We were on the hunt for a nearby 10th century Angkorean temple called Prasat Khna and the villagers pointed in her direction, as she emerged from her home on stilts to see what all the noise was about. They said she was from 'temple conservation,' though in reality, four years earlier the authorities had asked her to clear the undergrowth from inside and around the temple but had never paid her what they'd promised. That was the beginning of five enjoyable hours in her company, during which she guided us across rice fields and cut through waist-high undergrowth to take us to two temples, pointed out the best carvings, told us about recent thefts from the temples and then cooked us a sumptuous meal of rice, omelette and canned sardines back at her home, where we rested after our exertions in the mid-day sun.

In between times, she told me matter-of-factly that I had a big nose and asked me about my family, after I'd gleaned she'd arrived in the village when she was 15 during the Pol Pot time and stayed, she had three children of her own and had become a widow ten years earlier. We also established we were the same age, 46, which at first she refused to believe as I looked too young - I think she was trying to make up for the big nose comment! Her generous and gracious hospitality was so typical of my travels in Cambodia and if you ever find yourself in the village of Kalapia, please seek her out as she's a real gem.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Bayon & its mysterious faces

The exact likeness of the 216 mysterious faces of the Bayon temple, at the centre of the great city of Angkor Thom in northern Cambodia, has generated debate amongst scholars for many years. Most believe its the face of King Jayavarman VII, the ruler at the time of the temple's construction, or that of the compassionate Avalokiteshvara. Robert Bloomberg gave his own tongue-in-cheek take on the origin when he sent me the above photograph in 2002 with my own face superimposed. "A small tribute to your Buddha nature..." was how he phrased it.

Robert, a musician and filmmaker, is one of the world's leading contemporary stereoscopic photographers who has produced an exceptional and highly-acclaimed body of work with his 3-D shows being presented worldwide. In 2000 he produced the world’s first 3-D Dive-In Theater in Mesa, Arizona, and in 2002 he won awards for his Temples of Angkor show. He was recently honored with a lifetime fellowship from the National Stereoscopic Association and is the Stereo Technical Advisor for the Photographic Society of America.

Books on Cambodia

A fair portion of my Blog to-date has been about books with a Cambodia bias and their authors and yet I've failed miserably to champion my very own Hot Off The Press webpage, which I keep updated with news of recent or forthcoming books of all shapes and sizes, topics and tales. Please pay it a visit and let me know by e-mail, if you're aware of new publications that I've failed to mention.

Closely linked to Hot Off The Press is my Book Reviews webpage, where I've posted my own personal reviews of a series of recent publications. We've been blessed by an increasing number of Cambodia-related books in the last few years and the flow shows no sign of stopping. Long may it continue. And if you are a publisher or author and you want me to review your book, let me know.

Whilst I'm on-line, let me quickly mention a forthcoming memoir, called Journey Into Light by Ronnie Yimsut. A Khmer version will hit bookshelves first, probably in July, with DC-Cam in Phnom Penh as the publishers as part of the work they are doing to document and publicise the history of the Khmer Rouge regime. DC-Cam have already translated both books by Loung Ung as well as David Chandler's Voices from S-21 and Elizabeth Becker's When The War Was Over. The English version of Journey Into Light will appear once a publisher has been agreed. Ronnie (pictured), a survivor of the KR period, now lives in Oregon and is a landscape architect. Some of his stories can already be found on the internet and in the book, Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields, compiled by Dith Pran.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

David P Chandler - Scholar Extraordinaire

Without doubt, the world's leading authority on modern Cambodian history is David P Chandler. So what's his story and why Cambodia? His passion for Cambodian history, politics and culture began when he arrived in Phnom Penh at the end of 1960 for his first overseas posting as a foreign service official with the US dept of state. His tour lasted just two years but left an indelible imprint on him, as he turned to an academic life, specialising in Southeast Asian history. Moving to Australia, he lectured at Monash University in Melbourne and from 1978 til 1996 served as director of SEA studies at Monash, later teaching at universities in the US and France.

