Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Kuti Rishi of Isaan

The central laterite tower at Kuti Rishi Ban Nong Bua Lai, with the foundations of the library in the foreground
Jayavarman VII was a fervent Buddhist as well as the greatest builder of the Khmer Empire. His determination to leave his mark included the construction of 102 hospitals (built in wood and long since disappeared) across his vast empire and with each of those hospitals came a chapel for religious purposes. There are a handful of chapels to be found in Isaan, and two of them both with the name Kuti Rishi, or hermit cell, are within a short distance of Prasat Phnom Rung and its nearby sister temple Prasat Muang Tam. They are identical in appearance, composed of hard laterite stone with a typical layout of a central redented tower, a southern library with a laterite rectangular enclosure wall and a single east-facing gopura with doors and windows made of sandstone. Next to each is a laterite-lined pond. There aren't any lintels or carvings to shout about though both of the Kuti Rishi are worth a stop en route between the two main temple sites for their peaceful locations. Kuti Rishi Ban Nong Bua Lai is the one closest to Phnom Rung, lying at the foot of the hill and near a large baray of the same name. It's a little more of a ruin than its sister, with its library no longer standing and much of its enclosing wall long since gone. Three young girls provided us with some entertainment as they practised jumping into the pond before they were scolded by their grandmother for not getting on with washing the family clothes. About five kilometres away and next to the baray of Prasat Muang Tam is the second hermit cell, Kuti Rishi Ban Khok Muang. It was devoid of any life, set on its own in fields, though was well maintained and alongwith a few antefixes on the seven metre tall laterite tower, I also spotted a couple of sandstone pedestals.
The informative introduction sign at Kuti Rishi Ban Nong Bua Lai
The broken wall allows a good view of the tower and gopura at Kuti Rishi Ban Nong Bua Lai
The ruined eastern gopura at Kuti Rishi Ban Nong Bua Lai
The girls carry on their practice dives into the pond despite scolding from their grandmother
The pond and temple of Kuti Rishi Ban Khok Muang
The central tower and gopura of the Kuti Rishi near the baray of Muang Tam
The east-facing gopura at Kuti Rishi Ban Khok Muang
The central laterite tower at Kuti Rishi Ban Khok Muang with sandstone antefixes in situ
A sandstone pedestal in the gopura at Kuti Rishi Ban Khok Muang

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Festivities ahoy

With the Water Festival (Bon Om Tuk in Khmer) just about to get underway here in Phnom Penh, there's a serious possibility of getting trampled underfoot as hundreds of thousands, possibly up to a million, Cambodians arrive in the capital from the surrounding provinces, to witness the boat racing as well as enjoying the free festivities and the chance to mingle in the capital. I was expecting Now to come down from Siem Reap for a few days break and to experience the capital in all its frenzy for the 1st time, but Eric's cracking the whip and his exhibition at Raffles has been extended for a week, so she'll try and make it next week instead. Its a time to be wary of your valuables as every expat I've spoken to (which is a handful) has suffered a robbery of some description around this time, so the key thing to remember is, don't carry anything you can't afford to lose. The streets will be jam-packed and I mean absolutely rammed over this weekend and into the early part of next week, so I might just stay at home and catch up on all those things that I've been putting off, which is a very long list. Meanwhile, the authorities have been clamping down on the city's prostitutes before the festival, they will be handing out up to 250,000 free condoms and have warned people to be wary of catching the H1N1 flu virus with a 'cover your cough' message. Its the Kings' Father's birthday tomorrow too, so another public holiday, it was Coronation Day yesterday and Water Festival is a public holiday for 3 days, though at Hanuman we're only off on Monday. And of course, football will take precedence next weekend, when the BIDC Cup begins a weeks' worth of football at Olympic Stadium involving the Cambodian national team, fresh from their training camp in Vietnam. I was gutted to read of a series of events at the EFEO HQ in Siem Reap this week which I will obviously miss. In English, the lectures will focus primarily on Angkor and will include speakers such as Christophe Pottier, Darryl Collins, Olivier Cunin, Martin Polkinghorne and Im Sokrithy. Damn and blast.
As part of the celebrations for Norodom Sihanouk's birthday tomorrow, TV3 hosted a program tonight of music and of course, classical Khmer dance. In the red costume on the far left of this screen-grab is my pal Sam Savin with fellow members of the royal ballet peforming a dance in honour of the King Father. Savin was also performing for the King earlier this week at Chaktomuk Theatre.
Sam Savin, far left in red costume, dancing on TV3 tonight


Even more de Vries

Every time I open the paper here I see Eric de Vries' name. This man's publicity-machine has been a runaway success in recent months. He's just finishing a month-long exhibition at Raffles in Siem Reap. And as a very good friend of mine, I'm more than happy to continue the trend. The following article on Eric appears in the FCC's latest newsletter The Wires. There will be a Retrospective book out early next year and next month a series of 30 pictures from Sambor Prei Kuk will go online.

Shooting from Heaven

"Retrospective Cambodia 00/09," on display at The Raffles in Siem Reap, is a showcase of Dutch photographer Eric de Vries most memorable Cambodian pictures.

Eric de Vries likes taking pictures in Cambodia. In fact, the native of Netherlands has spent the last nine years shooting photos throughout the kingdom. The acclaimed photographer is currently holding an exhibition at the Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor in Siem Reap. "Retrospective Cambodia 00/09" features de Vries' work from when he was either living in or visiting Cambodia. "I chose the best pictures I took from that period," de Vries says.

The exhibition includes photographs that de Vries shot of various landscapes around the country, the Angkor temples and the standoff last year between Cambodian and Thai troops near the Preah Vihear temple. When de Vries visited Preah Vihear, there were not any clashes between troops, as Cambodia and Thailand attempted to resolve the dispute diplomatically. "We - my assistants and I - had a great time up there with the troops," he recalls. "It was more like boredom and spending time (for the soldiers) to grow vegetables, and they were happy that someone was around with a camera."

A resident of Siem Reap, de Vries does fine art, commercial, documentary and news photography. He and a business partner run a café/gallery in Siem Reap where much of his work is on display. The relatively slow pace of Southeast Asia and his view that "Cambodia is a photographic heaven" are among the reasons he originally decided to come to the country. His first encounter with Cambodia occurred in 2000, when he traveled around Southeast Asia for three months. When de Vries initially visited Cambodia, he recalls how "there was something" about the country that made him want to come back for a much longer stay. "The people, the countryside, and the temples ... I was surprised by (Cambodia's) beauty and all the smiling Khmers," de Vries says. He made annual visits to Cambodia before deciding to take up residence in Phnom Penh in late 2007.

Since relocating to Cambodia, de Vries has had more than a few memorable moments as a photographer. Not surprisingly, the temples around Angkor Wat were among those memorable experiences. The Preah Vihear standoff and his documentary series, Hello Darling, about the working girl bar scene in Phnom Penh, are other fascinating encounters he's had as a photographer in Cambodia.

Born in the Dutch city of Arnhem, de Vries developed a fascination with photography when he received a camera as a birthday present when he was 14. There were more and better cameras for presents on subsequent birthdays, and he eventually decided that he wanted to become a professional photographer. While de Vries studied at a photography school in the Netherlands for two years, he says many years of practice on his own were what really allowed him to hone his skills. After living in Phnom Penh, de Vries eventually moved to Siem Reap and got married to a Cambodian woman before he and his wife had a daughter named C'moon. The 49-year-old has lots of photography work in Cambodia lined up for the coming years, and he says he plans to stay in the country for the foreseeable future. "So I have no plans of going back to the Netherlands," he says. Links: Eric de Vries FCC's The Wires

Next month, Eric will post 30 photos from his recent visit to Sambor Prei Kuk


Serious Pulse

Steel Pulse looking serious. LtoR: Donovan McKitty, David Hinds, Selwyn Brown, Sidney Mills, Wayne C-Sharp Clarke & Amlak Tafari
I haven't posted anything on the best music band on the planet, Steel Pulse, for a while, so here's a group photo I found by accident today. The band rarely pose for group shots and this one doesn't include their regular female backing vocalists, Juris Prosper and Keysha McTaggart. I think it was taken sometime in July. The band are on a mini-break at the moment before travelling to Brazil for 4 shows in mid November. They rarely rest. For more on Steel Pulse, click here.
Another musician I miss since my migration is Basil Gabbidon, a Steel Pulse founding member back in the day. Basil in his various guises, either Gabbidon, Reggaerockz, simply Blu, etc, etc, is still doing the business and the picture below was snapped by Tim Ellis at the Birmingham Arts Festival in September, when Gabbidon played the Fountain stage at Victoria Square. My thanks to Tim.
Basil Gabbidon - September 2009 vintage by Tim Ellis

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Watching our heritage

From time to time I get a bee in my bonnet about Khmer treasures that have been spirited out of Cambodia and lie in museums and private collections around the globe. This includes both Angkorian and pre-Angkor treasures. For people like Heritage Watch this is their daily bread and butter and they deserve everyone's support to oppose this loss of Cambodia's cultural identity. The following article by Roger Atwood, which I found on the Heritage Watch website, isn't about Cambodia but nevertheless carries an important message which could be adopted here, if everyone was prepared to work together to achieve it.

To catch a looter - by Roger Atwood (New York Times)
As United States troops begin withdrawing from Iraq, we should take stock of the staggering damage that Iraq’s ancient archeological sites have suffered from looting over the last few years. After the 2003 invasion, swarms of looters dug huge pits and passages all over southern Iraq in search of cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals. At Isin, where a Sumerian city once stood, I watched men sifting through tons of soil for 4,000-year-old objects to sell to Baghdadi dealers. It was mass pillage. The worst of the looting appears to be over, say the experts who monitor archeological sites with armed inspections and aerial photographs. With security improving, Iraqi authorities now have the chance to bring long-lasting protection to what’s left of the country’s ancient heritage. They could take some pointers from an unexpected place: Peru.

In 1994, residents of eight villages in northwestern Peru — a region of deserts and oases that looks much like Iraq — organized citizens’ patrols. The patrols weren’t out to stop house burglars or cattle rustlers. They were looking for looters, who, for several years, had plundered the area to feed the robust international market for pre-Inca artifacts. I spent a few days with one of these patrols in the village of Úcupe in 2002. The members were unarmed and well organized, and they knew the terrain as well as you know your dining room. When they spotted looters digging up the overgrown ancient burial mounds that dot the landscape, they surrounded them and called the police. In this way, I saw the patrols apprehend three potential looters without firing a shot.

Last year, archeologists excavated an intact tomb at Úcupe that contained the remains of a lord who ruled during the Moche civilization around A.D. 450. He was buried with golden headdresses, war clubs, silver rattles and opulent jewelry. If sold piecemeal on the black market, these objects could have fetched millions. Instead, their discovery opened the door to a new understanding of how power was exercised in the Moche world. Without the civilian patrols, this tomb would certainly have been emptied by looters. The people of Úcupe will now benefit from the archaeological tourism that often follows such discoveries and that, in Peru, is booming. They protected a community asset, and it paid off.

This kind of grassroots organizing — where local officials, police officers and archaeologists join forces with local residents — is the best way to combat looting and protect sites from being swallowed up by the illicit antiquities trade. A similar strategy has proved effective in Mali, a country that has little in common with Peru besides a rich archaeological heritage. It would work in Iraq and elsewhere. Surprisingly, though, relatively few governments have focused on getting rural people involved in protecting threatened sites. Most spend their energy pressing museums in the United States or Europe to repatriate looted artifacts, instead of focusing on safeguarding the archaeological riches still in the ground. Repatriation is a valuable goal, but an immense amount of historical information is lost whenever looting occurs and sites are damaged, even if the objects are later recovered. The government’s time would be better spent expanding the patrols to prevent looting in the first place.

In Iraq, the authorities could start by inviting provincial museums and archaeologists to work with local governments and police departments on organizing residents who live near key ancient sites. Rural citizens’ patrols aren’t expensive — they need binoculars, cellphones, maybe a few dirt bikes and some basic training. Financing could come from international conservation and community development organizations and should include money for education to encourage people to see the ruins in their midst as valuable community assets as much as potable water or clean streets. Once organized, the patrols need to be lightly armed if armed at all, and they have to be well regulated by the police. But as the good citizens of Úcupe have shown, they work. Roger Atwood, a contributing editor at Archaeology magazine, is the author of “Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers and the Looting of the Ancient World." Find out more about Heritage Watch, click here.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Canoeing to Tatai

I needed this at the end of our canoeing visit to the Tatai Waterfall
This is the view I had during our adventure, a tranquil river view and the back of Tim's head
I have so many photos and stories to post about my trips and adventures over the last few months, that there is a real danger I will forget many of them. For example, I spent nearly a week in and around Koh Kong (on the southern coast of Cambodia) before my birthday and that was closely followed by my trip to Isaan in NE Thailand. So to ensure I keep the Koh Kong trip in mind, here's some photos from a 3-hour canoe trip my brother Tim and I did on the afternoon of our arrival at Rainbow Lodge, an eco-friendly set of bungalows, just a little upstream from national highway 48 and the bridge at Tatai village. The owner of Rainbow is Janet and after she made us a bite to eat, we made good use of the lodge's two-man canoe. Tim sat in the front, I tagged along at the back, and we set off for a paddle along the tranquil Kep and Tatai Rivers. Our target was the Tatai Waterfall, which because we were at the back-end of the rainy season, would be in full flow. It took us about 45 minutes of fairly leisurely paddling to reach the waterfall. During that time on the river we saw no-one else and had only bird-calls for company. The water level was high and the waterfall itself stretches across the river, making quite a loud racket and not allowing us to get too close, because of the swell, and my desire not to get dumped into the water. Both Tim and I aren't great swimmers (or canoeists) and even wearing life jackets, I wasn't taking any chances of getting too close. The forest comes right down to the water's edge and rather than get out of the canoes and try to get a closer look at the waterfall, we decided to take a look at a couple of much smaller falls we'd noticed on our paddle upstream. During the dry season, the main waterfall is much less dramatic and swimming in some of the small pools is easily done I'm told. We carried on our adventure, regularly stopping for a breather because I have discovered that I am totally unfit, and made it back to Rainbow before dark, three hours after we'd begun. It reminded me of our kayaking session in Laos a year before, though we emerged considerably less wet from this one.
Where's the riverbank - as the forest comes right to the river's edge
Tatai Waterfall from a safe distance to avoid the swell
It doesn't look too dangerous but the current and swell was pretty strong and carried us downstream as soon as I took this shot
We paddled back upstream to get a bit closer to the waterfall - trying to paddle and take photos wasn't easy
We crossed to the other side of the river for this photo
I'm a big fan of waterfalls but you have to give them the respect they deserve
Another view of the Tatai River, which was like a mill-pond for much of the time
One of the smaller waterfalls we encountered on the Tatai River
The sun came out as I snapped this picture
Yet another smaller waterfall with the stream cascading over a series of rocks
A close-up of the final smaller waterfall en route back to Rainbow Lodge

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BIDC Cup draw

The Cambodia U23 team in their last international friendly against Singapore
The BIDC Cup 2009, named and sponsored by The Bank for Investment and Development of Cambodia PLC - a Vietnamese Bank - is fast approaching. The winners of the 4 team tournament stand to take home a cash prize of $20,000 and the runners-up get half that. As a precursor to the SEA Games in Laos in early December, the Cambodian Under-23 team will complete against one of their main rivals at the SEA Games, the Laos Under-23s, alongwith two Vietnamese club sides, Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), who finished 6th in the V-League last term, and Vissai Ninh Binh, who topped the First Division to get promotion to the V-league. HAGL are one of the stalwarts of the V-League, having won league and cup doubles in 2003 and 2004 and finished 3rd a couple of seasons ago. They will be the first opponents for the Cambodian U23s at 6pm on Sunday 8 November at the Olympic Stadium. HAGL are currently playing in a tournament in Phuket, will have a friendly in Bangkok then arrive in Phnom Penh for the BIDC but minus their new coach, Kiatisuk Senamuang, who is in charge of the Thailand U23s for the SEA Games.
The draw for the BIDC Cup is as follows, with all games at the Olympic Stadium:
Sun 8 Nov: V Ninh Binh v Laos U23 (3.30pm): HAGL v Cambodia U23 (6pm)
Tue 10 Nov: V Ninh Binh v HAGL (3.30pm): Cambodia U23 v Laos U23 (6pm)
Thu 12 Nov: Laos U23 v HAGL (3.30pm): CambodiaU23 v V Ninh Binh (6pm)
Sat 14 Nov: 3rd place play-off (3.30pm): Final (6pm)

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Press talk

My article in yesterday's Phnom Penh Post on the Cambodian Under-23s ongoing preparation in Vietnam for the BIDC Cup in early November and the SEA Games in Laos in early December. Click here to see it online.
The Cambodian Under-23s played their 3rd practice match on Wednesday, drawing 0-0 with the Ho Chi Minh Under-21 team at The Thanh Long training centre. Coach Scott O'Donell commented on the game; "We dominated the first half creating a lot of chances but could not put them away. The 2nd half was more even but still we had some good chances. I was happy with most aspects of our game but our finishing was poor."
There are no injury worries to report from the squad's training camp just outside Saigon. The team are lining up two more practice matches to round off their month-long stint in Vietnam. The likely opponents are Can Tho, who finished 3rd in the V-League 1st Division last season and just lost out in the play-offs for promotion to the V-League proper. Their new coach is Lu Dinh Tuan, the coach at Ho Chi Minh City last season when they were relegated to the 1st Division. The Cambodian youngsters will return to Phnom Penh on 5 November and have two more training sessions before they compete for the BIDC Cup with an opening game against Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) on 8 November at the Olympic Stadium.
Below are the two new additions to the Cambodian U-23 training squad currently in Vietnam. Both players, Ieng Piseth and To Vann Thann, joined the squad last weekend and both play their football for the Ministry of National Defense team in the CPL.
To Vann Thann (Ministry of National Defense)
Ieng Piseth (Ministry of National Defense)