In addition to his teaching and research activities, he's also worked as a consultant for the United Nations and Amnesty International but above all else, its his impressive body of published work that stands out above his peers. His books include The History of Cambodia, The Khmers, Facing The Cambodian Past, The Tragedy of Cambodian History and his illuminating bio of Pol Pot, Brother Number One. Much of his work since the mid-80s has focused on genocide and the Khmer Rouge, spending five years in the 90s studying the Tuol Sleng archives resulting in his masterful study in Voices from S-21 : Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison. Simply put, he has the knack of presenting meticulous scholarly research in a readable and engaging style which has provided a mass readership with a greater understanding of Cambodia and its history.

A fluent speaker in Khmer, French and Spanish, he retired to live in Melbourne in 2003 with his wife Susan and two of his three children though he's still very active in research and lecturing across the globe. And if you were wondering, the 'P' stands for Porter. I've been in contact with Professor Chandler for more than ten years and he's been very supportive to me personally, even giving me a namecheck in the preface to Voices from S-21. I hope one day we'll have the opportunity to meet in person in our beloved Cambodia.

Bits and pieces...

A book arrived through my letterbox today for review, namely John Tully's A Short History of Cambodia : From Empire To Survival, courtesy of Australian publishers Allen & Unwin. Thanks guys. Its a 270-page book intended for tourists, students or general readers wishing to find out more about Cambodia's history. It doesn't pretend to be an exhaustive history. What's interesting to note is that Dr Tully is a lecturer at an Australian university and pays his dues to his former tutor, Professor David P Chandler, acknowledged as the great Cambodian historian. A case of pupil following in his teacher's footsteps.

Whilst surfing, I found a website for a documentary film from 2005 called Monkey Dance, where director Julie Mallozzi had focused her camera on the lives of three teenage Cambodian-Americans who were members of the Angkor Dance Troup, based in Lowell, Massachusetts. Read more about Monkey Dance at To find out more about the dance troupe, go to

I received a phone call out of the blue yesterday from Derrick King, who played bass guitar for the excellent roots reggae band, Black Roots, during the 80s. Derrick still lives in Bristol, the band’s hometown, but has been away from music since he left the band in 1990 and is now thinking of getting back on the music bandwagon. Derrick, who appeared on six albums with Black Roots, gave me an insight into life with the band, who were very popular in England and Europe at the time and reminded me that he wrote one of my favourite Black Roots tunes, Seeing Your Face. A pleasant surprise and a nice guy. Read my Black Roots webpage at

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Teeda Butt-Mam - seeking answers

A documentary film, due for completion later this year, focuses on the return to Cambodia of Teeda Butt-Mam and her two sisters, in search of answers, especially around the fate of their father. The film is called Out of the Poison Tree and the production team's website at explains the process behind bringing the film to fruition.

The story of Teeda Butt-Mam and her family has already been told in two books, authored by JoAn D Criddle under the titles, To Destroy You Is No Loss (published in 1987) and Bamboo & Butterflies : From Refugee to Citizen (published in 1992). Teeda has been a speaker on genocide issues for many years and is a keen advocate of the Khmer Rouge tribunal. Amongst those interviewed for the film are Youk Chhang, the Director of DC-Cam, Arn Chorn-Pond and the Venerable Yos Hut Khemacaro, while music will be supplied by Long Beach rapper PraCh Ly. Certainly a film to be on the look-out for when it gets aired later this year.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Tonle Sap in print...

Two months ago I received an email from Allan Lee in Singapore asking if one of my website's Cambodia travel tales could be published in a quarterly trade magazine, Tourism Asean, that does the rounds across the globe amongst travel agents and tourism fairs. Always keen to help promote a country I love dearly, I tweaked the story a little and sent off some of my photos. Hey presto, the June edition of the glossy magazine arrived on the doormat today with my 'Tonle Sap - The Great Lake of Cambodia' story gracing three of the central pages, with accompanying photos. There was also a nice hefty link to my website.

No cash changed hands, just the satisfaction of seeing one of my travel tales in print, even though it was written as long ago as April 1998. To read the original tale go to:

To read more of my travel tales and titbits in print, you can do no better than get hold of a copy of the unique guidebook compiled by Kim Fay and published in September 2004, called To Asia With Love : A Connoisseurs' Guide to Cambodia, Laos, Thailand & Vietnam. You can read all about this book, lovingly put together by Kim (pictured) with photos from her sister Julie, at: It really is a fascinating book - I would say that wouldn't I - as its packed full of anecdotes and unique secrets from a group of contributors, each in love with their country of choice. Don't delay - buy it today!
posted by Andy at

Monday, June 5, 2006

Arn Chorn-Pond - keeping alive tradition

The spotlight today falls on Arn Chorn-Pond and his determined efforts to keep alive traditional Cambodian arts through the Cambodian Living Arts project. As a child under the Khmer Rouge regime, Arn's ability to play the flute saved his life, before he was adopted and moved to the United States. He later spent ten years as a human rights speaker and peace activist for Amnesty International and started an anti-gang program in Lowell and a community service program back in Cambodia. After a visit to his homeland in 1996, Arn turned his focus on music and formed the Master Performers program - supporting the musicians ('masters') who survived the KR era when as many as nine out of ten performers perished - as part of the wider Cambodian Living Arts project.

Arn (pictured) was the subject of a documentary film called The Flute Player in 2003 and his dream of reviving traditional arts in Cambodia is bearing fruit as CLA goes from strength to strength. Now in its seventh year, in partnership with World Education, they currently support hundreds of art students and teachers throughout the country, as well as teaching, recording and performing programs that encourage traditional music, opera, dance and much more, to flourish. A key step forward is their capture of a three-storey building in Phnom Penh where three masters and their families can live and accommodate classes for over 100 students, and which will act as CLA's first cultural center.

To find out more about CLA, inspired by the vision of its founder Arn Chorn-Pond, go to:

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Musical Interlude...

I spent yesterday evening in Digbeth, Birmingham watching a variety of female music acts under the auspices of the WomenInMusic festival. Unfortunately the PR for the festival must've been pretty weak as the event was sparsely attended, which was very disappointing considering the high standard of acts that were on show. At the South Birmingham College venue, I saw 3 acts in particular that were very strong, namely reggaebaby herself, Jean Mclean, guitarist-singer Nina McCann and roots artist Aisha.

Jean Mclean did a short set of songs from her self-produced CD, I'm A Reggaebaby, which you can hear on her own website at: Jean is a very talented, soulful singer who mixes roots with lover's rock to produce a very pleasant vibe. She's currently looking to put together her own band to get out there to do her 'ting - I hope she's successful. Acoustic singer Nina McCann travelled up from Hampshire and did two short sets of her own compositions from her debut CD, Leave The Room, which you can hear on her website at: I really enjoyed her delivery and I'll definitely get a copy of her CD. Last but not least, Aisha completed the acts performing at the College and boy can this lady sing. She's an established roots reggae artist on the Ariwa label and its clear to see why with a very accomplished performance, full of confidence and with a superb voice. She closed her set with the track Ebony Eyes from her latest CD release, There Is More To Life. Aisha is definitely worth checking out if you get the chance.

The late night After Show party at the Irish Club attracted a larger audience but the technical staff struggled throughout and just two of the scheduled acts were able to perform. Nearly two hours later than expected, Shaz Akira and her band wowed the audience including her own Sister Tree supporters club with her full-on delivery. Closing the day's proceedings was one of my favourite singers Yaz Alexander, accompanied by two new backing singers Anne-Marie and Emma B, who gave us This World, Don't Trust Love and I. Under trying circumstances, Yaz came up trumps, with the show closing just past midnight. At the bar, I met Steve Morrison, better known as the frontman of the band Reggae Revolution and who's guested on a couple of Steel Pulse albums. It was a rare moment of R&R for the lead singer-cum-trombone player, who's been on tour with Apache Indian recently.