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No tensions at Ta Muen Thom

Off-duty Khmer and Thai troops, two local women and myself enjoy a moment of bonding at Prasat Ta Muen Thom
I mentioned a few days ago that during my visit to Prasat Ta Muen Thom, on the border between Cambodia and Thailand, the Thai and Cambodian troops stationed in the vicinity were mingling freely, sharing stories, jokes and cigarettes. Though the temple site itself is clearly in the control of the Thai soldiers, who were patrolling the area with their weapons on display, the wooden gate that leads across the current border and into Cambodia, was open and two Khmer soldiers wandered over to join a couple who were already sitting with their Thai counterparts. It was all very amicable and Tim and I joined the group for a chat with our smattering of Khmer and Thai and their limited English. A couple of women also joined in to add a bit more spice and laughter and half an hour later we were on our way, after the obligatory photo opportunity of course. The paved road that leads right up to the temple from the Thai side was under the watchful eye of a Thai army post. I didn't venture past the gate that leads onto the Cambodian side but read recently that they've also put a road up to the site. There was no entry fee from the Thai side, and the temple sits about 60kms southeast of Phnom Rung, as the crow flies.
These two Khmer soldiers and their dog had just wandered through the gate that marks the border
Here's the gate amongst the trees and the edge of the temple's laterite steps
A look at the end of the paved road before the path winds to the temple from the Thai side
A sober reminder not to stray off the paths or take a leak in the forest next to the temple site


Somaly Lun's story

The Mirror newspaper in the UK has come up trumps again with a story in their online edition yesterday. In recalling Cambodia thirty years ago, they focused on Somaly Lun, who I haven't met personally, but I knew her husband Borithy, when he was working at the Cambodia Trust in the late 1990s. They also highlighted Marcus Thompson, who did so much for Oxfam around that time and I've always been fascinated by some of his pictures of Phnom Penh in the early 1980s. Anyway, here's the story.
Somaly Lun and Marcus Thompson today (pic Harry Page, Getty)
Cambodia's killing fields 30 years on: 'They will kill our parents tonight...we must escape' - by Ros Wynne-Jones (

It is 30 years since John Pilger revealed the existence of the Cambodian Killing Fields in the Daily Mirror. For Somaly Lun, the anniversary is bittersweet. Today, customers at the Oxfordshire supermarket checkout where she works have no idea of her extraordinary story. How she escaped US B-52 bombers as a child, a Khmer Rouge concentration camp as a teenager, and Vietnamese soldiers as a young woman. How she lost her father and six brothers to the Khmer Rouge. Somaly owes her life in the UK to Oxfam's Marcus Thompson, then a young humanitarian worker who had become friends with Somaly and her husband Borithy. "England gave me the first safe place I had ever lived," Somaly says.

By the time she was 10, her home town of Kratie was under attack, even though Cambodia was neutral. Kratie was close to the border with Vietnam which was at war with the States, and US President Richard Nixon ordered 100,000 tonnes of secret bombings. "The B-52s came every day," Somaly recalls. "Every day, shooting and bombing and running." One day a man grabbed her as an F-11 US fighter jet swept low and held her in front of him as a shield. "The plane was so low I could almost see the pilot's face," she says. It permanently damaged her hearing. Somaly's family fled to Phnom Penh, but by 1975 it had fallen to Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. Backed by the US against the Vietnamese communists, the Khmer Rouge were determined to return Cambodia to Year Zero, to a time before industrialisation. "My father, a doctor, was in the middle of an operation the day the Khmer Rouge came," Somaly says. "He said, 'What about the patient?' They pointed a gun at him and asked, 'Do you want to die?'"

Somaly's family were herded out at gunpoint with two million other people. The family was taken to Pursat, a concentration camp in the remote countryside. Then the Khmer Rouge came for Somaly's father. "They said, 'We know you are a doctor'." The first time, they wanted him to treat one of the leaders. But the second time, "they took him away and he never came back". Somaly was forced to spend 20 hours a day as a slave doing hard labour in the rice fields despite starvation, exhaustion and malaria. Her older brother was caught saving his food rations for her. "They made him confess he was a US spy," she says. "They kept beating him until he died. Then my younger brother was taken. They put him in a prison with other children, and burned it to the ground. The screams have haunted me ever since. "One day, they came and took 2,000 people. One of the girls came back like a zombie with blood all over her. She said, 'They killed everyone'." Then, one day a pal whispered: "They are killing our parents and we have to escape now, tonight." Somaly says: "After dark we went to where people were gathered with three big boats." The Khmer Rouge chased them along the river, firing at the boats. She says: "We hid in the mangrove and caught fish and ate it raw as we didn't dare to make a fire. We drank muddy water. We all became sick - just skin and bones." Everyone on Somaly's boat was drifting in and out of consciousness. "But somehow it arrived by itself at Kampong Chhnang, where the Khmer Rouge was driven out," she says. "They gave us food, water, shelter."

New escapees from Pursat told Somaly that thousands had been taken to a cliff and forced off at gunpoint. Yet, somehow her mother, sister and brother had escaped. "The day I saw them again was the happiest day of my life," Somaly says. When they returned to Phnom Penh in 1979 they found a ghost city occupied by the Vietnamese liberators. Somaly took a job at the hotel Samaki - now Le Royale - as a receptionist, where she met Borithy, who was working for the Cambodian foreign office as a translator. She also met Marcus Thompson, a 34-year-old British aid worker sent by Oxfam to set up a humanitarian programme. "We became friends," he remembers. "We were all stuck together at the hotel." But Cambodia was still dangerous - and Borithy was warned to leave Phnom Penh. "He said he was in love with me and refused to leave without me," Somaly says. On March 16, 1980, the couple married in secret inside a destroyed pagoda. The next day, they escaped. Passing through fields of landmines, they made it through Vietnamese, then Khmer Rouge territory and even past the Thai border guards to Khao I Dang, a squalid refugee camp on the border. Somaly wrote to her family and to Marcus to tell them they were alive. "I needed to go to those camps as part of my work," Marcus says. Somaly says she will never forget seeing Marcus walking through the camp. "I cried out 'Marcus!' and just hung on to his neck," she says.

Marcus was shocked by their plight. "They couldn't go back to Cambodia," he says. "The Thais wouldn't accept them. We had to do something." Back in England, Marcus and his Oxfam colleagues went through official channels to ask whether Britain would accept the family as refugees. "We had no expectation anything would happen," Marcus says. "But then we got a letter saying 'Yes'." Somaly, 22 and pregnant, arrived in the UK on May 12, 1981, with Borithy, Somaly's mother Moeun, brother Rithy and sister Virak - and settled close to Marcus and his family in Witney, Oxfordshire. "People at the Oxfam offices donated all kinds of furniture, saucepans, an old TV, carpets," Somaly remembers.

Today, the couple's daughters are success stories in their own right. The youngest, 23-year-old Bophanie, is a teacher in Brighton, while her sister, Mary Thida Lun, 27, is Assistant Private Secretary to the Minister of State for International Development, Gareth Thomas. At 64, Marcus still works as an adviser to Oxfam, and the charity remains working in Cambodia, still tackling the legacy of the dark days of the Khmer Rouge and facing new challenges from climate change, typhoons and flooding. Today, 30 years on, when she goes to and from work at the local supermarket, living her British life, Somaly sometimes remembers the words her father said to her before they took him away. "He said, 'You are going to survive. You are going to go places'." She shakes her head slowly. "I think that was what gave me the strength to survive."

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ynav and Bosseba

King Norodom Sihamoni thanks Sam Savin personally on stage after the performance
Talk about rubbing shoulders with the great and the good, it was more like a who's who of the Cambodian royal family, the country's elite and the higher echelons of the foreign contingent in town, from Ambassadors to Trial Judges at the ECCC. Armed with my ticket from Sam Savin, one of the principal dancers in the Cambodian royal ballet, I arrived at the Chaktomuk Theatre around 6.15pm and was shown to a seat in the middle of the theatre, about halfway back. Not bad at all. Author and activist Theary Seng plonked herself down in the next seat and we introduced ourselves. More than an hour later, with every seat in the house taken, King Norodom Sihamoni entered alongwith Princess Norodom Buppha Devi, who had choreographed the piece we were about to see, Ynav & Bosseba. Sam Savin was the first to appear on stage, as a beautiful peacock being chased by a prince and was quickly followed by a series of princesses, kings, bandits, battle scenes, unrequited love, kidnap and happy ever after in a 75 minute performance - pretty much standard fare for the fantasy that is Cambodian classical dance. Savin reappeared later as a hand maiden to the princess and Vuth Chanmoly joined the cast as Prince Choraka. The cream of the country's classical dancers took their plaudits and individual thanks from the King, who was a dancer and dance teacher himself before he ascended to the throne, and the Princess. The television cameras were there too, so I can watch it all again on Apsara tv, maybe even spot myself in a suit for the first time in 2 years.
The King, the Princess and Sam Savin (front row, 2nd left) with her royal ballet colleagues
Princess Buppha Devi and King Norodom Sihamoni give their personal thanks to the performers
The cast of Ynav & Bosseba line up on stage for a group photo with their royal patrons
A parting bow from the King amongst the cast of the royal ballet
Three of the principal dancers with a young fan. Vuth Chanmoly is far right.
Yes that's me in a suit for the 1st time since I came to Cambodia, alongside my next seat neighbour, author and activist Theary Seng, who was great company

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Suited and booted

The invitation to Ynav & Bosseba with Sam Savin on the front cover
I'm just back from the Chaktomuk Theatre as my classical dance contact Sam Savin gave me a call to collect a ticket for a royal ballet performance tonight, in the presence of King Norodom Sihamoni. It was tough getting past security on the door and that was just to collect the ticket. The performance is the story of Ynav & Bosseba and Savin must have a central part as she's the dancer shown on the cover of the invitation. Its a suited and booted occasion, so I'll have to get my suit out of mothballs. The big question is - will I get in, even with an invitation?