Here's a photo of Yaz Alexander with the author - Yaz is the attractive one! Her next gig is at a reggae festival in northern Italy on 24 June. Unfortuntely I can't make that gig Yaz! :

Geoff Ryman's Jayavarman VII

Scholars have long sought to paint a picture of the life and times of Cambodia's God King, Jayavarman VII, the Buddhist ruler who united his war-torn country in the twelfth century and created a kingdom that was a haven of peace and learning. One man who has done just that, is novelist Geoff Ryman, in his new book The King's Last Song, published by HarperCollins in March. I'm a big fan of Ryman's interpretation of a significant period in Cambodia's history and here's my review of his latest book:

I eagerly awaited Geoff Ryman's novel, The King's Last Song, that links the glories of the Angkor dynasty of King Jayavarman VII with modern-day Cambodia, and I was richly rewarded. It's excellent. I particularly loved the passages that yielded such a vivid and atmospheric recreation of life in the court of the King during the twelfth century that I could almost taste it. Okay, much of it was from the author's own imagination, but I believed it. The book swirls around the life story of Jayarvarman VII written on gold leaves which are found and subsequently stolen. The hunt is on for their recovery and with it, we gain an insight into the Cambodia of today. This book sets a towering standard for new fiction writing on Cambodia that will be difficult to match, let alone exceed. I take my hat off to the author for a wonderful and evocative story that I found impossible to put down. I urge everyone with an interest in Cambodia to buy this book and then encourage your friends and family to do the same.

To read more, go to my review webpage at:
To buy the book at, go to:

One of the centrepiece items in the Guimet Museum in Paris is this immaculately sculptured head, believed to be King Jayavarman VII.

Friday, June 2, 2006

Bun Heang Ung - ace cartoonist

Bun Heang Ung is a remarkably talented artist and animator. The sixty drawings that accompanied his book, The Murderous Revolution - his real-life struggle to survive the Khmer Rouge regime - are a vivid testimony of those tragic times. Bun collaborated with Martin Stuart-Fox to produce the book, which was first published in 1985. In fact, his book was published on three occasions. Bun recalls, "The old editions were poor in quality. The first was published in Sydney, second and third in Bangkok...and of course in Cambodia it was by pirate publishing. I was disappointed to see the book with poor quality, I had put so much detail into every drawing - I would like my drawing to tell the story itself. You see when I arrived in Australia 26 years ago, I had started to draw those toons from my memories almost every night for 2 years, 90 drawings, 14 hours each..." Bun would love to re-publish his graphic recollections in a book titled, Khmer Rouge and Its Evil Revolution; "I'm looking for a good publisher to put my drawings in a new form with big size printing. Fingers crossed, I'll find one."

Bun's animation work has appeared in films and tv programmes in the past and he's returning to it again, after much of the business had been snapped up by Chinese and Indian animators in recent times. He's also universally known for his searingly satirical caricatures and cartoons, having been a political cartoonist for the Far Eastern Economic Review for a number of years. However, it has a downside, as he's not been back to his beloved Cambodia in recent years for safety reasons, as he sees it, "I'm a very ugly black sheep in Cambodia. However, I draw my toons every day from my heart: Cambodia, My Home, My Soul, My Heart."

His own website, Sacrava Toons, displays a wealth of his work at Click on the archived month - March 2005 - to see a number of his impressive drawings from The Murderous Revolution. Also view my own webpage on Bun Heang Ung at

Below is one of Bun's indelible images, recalling the arrival of the Khmer Rouge troops in Phnom Penh in April 1975 and the subsequent evacuation of the city at gunpoint (reproduced with kind permission).

Oral rural history from Ksach Poy

A big thank you is due to Dickon Verey. A couple of days ago, he sent me a copy of a book titled The Monk, The Farmer, The Merchant, The Mother, which I have just this minute finished reading. I found it captivating in its simplicity. Dickon has spent the last couple of years raising funds to build and equip a community centre in the village of Ksach Poy, some six kilometres southeast of Battambang, in northwest Cambodia. The centre was the brainchild of the grassroots NGO, FEDA and has become an integral part of the village community.

One of the ways to raise money was to produce this book, compiled by Anne Best and containing the oral histories of four elder statesmen of the village, all in their late 70s or older. Their true life stories provide an absorbing glimpse into a Cambodia that has seen cataclysmic changes, though the fundamentals of village life is much the same today as it was in their youth. Simple but always a struggle. Mey Sampho tells of his life as a monk; Chinn Muon describes in detail how to farm rice; small businesses have been the lifeblood of Nun Chhuon, whilst Prom Tun was a dedicated midwife and mother. All four stories were fascinating, sincere and told with great dignity. I loved them.

The book was published at the end of 2005 and you can read more about it at:

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Contemporary Cambodia

One of the best books by far to get to grips with the situation in Cambodia today is Karen J Coates' Cambodia Now: Life in the Wake of War, published by McFarland Books in 2005. I reviewed Karen's publication for my own Book Review webpage and this is my take on her brilliant book:

Karen Coates (pictured) has written a warts 'n' all view of contemporary Cambodia, giving us a glimpse into how hard life really is in a country traumatized by war but which still retains a magical quality that attracts and infatuates people like Coates and her husband Jerry Redfern, both journalists who worked in-country on and off for six years. Personally, I loved the book, I could hardly put it down. I could relate to many of the people Coates met on her travels, and if you get the chance to stay long enough in Cambodia, you will meet them too.

My emotions fluctuated wildly between elation and dismay as I read the stories meshed together from her interviews with scores of Cambodians, from the fragile hope of street beggar Bun Na, to the dogged determination of commune leader Ly Chheng Ky, a lone woman in a typically male-dominated environment. She introduces us to Choun Nhiem, better known as the old sweeper of Ta Prohm from the cover of the popular Lonely Planet guidebook. She interviewed three people I've met on my own travels; Rithy Keo, a supervisor at the Kien Khleang rehab center just outside Phnom Penh, enthusiastic conservationist Tom Evans, working in the forests of Mondulkiri, and Youk Chhang, the tireless and dedicated director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia. These three are just the tip of the iceberg of unsung heroes and heroines working to make a better Cambodia. But its a tough job and Coates makes that abundantly clear throughout her twenty-one chapters, in which she examines the past, present and future, dissecting Cambodia's many ills and its hopes. This book is a must read for anyone seeking to delve below the flimsy veil of idyllic Cambodian life that most of the tourist hordes see and believe is the real Cambodia. They have little idea of what lies just below the surface.

You can read more about Karen's book, and order a copy, at her own website at: I recommend that you do get hold of a copy, its well worth the investment of your time and cash.

Favourite photos....2

Here's another one of my favourite photos, taken in the Srei Santhor district of Cambodia in January 2003. Its proudly on display on my website homepage, as I pose with half a dozen youngsters in the grounds of a pagoda called Wat Sithor.

The Srei Santhor district lies to the east of the capital Phnom Penh, across the mighty Mekong River. Its a part of Cambodia that sees practically no tourists or travellers at all, so I was greeted throughout my day in the district with waves, smiles, hello's and a great deal of warmth. My visit to Wat Sithor was no exception. It was 2pm when my dirt-bike driver Sophal and myself reached the extensive grounds of the pagoda. A large brick stupa of indeterminate age stood next to the main vihara, whilst another four even larger brick stupas with porches, almost small temples in size, were situated behind the pagoda and overgrown with vegetation.

From the moment we arrived, I was followed around by the children you see in the photo above, they were absolutely adorable kids who smiled at me constantly, played peek-a-boo, they squealed with laughter when I chased them but never uttered a single word, even when Sophal asked their names. When I suggested a photo they lined up rather sheepishly and then the girl in blue put her arm around my neck - she was so sweet. The red krama (scarf) on my head was to keep the sun off but by the end of the day, my nose was bright red from sunburn - perhaps that's what the children found so funny. The trip was a great success and to get a real taste of life in rural Cambodia, I'd recommend everyone take a trip to Srei Santhor district.