Pilger & Cambodia recalled

Anyone who has read my website will know that I owe a debt of gratitude to the journalist John Pilger. Without his 1979 documentary Year Zero, I would probably have never developed my initial interest and subsequent passion for Cambodia. I've also had the opportunity to meet John Pilger on a couple of occasions and to thank him personally. Yesterday, in the online Mirror, they recalled Pilger's reporting from Cambodia.

Beyond the imagination of mankind: Cambodia killing fields recalled 30 years on (

Thirty years ago, the Daily Mirror's John Pilger revealed to the world the horrors of Cambodia. Two million people had died in Pol Pot's killing fields and hundreds of thousands were starving. Pilger's award-winning reports warned there was just six months "to save three million people". Mirror readers raised enough money for a plane load of aid, and the reports kick-started a global humanitarian response. Here he recalls his horrifying trip into a country that had been closed to the outside world for four years.

The aircraft flew low, following the Mekong THE aircraft flew low, following the Mekong River west from Vietnam. Once over Cambodia, what we saw silenced all of us on board. There appeared to be nobody, no movement, not even an animal, as if the great population of Asia had stopped at the border. Whole villages were empty. Chairs and beds, pots and mats lay in the street, a car on its side, a bent bicycle. Behind fallen power lines lay or sat a single human shadow; it did not move. From the paddies, tall, wild grass followed straight lines. Fertilised by the remains of thousands upon thousands of men, women and children, these marked common graves in a nation where as many as two million people - or more than a quarter of the population - were "missing". At the liberation of the Nazi death camp in Belsen in 1945, The Times correspondent wrote: "It is my duty to describe something beyond the imagination of mankind." That was how I felt in 1979 when I entered Cambodia, a country sealed from the outside world for almost four years since "Year Zero".

Year Zero had begun shortly after sunrise on April 17, 1975, when Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge guerrillas entered the capital, Phnom Penh. They wore black and marched in single file along the wide boulevards. At 1pm, they ordered the city be abandoned. The sick and wounded were forced at gunpoint from their hospital beds; families were separated; the old and disabled fell beside the road. "Don't take anything with you," the men in black ordered. "You will be coming back tomorrow." Tomorrow never came. An age of owned cars and such "luxuries", anybody who lived in a city or town or had a modern skill, anybody who knew or worked with foreigners, was in grave danger; some were already under sentence of death. Of the Royal Cambodian Ballet company of 500 dancers, perhaps 30 survived. Doctors, nurses, engineers and teachers were starved, or worked to death, or murdered. For me, entering the silent, grey humidity of Phnom Penh was like walking into a city the size of Manchester in the wake of a nuclear cataclysm which had spared only the buildings. There was no power, no drinking water, no shops and no services. At the railway station trains stood empty. Personal belongings and pieces of clothing fluttered on the platforms, as they fluttered on the mass graves beyond.

I walked along Monivong Avenue to the National Library which had been converted to pigsty, as a symbol, all its books burned. It was dream-like. There was wasteland where the Gothic cathedral had stood - it had been dismantled stone by stone. When the afternoon monsoon rains broke, the deserted streets were suddenly awash with money. With every downpour a worthless fortune of new and unused banknotes sluiced out of the Bank of Cambodia, which the Khmer Rouge had blown up as they fled. Inside, a cheque book lay open on the counter. A pair of glasses rested on an open ledger. I slipped and I fell on a floor brittle with coins. For the first few hours I had no sense of even the remains of a population. The few human shapes I glimpsed seemed incoherent, and on catching sight of me, would flit into a doorway. In a crumbling Esso filling station an old woman and three emaciated infants squatted around a pot containing a mixture of roots and leaves, which bubbled over a fire fuelled with paper money. Such grotesque irony: people in need of everything had money to burn. At a primary school called Tuol Sleng, with that this I walked through what had become the "interrogation unit" and the "torture and massacre unit". Beneath iron beds I found blood and tufts of hair still on the floor. "Speaking is absolutely forbidden," said a sign.

Without milk and medicines, children were stricken with preventable disease like dysentery. It seemed that the very fabric of the society had begun to unravel. The first surveys revealed that many women had stopped menstruating. What compounded this was the isolation imposed on Cambodia by the West because its liberators, the Vietnamese, leaves over of paper had come from the wrong side of the Cold War, having driven America out of their country in 1975. Cambodia had been the West's dirty secret since President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger ordered a "secret bombing", extending the war in Vietnam into Cambodia in the early 70s, killing hundreds of thousands of peasants. "If this doesn't work, it'll be your ass, Henry," an aide heard Nixon say to Kissinger. It worked in handing Pol Pot his chance to seize power. When I arrived in the aftermath, no Western aid had reached Cambodia.

Only Oxfam defied the Foreign Office in London, which had lied that the Vietnamese were obstructing aid. In September 1979, a DC-8 jet took off from Luxembourg, filled with enough penicillin, vitamins and milk to restore some 70,000 children - all of it paid for by Daily Mirror readers who had responded to my reports and Eric Piper's pictures. On October 30, 1979, ITV broadcast Year Zero: The Silent Death Of Cambodia, the documentary I made with the late David Munro. Forty sacks of post arrived at the ATV studios in Birmingham, with £1million in the first few days. "This is for Cambodia," wrote an anonymous Bristol bus driver, enclosing his week's wage. A single parent sent her savings of £50.

People expressed that unremitting sense of decency and community which is at the core of British society. Unsolicited, they gave more than £20million. This helped rescue normal life in a faraway country. It restored a clean water supply in Phnom Penh, stocked hospitals and schools, supported orphanages and re-opened a desperately needed clothing factory. Such an extraordinary public outpouring broke the US and British governments' blockade of Cambodia. Incredibly, the Thatcher government had continued to support the defunct Pol Pot regime in the United Nations and even sent the SAS to train his exiled troops in camps in Thailand and Malaysia. Last March, the former SAS soldier Chris Ryan, now a best-selling author, lamented in a newspaper interview "when John Pilger, the foreign correspondent, discovered we were training the Khmer Rouge [we] were sent home and I had to return the £10,000 we'd been given for food and accommodation".

Today, Pol Pot is dead and several of his elderly henchmen are on trial in a UN/Cambodian court for crimes against humanity. Henry Kissinger, whose bombing opened the door to the nightmare of Year Zero, is still at large. Cambodians remain desperately poor, dependent on often-seedy tourism and sweated labour. For me, their resilience remains almost magical. In the years that followed their liberation, I never saw as many weddings or received as many wedding invitations. They became symbols of life and hope. And yet, only in Cambodia would a child ask an adult, as a 12-year-old asked me, with fear crossing his face: "Are you a friend? Please say."


Ta Muen's sad legacy

The head of this dvarapala male guardian has been chiselled away at Prasat Ta Muen Thom
The destruction of the intricate sandstone carvings at the border-straddling temple of Prasat Ta Muen Thom is heartbreaking. On my visit to the temple last week, which is the subject of a long-running dispute over ownership between Thailand and Cambodia, it was obvious that the temple, because of its remote location in the forested border area, had suffered badly at the hands of temple thieves over the years. For several years in the 1980s it was held by the Khmer Rouge, who in league with art dealers, tried to remove all of the temple's carvings, damaging many in their crude attempts which included the use of explosives. The main sanctuary and satellite buildings are now devoid of any lintels or pediments and the dvarapala male guardians and female devata that decorated the pilasters next to the doorways, are in a distressed state, as you can see from the pictures here. Heads have been chiselled away, whole sandstone blocks removed or feet have been left as a reminder of the beautiful 11th century carvings that once graced this important temple. I was so pleased to be able to visit this temple, particularly in light of the on-going border tensions between the two countries, but the destruction I found sadly reminded me of visits to other temple sites like Preah Khan of Kompong Svay where similar antiquity thefts have left the temple a mere shadow of its former self. More from my visit to the Ta Muen group of temples soon.
This decorated pilaster and male guardian have been destroyed by temple thieves
More crude attempts to remove cravings have left horrifying scars in the sandstone sanctuary
Further destruction, this time of a female devata, whose dress and feet remain

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Progress report

Cambodia's national team coach Scott O'Donell is currently putting his Under-23 squad through its paces in Saigon, Vietnam
The Cambodian Under-23 football squad have now spent the past three weeks in Vietnam undergoing a rigorous training regime in preparation for the 25th SEA Games that will begin in Vientiane, Laos on 2 December. National team coach Scott O'Donell and his 25-man squad have two more weeks in their training camp at the Thanh Long training facility, half an hour outside of Ho Chi Minh City, before they return home on 5 November. Three days later they will compete in the four-team BIDC Cup that will take place at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh between 8-14 November, and which will act as an important dress rehearsal for the SEA Games that begin a month later. Coach O'Donell has been pleased with his squad's preparations so far. "We have been able to totally focus on our football without any outside distractions and we get to use the excellent training facilities here at Thanh Long. A typical day starts with training at 6.45am and we break for breakfast at 9.30am. We have lunch at 1pm, resume training at 3.45pm, finish for dinner at 6.30pm and are in bed by 10pm. We've been into town a couple of times just to get the players out of the training centre and give them time to relax. But the players know we are not here for a holiday, we are here to prepare for the SEA Games in December. We tested the players on arrival and it showed that our endurance fitness levels were not good enough, which was a little surprising considering the players had just completed the CPL season. We have also been working on technique and tactics and how I want the team to play. We re-tested the players' aerobic fitness levels again today and there has been a big improvement from all the players, after 21 days of hard work," said the Australian-born coach.
There have been a couple of personnel changes to the original 25-man squad that began the training camp in Vietnam. Two Ministry of Defense players, To Vann Thann and Ieng Piseth have arrived to replace Nhuon Chansothea and Chhim Sambo. The squad's main injury concern has been star striker Khim Borey, who missed most of the recent CPL campaign with an ankle injury. To claw back his fitness, he's been undertaking extra training sessions and concentrating on his speed and agility that saw him collect the Golden Boot top scorer award in 2008. O'Donell highlighted the importance of the practice matches the team has played so far, against Ho Chi Minh City and Dong Nai Bien Hoa, both of which they won. "These games are very important because it gives us the chance to try the things we have been working on in training in game situations against strong opposition. You can work all you like on the training field but it's not until the players are under pressure in game situations, that you find out if they understand what we have been working on." The plan is to play three more practice games, beginning with a match against two-timeV-League champions Dong Tam Long An on 28 October, before they return to Phnom Penh.
For O'Donell, the BIDC Cup, with a purse of US$20,000 for the winners, will act as another important stepping stone to the SEA Games. "I will be using the BIDC Cup as a dress rehearsal for the SEA Games. It will be a good opportunity for the players to show what they can do and to confirm their places for the Games. My expectations will be the same for any game that we play - the players go out and try to play good football and to give 100%," stated the coach from their training headquarters just outside of Vietnam's cosmopolitan southern city.

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The introductory sign for the small and remote site at the 11th century Prasat Ban Prasat
One of the most obvious areas where the Thai authorities have the edge over their Cambodian counterparts is the signage in and around the temple sites. Not only does every single site, however minor, have a main introductory sign giving its basic history, but at the larger sites like Phimai and Prasat Phnom Rung, there are individual signs below each significant lintel, pediment and structure. Though the indoor museum at Phimai was closed for my visit, the smaller but perfectly formed museum at Phnom Rung was open and displayed as much information as anyone would want about the site and its historical significance. The Thai Department of Fine Arts in charge of ancient sites has obviously had longer to organize itself but there's a few things that Apsara and the Cambodian Ministry of Culture can learn from their neighbours in the provision of information. It starts with the neatly presented ticket stubs, the colourful free 12-page pamphlets available in different languages and goes through to the signs at the temples that I mentioned above. In addition, each of the sites I visited was well-maintained and tidy, even the smaller sites way off the beaten track, and again, the road signage to each of these smaller sites was well developed and plentiful. I'm sure this is on the to-do list of the Khmer authorities and the sooner it materializes the better.
The ticket stubs for Phimai, Phnom Rung & Muang Tam and Prasat Ban Phluang & Prasat Sikhoraphum
The 12-page pamphlets for Phimai, Phnom Rung and Prasat Muang Tam
A sign showing the archaeological sites in the vicinity at the Phnom Rung museum

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Vishnu reclining

The reclining Vishnu lintel at Prasat Phnom Rung
The east doorway to the central sanctuary of the temple of Prasat Phnom Rung hosts the most famous lintel in Thailand, and not necessarily for all the right reasons. Before the restoration of the temple by the Thai authorities began in 1972 and lasted through til 1988, the lintel disappeared sometime in the 1960s, later to be found residing in the Art Institute of Chicago, in the United States. As the temple's restoration neared completion, demands for the return of the lintel were voiced and eventually the iconic piece was returned and replaced in its original location in 1988 (in exchange for a payment to the American foundation and temporary loans of artifacts - nothing is free in this world). Despite a missing left edge and being broken in two pieces, this is one of the finest displays of this well-known Hindu scene - Vishnu Anantasayin. Vishnu is shown reclining on his right side on the back of the naga serpent, Ananta with Brahma rising from Vishnu on a lotus flower while Lakshmi cradles his legs. Also in the scene are hamsas, kala faces eating garlands and two elegant parrots. There is a very well compiled museum at Phnom Rung which tells the story of the temple and its restoration in great detail and is a perfect example of how much time and effort the Thai authorities have put in to make the experience of visiting the temple sites, a well-rounded one. I was very impressed.
The question of lost antiquities and their ownership is a big topic which I won't attempt to cover here in detail, besides making a few points. Khmer artifacts can be found all over the world, either in museums or private collections. They were of course once resident in Cambodia and the Khmer Empire but under varying guises, have been spirited away to the far corners and few show little sign of coming home. The permanent return of these items seems off the agenda with the big museums such as the Guimet in Paris, whilst loans may be a possible way forward. Many Khmer artifacts were removed from their original location during the colonialism of Cambodia by France. For some museum owners the idea of them being returned to their country of origin is a non starter. "We do not see the return of objects that were acquired honestly 100 years ago as constructive. Especially as they are established and accessible institutions that are open to the public that house them. As in most things, one can't readdress the circumstances of history in objects acquired before 1970. I hope the museums of the 21st century and countries in the 21st century will be able and open to sharing objects for short or long periods of time. In this vision there would be a clear acceptance of governmental or institutional ownership, but there would an ever lessening emphasis on objects representing only the clear identity of specific people or nations," says Michael Conforti, president of the Art Museum Directors in the USA. Well, he would say that wouldn't he, promoting the notion of the universal museum in the 21st century, rather than having to give up items that were often acquired in murky circumstances. It's a debate that will rage on regardless.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

SEA Games twitter

Time for an update on the SEA Games that will take place in Laos from 9-18 December this year. It's the 25th SEA Games and there's been a building frenzy underway in Vientiane to accommodate all the sports that will be competed for by the 11 nations involved. Football is the main one as far as I'm concerned though Cambodia may have better chances to gain medals in such sports as petanque, where they won two gold medals in the last games in Khorat in 2007. The football competition will be competed for by the Under-23 teams from each country and Cambodia's U-23s have been busy preparing at their training camp in Saigon for the last few weeks. They return home to play in the 4-team BIDC Cup in Phnom Penh from 8-14 November when Laos U23 and two Vietnamese club sides, Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) and Vissai Ninh Binh will match up in a round-robin competition. The winners will receive $20,000 so its not to be sniffed at and the match practice will be just what the doctor ordered for Scott O'Donell's young team. As for the Laos U23 team, they've already won a 4-team pre-SEA Games tourney in Laos earlier this month, overcoming Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia no less and will be itching to win again before hosting the SEA Games. Whilst the BIDC Cup is underway, Hanoi in Vietnam will host another 4-team U23 competition involving the hosts, Thailand, Singapore and China. It looks like everyone and their dog is getting games under their belt before the qualifying games start in earnest in Vientiane on 2nd December, a little earlier than the main competition dates. In the last SEA Games in Khorat in December 2007, the Cambodia U23s lost all three games, 3-1 to Indonesia, 8-0 to Thailand and 6-2 to Myanmar and that's where national coach Scott O'Donell is looking to improve. To qualify would be a major achievement for the Cambodian team though an improvement on their last showing is their immediate aim. The qualifying round draw has yet to take place. Thailand have won the football competition for 8 consecutive SEA Games, beating Myanmar in the 2007 final, 2-0.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Isaan taster

My brother Tim at one of the smaller temples at Phimai in Isaan
Here's a taster of my Isaan adventures. Lots more pictures and stories to follow but I said that after my visits to Banteay Chhmar, Koh Kong and so on, and have still to catch up with my postings on those locations, so don't hold your breath.
Looking at Phimai from the tree-lined royal pool
A part of the lintel on the west of the mandapa at Phimai showing Rama trapped by the coils of a naga with monkey troops in attendance
These three schoolgirls spoke a smattering of Khmer in Phimai
Three more young girls, this time taking turns to launch themselves into the pool at Kuti Rishi Ban Khok Mueang
The wonderful pie & chips menu at Mr Dang's restaurant in Ban Kruat
This doesn't look like a conflict zone does it, but its the fence that separates the Thai and Cambodian troops at Prasat Ta Muen Thom on the disputed borderline
The picturesque 12th century temple at Prasat Sikhoraphum surrounded by water
Just to lower the tone as he always does, Tim fills the swimming pool at our Surin hotel


Explosion of events

I'm gone for a few days and Phnom Penh explodes with more cultural events than I can shake a stick at. Tonight at Chinese House on the riverside, there's the closing ceremony of Golden Awakening, a week of 1960s Cambodian films as well as a party with suitable music. A host of famous Khmer names will be present and it begins at 6pm. At Meta House tonight, Tiara Delgado's Bitter Mekong film will get a 2nd showing at 7pm, whilst over at Chenla Theatre, tonight and tomorrow will see a new contemporary dance creation by Peter Chin called Transmission of the Invisible, and will involve Khmer and Canadian dancers performing together. The folks at the Bophana Center are busy too. At 4pm today they are showing a series of documentaries on Kong Nay, Sapoun Midada and the Kreung minority amongst others. On Tuesday (27 October), as part of World Audiovisual Heritage Day, they will repeat the screenings amongst a series of events including an array of varying musical styles. On Wednesday at the French Cultural Center there's an exchange in Khmer and French with Pin Yathay, author of the excellent memoir Stay Alive My Son.


Kick off

Two obliging monks at Phimai
It's early Saturday morning and I'm off to work soon. I returned home yesterday afternoon feeling a bit snookered and after doing the chores, I had an early night after enjoying my usual Indian takeaway from the Mount Everest restaurant (on Sihanouk Boulevard if you have never been) - those guys know how to make a gorgeous welcome home meal. I'll kick off the Thailand photos from my Khmer temple-hopping adventures soon but there's nearly 1,000 pics so it'll take me a while to sort the wheat from the chaff. In the meantime, he's two obliging monks at Phimai, it was our first stop on our temple tour and where you get the first inkling that the Thais have really made an effort to beautify the temple sites, and have succeeded extremely well. There's an argument that the temples are more realistic if left in a more natural state but the Thais obviously don't agree and put a lot of time and effort into the upkeep of the trees and greenery around the temples, to complement the stonework.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Bangkok jobsworths

Just a few hours sleep before up for breakfast and off to the airport, where I am now. The internet availability at the airport is worse than crap, as is their inflexibility at every turn. Bangkok can't hold a candle to Singapore in the airport league table. I won't bore you with details but the number of 'jobsworths' that you find at airports like this is incredible. Tim is on an earlier flight and has the use of the lounge so we've said our goodbyes and he's disappeared for his free eats and internet. Last night was an experience. My first visit to Bangkok in 15 years and though I was in town for less than a day, we managed to make the night last well into the early hours. Again I won't bore you with our schedule, suffice to say it involved drinking and chatting to attractive young ladies, the majority of which said they came from Isaan (and a couple even spoke passable Khmer), so at least we had something in common. I've only got internet access for 30 minutes so I'll report more when I get back home.


Thursday, October 22, 2009


I'm currently in Bangkok and just heading back to my hotel after a wander around the area we are staying in, Sukhumvit Road. Much like any busy area in any large city - a hive of activity. We caught the bus from Khorat this morning and arrived at Mor Chit bus station around midday. By the time we had booked into our boutique hotel, the Salil, and changed rooms as the rooms on the top floor were way too hot, it was too late to visit the National Museum - which stupidly closes at 3.30pm (and is closed on Mon & Tues, the same as the Phimai Museum, so beware). Instead we got a bite to eat and played a few games of pool as it poured with rain for most of the afternoon. We'll be back out later for a slap-up meal to celebrate the end of our adventures, one more night on the tiles and then off to the airport tomorrow morning for our flights home, me to Phnom Penh, Tim to Heathrow... and the conclusion of yet another successful brotherly bonding session.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Limited time

No time to report on today's adventures other than to say we headed eastwards from Surin and took in half a dozen temple sites before returning for the night to Khorat. It rained early doors then brightened up and we've been fortunate to have had good weather at all our temple visits except one - where it rained cats and dogs. More when I have time. Tomorrow we'll catch the early bus to Bangkok and stay there for a night before Tim heads home and I do likewise.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

U23s win again

Yes I know I'm late with the football news, but I have an excuse...I'm in northeast Thailand.
The Cambodian U23s had their 2nd friendly game against a Vietnamese club side in a bid to add match sharpness to the daily training regime they are undertaking at their training camp in Saigon, Vietnam this month. With a win over Ho Chi Minh City already, they notched up a 2nd success, beating V-League Division 1 side Dong Nai 3-2 on Sunday. National coach Scott O'Donell gave the thumbs up to his players for coming from behind the win the game. "We were playing quite well and restricted them to very few chances, but conceded two very soft goals after 50 minutes. But credit to the players, they showed a lot of character to get back into the game and scored three goals - [via Nov Soseila, Kuoch Sokumpheak and Chhun Sothearath] - to win the game." The U23s will have a couple more practice games before they return home in time for the 4-team BIDC Cup that will take place in Phnom Penh in early November, though the real focus is on the SEA Games in Laos at the beginning of December.

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Border surprise

9 temples in a day was today's diet on my tour of the Khmer temple sites of Isaan, northeast Thailand. It included the disputed border temple of Ta Muen Thom, where we found the wooden gate masquerading as the border post, wide open and the Khmer and Thai troops mingling freely with each other, sharing jokes and cigarettes. Nice to see, though the Thais were clearly in charge of the temple compound itself. I didn't expect to be able to visit the temple due to the border tensions over the past year, so was cock-a-hoop to get in, though the destruction that has been wrought on the wall carvings was upsetting. Pictures showing the tampering will be posted when I return to Phnom Penh on Friday. We started the day early at 6am with our car and driver Mr Moo. First stop was Phanom Rung (the Thai spelling), which with its hill-top location and wealth of carving just pipped Phimai in the temple charts, though I rate both very highly. More later. Mueang Tam (Thai spelling again) was a quiet oasis broken only by the party of 100 schoolchildren who arrived just as we were leaving, thank goodness. We clocked up visits to some of the smaller sites in the vicinity, including the three temples that constitute the Ta Muen group right next to the Thai-Cambodian border. We finished off at Prasat Ban Phluang in the pouring rain before heading for our overnight stop in Surin. The hotel we booked wasn't swanky in any way afterall, so no wonder they gave it to us at rock-bottom price. We have a couple more temples to visit in the morning before we head back to Khorat for 1 more night and then to Bangkok for a night. The highlight of the day, besides the high of the temples, was our lunchtime stop in the town of Ban Kruat where we found Mr Dang and his restaurant. He produced a full English menu with every conceivable English pub/cafe grub you could ask for. I had steak and kidney pie, chips and baked beans and it was superb. Mr Dang serves the expats in the district, who he said numbered more than 200 families, with many coming from the US, England and Scandinavia. A corner of England in an unlikely setting.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Phimai makes the top 10

Just a very quick post as I'm in Khorat (or Korat) and I'm off for a shower and change of clothing after a hot and humid day visiting Phimai and Phanom Wan. Tim and I arrived in Bangkok just before midday yesterday and after some minor hassle we got a mini-bus to Korat, in the northeast region of Thailand. We bedded down at the San Sabai Hotel, which was clean and tidy enough, and had a steak dinner at Chez Andy, though there's a lot more to the day than I have time to tell you at the moment. First thing this morning, the driver we booked never showed so we spent a couple of hours arranging a new car and driver before finally heading out to Phimai. Incredibly clean and tidy, Phimai is a large temple complex built when the Khmers ruled most of the area that includes Isaan and southern Laos. Its Khmer influences are unmistakable. I'll post some photos when I get back to Phnom Penh in a few days. Suffice to say I was like a pig in shit, seeing this temple for the 1st time. It still retains a substantial amount of original carving alongside some additions added when the Thai authorities reconstructed the temple. It was busier than I expected with at least two groups of foreigners visiting the site, as well as a party of monks. My impression - I liked it, it was beautifully looked after, the lintels and carvings in situ were very good and it would likely make it into my top 10 Khmer temples. Next up was the Phimai National Museum until we found the gates locked with the closed sign hanging upside down. Undeterred, we legged it over the gates, smiled at the security guard and his dog and visited the open-air section of the museum, but couldn't persuade the guard to open up the indoor section. Well at least we saw some of the excellent collection of Khmer iconography on display. After lunch we headed back to Khorat, with a small detour to the quiet-as-a-mouse Phanom Wan which paled against its bigger neighbour. But a nice diversion nonetheless. Then it was back to Khorat, some bargaining with the car rental company for today's car and the next two days, and a welcome shower. Tomorrow Phanom Rung and Muang Tam are the highlights with an overnight stop in a swanky hotel in Surin at a rock-bottom price. I'm looking forward to it.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Out of the door

I'm just out of the door, on my way to the airport and 5 days in Isaan, the northeast region of Thailand. I'll blog when and if I can but beware that my posts may be underwhelming over the next few days. I'm sure you'll understand.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Foreign aid in football

Kudos to Monument Books who were able to supply me with a copy of last week's Weekend edition of the Cambodia Daily. As I was away I missed the article that dominated the edition's front cover: Foreign Aid - what impact are overseas players having on Cambodian football? by reporter Eoin Redahan. I don't know the author of the article, even though I attend all of the CPL games, give or take one or two midweek games, and the Cambodia Daily's usual coverage of Cambodian football is virtually non-existent. So it was good to see they've at last got their finger out of their arse to put this story into print last week. The focus of the story is the question - is their [foreign footballers] presence constructive or destructive? - and comments from the country's national football coach Scott O'Donell were included, alongwith statements from Ken Gadaffi, president of the Nigerian Community Association. Ken reports on local sport for the Phnom Penh Post and as the majority of the 37 foreigners playing football in Cambodia are Nigerian, the author sought out his opinion. As you might expect, Ken views the foreign contribution, the majority of whom are African, as positive (he wants to raise the limit of foreign players at each club), whilst O'Donell's take is slightly different, bemoaning the lack of real quality professionals amongst the imports that can contribute to improving the standard of the local players. It's a viewpoint I agree with. Cambodian football is in a state of flux, the professionalism of the club sides is improving, but there is so much more to be done. Money is a big factor, as the wages currently paid here, will not attract the better standard of pro's that seek their fame and fortune in neighbouring leagues, such as Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. The most important factor is the development of the local Cambodian players and this will be greatly influenced if more qualified coaches come to ply their trade here and raise the bar in terms of fitness and technique, alongside the recruitment of better quality foreign players - all pretty obvious but it ain't gonna happen overnight. Progress has been made but we're still on the starting blocks as far as Cambodia competing domestically and internationally with their Asian neighbours, let alone further afield.

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More later, recovery is slow

This is me, without hangover, at the mangrove swamps in Peam Krasaop in Koh Kong, a few days ago
Recovery (viz my headache) took longer than expected, hence the recent absence of blog posts. However, I'm at work this morning tying up a few loose ends and will post more later. Tim and myself have one more night in Phnom Penh before we head for Bangkok and then onto Isaan, the quiet and less-visited northeast region of Thailand. The Khmer temples are my target for a few days before Tim heads back to the UK and I return to the office at the end of next week. I just got a whiff of a story from last week's Cambodia Daily Weekend edition, but as I was in Koh Kong, I didn't hear about it until today. I'll wait to get a copy of the article before I can comment on the story - which was looking at the impact of foreign players on Cambodian football. One of my favourite topics.


Thursday, October 15, 2009


Confirmation by way of typical Cambodian birthday cake
I don't feel any different today, having hit the fifty milestone in life, though a big cake and gifts from the folks at Hanuman made a nice surprise and I'm just getting ready for tonight's meal at Fish and a boys' night out. More tomorrow after I've recovered.
A lovely gift from Hanuman's MD, Tan Sotho
Some of the Hanuman team at today's cake-eating session


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

THE big day cometh

Back in the swing today with the morning spent at the office catching up after my week away. I came home after lunch at Lotus Blanc to see my cleaner working her way through a pile of dirty washing. Tomorrow is THE big day, if you believe all the hype, as its my 50th birthday. I'll be at work for the morning then will have a meal at Fish Restaurant with friends before a traditional male-bonding pub crawl. On Sunday I'm off again, this time to Bangkok and then sweeping into the Khmer Surin or Isaan area of Northeast Thailand for a few days. It'll be my first chance to visit the Khmer temples in that region and Tim will be tagging along before he heads back to the UK. It'll also be my first-ever real visit to Thailand. Remarkably, to-date, I've only ever spent half a day in Bangkok, seeing the sights, way back in 1994, on my first trip to Southeast Asia. Further on the horizon, there's a possibility that I might get a seat on the plane for the SEA Games in Laos in early December to report on the Games for the Phnom Penh Post but it's just a possibility at the moment. Watch this space.


U23 chat

The Cambodian Under-23s are now well into their training camp in Saigon, across the border in Vietnam, and played a practice match against Thu Duc Central Sports University yesterday, losing 1-nil. The players who weren't involved in the previous friendly against Ho Chi Minh City were given a run out, though the less said about the game the better. Their next match against a V-League club side will be on Sunday 18th against Dong Hai Bien Hoa. The U23s will return home in time for the 4-team BIDC Cup which will be played in Phnom Penh in early November though their real aim is to gain medals at the SEA Games football championships in Laos at the beginning of December. A tall order but that's the target.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Back thru the door

The view through my window at Rainbow Lodge at 6am this morning as the sun peered over the hills and across the river
Just through the door at 2pm, five hours on the Virak-Buntham bus (paid $8 instead of the usual $11 that barang pay) and the end of my short but sweet Koh Kong adventure. We (that's me and my brother Tim) left Oasis Resort on Monday morning and headed out to the village of Tatai and a one-night stop at the eco-friendly Rainbow Lodge. It was pissing down with rain so we got very wet as we paid a whistle-stop visit to the new 4Rivers Floating Eco-Lodges on the bend of the Kep River, before arriving at Rainbow. After lunch, and bedecked by brilliant sunshine, we went canoeing to the Tatai waterfalls and had an early(-ish, 11pm) night amidst the bird-calls of the surrounding forest. Quick word on the hospitality and food at Rainbow - excellent. A very enjoyable five days in the Koh Kong region, with more pictures and lengthier reports to follow.
The adorable Srey Roath and me at the fishing village of Koh Kapik. We were walking through the village, she grabbed my hand and next minute, we were eating food at her mother's stall.
The children at Koh Kapik were great fun and this game of It's A Knockout in the pouring rain was a real joy
The rain stopped for a minute allowing this photo at the Oasis Resort in Koh Kong. LtoR: me, Jason (proprietor of Oasis and all-round nice-guy) and Tim.Catch of the day at the Muslim fishing village a couple of kilometres from Koh Kong town
Visions of hell on the rocks at Wat Neang Khop, just over the bridge at Koh Kong

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

On rough seas

A near two-hour boat ride from the mangrove swamps at Peam Krasaop to a fishing village on stilts at Koh Kapik, through pretty rough seas, and interaction with villagers for a couple more hours before we braved the elements again to return, was the definite highlight of our trip to Koh Kong so far. On reflection, with some waves bigger than the boat, it wasn't the best time of year and conditions to make the trip, but I'm so glad we did, and made it back safely. Odom, our boat skipper, did us proud and Saren and her family, especially her daughter Srey Roath, kept us entertained and fed whilst we sheltered from the driving rain at Koh Kapik. On the way back we even spotted a couple of Irrawaddy dolphins at the mouth of the estuary and some white-bellied sea eagles as we returned to the mangrove forests at Boeng Kayak, the location of a 1km mangrove walkway, that we'd walked before our boat trip. We started the day a little after eight am and by 4pm we were at Sunny Beach restaurant back in Koh Kong enjoying some ban chow pork and salad pancakes, as the rain continued to pelt down.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Border runnings

Just back to Oasis for an afternoon swim after a meat pie and chips at Fat Sam's in Koh Kong town. We were up this morning early doors to take a look at the Thai-Cambodian border at Cham Yeam with Jason from Oasis. I needed to get the low-down on the border crossing for business purposes and after Jason paved the way, we crossed over to the Thai side, wandered down to the small boat jetty, walked back over no-man's land and then had a look at the Koh Kong International heli-pad. After we were done, we carried on by moto with Lucky, who took us to a couple of pagodas and the Koh Yor beach on the way back into town. I'd heard a few bad words about Koh Kong before I arrived but everyone has gone out of their way to be friendly and accommodating, especially Jason and Sam. The weather has been overcast so far today but the pool looks inviting so I'll give it a whirl.
Had an hour in the pool and it was warm even with the rain falling. The weather got worse, the mountains were cloud-bound but Jason has a few stories to tell and with his pool-table, large dvd collection, high-speed internet access and drinks on tap, there's enough to wile away a few hours. Think I'll have red snapper for dinner.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

U23s taste success

Yesterday, the Cambodian Under-23 team, currently enjoying the majority of this month at a training camp in Vietnam in readiness for the 4-team tournament in Phnom Penh in early November though essentially focusing on the SEA Games at the beginning of the following month, tasted success in the first friendly game arranged as part of their schedule of practice matches against Vietnamese club sides. A 1-0 success for the U23s, with a goal by full-back Pheak Rady on 35 minutes against recently-relegated Ho Chi Minh City was a pleasing result for national coach Scott O'Donell and his coaching team. "I was quite happy with the performance of the team, particularly in the first half. The only real chances HCMC had were a result of our sloppiness. The boys were disciplined and worked very hard. Still along way to go, but considering I have been working them hard in training, the performance today was encouraging. I made 8 changes throughout the second half, which obviously disrupted things a bit, but overall I was quite happy."

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In Koh Kong

We made it to Koh Kong, even though the Rith Mony bus left half an hour early this morning from Damkor market, broke down on the top of the Pich Nil Pass and it rained throughout. The road has already deteriorated quite badly in places so the driver sped up and slowed down constantly as pot-holes appeared in the rainswept windscreen. The road needs attention. We're staying in the Oasis Resort just outside of town where Jason, the owner, is a mine of information and a real nice guy. Its a pretty nice place, quiet bungalows with a pool and at a good price too. We took a moto - my driver was called Lucky - around town to get a feel for the place, which was interrupted by a couple of quick showers, so we called into Bob's Place for a chicken breast in breadcrumbs - very tasty. There were quite a few foreigners wandering around town too. This is just a quick update, more details and photos to follow once I get back to Phnom Penh.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Out and about

My younger brother Tim will arrive this evening - he's emailing me from Bangkok as I type - and after a day or so settling in, we will be off on Friday to Koh Kong for a few days. As is the norm when Tim is here, we get out and about as much as we can which of course impacts on my blogging. So expect considerably less blog posts over the course of the next couple of weeks, especially as after our Koh Kong trip, it's then back to Phnom Penh to celebrate my birthday, before we head over to Isaan in NE Thailand for five days. I'll blog if I can, but if I can't, I won't. I'm sure you get the picture.

Life changing

Now in her new exhibition uniform - it looks like its serious business
I had a phone call last night from my friend Now as she was supervising the latest exhibition of Eric de Vries' work at Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor in Siem Reap. Eric is her boss and it's Now's job over the next month to supervise his new exhibition at the hotel, entitled Retrospective Cambodia, featuring the pick of Eric's photography over the last nine years whilst on his travels around Cambodia. Much of the exhibition will feature in Eric's next book, which will be published early next year. She called me as it was just before 9pm and the mozzies were out in force, probably as a result of all that water that has been lying around Siem Reap over the past week. In fact the water levels at her village near Srah Srang have finally receded after rising to well over a metre during the worst of the flooding. Here's a picture of her in her new blue uniform, especially made for the exhibition, and a photo of her taken on one of her rare visits to the capital a few months ago. Her job as Eric's assistant has opened Now up to a completely new range of adventures and activities and she's loving every minute of it. As a souvenir seller at Angkor Wat, she would never have thought of walking into Raffles, but now she will be there every day for the next month, in her bright new uniform, talking to visitors at the exhibition as though it was an everyday occurrence in her life, which it now is. Eric has just sent me a photo of the exhibition, which I've also posted here.
The Eric de Vries exhibition at the Raffles Grand Hotel d''Angkor
Now in more relaxed mode in Phnom Penh recently

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bidding for the BIDC Cup

The Cambodian U23 team who'll compete for the BIDC Cup
News is filtering through of the 4-team football competition that will take place at the Olympic Stadium from 8-14 November and will provide the Cambodian Under-23 squad with invaluable match practice in their run up to the SEA Games that get underway in early December. The sponsors are offering a $20k prize for the winners and half that for the runners-up. The BIDC Cup will be sponsored by The Bank for Investment and Development of Cambodia PLC, a Vietnamese Bank. The 4 teams will be the Cambodian and Laos Under-23 teams, as well as two club sides from the Vietnam League, Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) from Pleiku who finished 6th in the V-League this term, and Vissai Ninh Binh, who won the equivalent of the First Division to get promotion to the V-league in the season just ended. HAGL are one of the stalwarts of the V-League, having won league and cup double in 2003 and 2004 and finished 3rd a couple of seasons ago. They also act as a nursery club for Arsenal. The bank which is sponsoring the round-robin tournament was previously known as Prosperity Investment Bank and was bought up a couple of months ago by the Vietnamese sister bank BIDV and renamed. The tournament will also co-incide with Cambodia's 56th anniversary of independence. Meanwhile, the forthcoming SEA Games are keeping everyone busy with a pre-SEA tournament being held in Laos this week involving teams from Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam.

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More exposure

Belle on the cover of the new Mekong Orchards packages
It doesn't take a genius to work out that my favourite dancer in Cambodia is Belle (or Chumvan Sodhachivy to give her Khmer name), the country's most celebrated contemporary dancer. She is pushing the edge of the envelope in dance in this country, breathing new life into old, fusing traditional classical dance with contemporary moves that she's been exposed to on her trips around the globe. She's currently in Europe for two months, working with choreographer Emmanuelle Phuon in Brussels and then completing an internship at the unique National Choreographic Center in Montpellier, France. Just before she left for Europe, she took time out of her busy schedule to take part in a new direction, as part of an advertising campaign for the new product of gourmet peanuts by Mekong Orchards. Here is the resultant advert that you'll see about town very soon.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Collins in town

Today began with a conversation with one of the most interesting people you are likely to meet in Cambodia. Darryl Collins (right) is a mine of information. Our conversation centered mainly on the National Museum, here in Phnom Penh and the work going on behind the scenes to document the museum's amazing collection of artifacts, which number upwards of 19,000, though only 2,000 are on show at any one time. He was full of praise for the professional way that the director Hab Touch has brought the museum up by the scruff of its neck, though it remains reliant on grants and individual contributions to maintain itself. The Collection Inventory Project is a labour of love that has been on-going now for a couple of years and which Darryl has been instrumental in training the project team of nine people. It is the first real attempt to catalogue, photograph and stock-take the museum's collection and an absolutely vital task to ensure the provenance of the collection as well as a window on the artifacts that have disappeared over the years. You can read more about the CIP on the museum's excellent website. Darryl now resides in Siem Reap and was joint author with Helen Grant Ross of the book, Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970. He began work on the CIP in 2004 after completing five years as a lecturer at the Royal University of Fine Arts. He's also known for relocating a 100 year old historic Chinese-Khmer wooden house, piece by piece, from an island in Kompong Cham to its new home in Siem Reap.

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Sunday, October 4, 2009

My Saturday

Anne Heindel having a hair moment whilst book contributor Terith Chy has the microphone. William Bagley is behind Anne.
Late lie-in this morning, hence my tardiness with posting. Yesterday, without football to keep me occupied, was a mite boring, as will today be. I did attend the book launch at Monument Books of On Trial: The Khmer Rouge Accountability Process, which saw a legion of who's who turn up from the ECCC (aka the Khmer Rouge Tribunal). One of the co-editors of the book, Anne Heindel gave an interesting overview of the publication and the KR trials, substituting for the main editor John D Ciorciari who couldn't make it. Anne is a legal advisor at DC-Cam who have published the 352-page book. I haven't read it yet, but I'm reliably informed its a damn good read as it tries to put into perspective everything that's happened to-date with the whole process in a collection of essays. Whilst I was at Monument, I got my hands on the novel The Disappeared by Kim Echlin, which I've been keen to read for a while now, and chatting to the GM William Bagley, there will be some more interesting titles in anytime now.
Following the book launch I was off to St 141 to search for the My Brother restaurant, where a party for one of the Hauman staff was in full flow. Ponlok has been the office receptionist for more than 4 years but has now moved on to pastures new and this was her going away party with some of her favourite colleagues. So I was more than happy to be invited, and a good time was had by all.
A picture of the party crowd at My Brother restaurant. Ponlok is in pink on the front row.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Coming up...

My liver is getting prepared for a bashing as my brother Tim will be flying over from dear old Blighty in the middle of next week for one of his regular visits and brotherly-bonding sessions. We normally get out and about and this trip will be no different. His visit at the end of March saw us take in Kratie, Preah Vihear and Banteay Chhmar amongst other highlights, as well as that 11-hour arse-numbing moto ride from Stung Treng to Tbeng Meanchey. I'm not sure my rear end has fully recovered from that experience. This trip will be a two center affair, split by my birthday celebrations back here in Phnom Penh. 1st up will be a trip to Koh Kong, my first, to suss out a few things to do with my day job at Hanuman. Not sure that October is the best time to be visiting Koh Kong but we shall see. Then its back to the city to celebrate my 5oth, yes you did read that right, my 50th birthday. Yes yes, I know I don't look older than say 35 but its my half century on 15 October and I'd better get used to it. After a day or two to recover, we are heading for Thailand, but rather than do what everyone else does and high-tail it for the beaches, we'll be going in the opposite direction to the Isaan region in the northeast specifically to hunt down the Khmer Angkorean temples at Phimai, Phnom Rung and so on. It's been on my wish-list for a long time and I'm finally getting around to doing it, with a 1-night stop-over in Bangkok on the return journey. To say I'm looking forward to it, is a massive understatement.

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Weather update

The sun is shining and the sky is blue, here in Phnom Penh this morning. Last night the heavens opened and much of the city was under a deluge for over an hour, with the usual resultant flooded roads, but its all disappeared again today. Siem Reap isn't so lucky. The town is still under a half a metre of water after the river burst its banks. Access to the Angkor temples is okay though a few places between the temples have water on the road, but its not stopping anyone visiting the temples. The floating villages are okay to visit though the main road to Chong Kneas is under water and cut off, so an alternate route is being used. I've not heard any reports of crocodile attacks, so it seems that the escaped crocs have swum out to the lake, rather than hang about the town. Elsewhere, parts of northern Kompong Thom province are still recovering from severe storms, flooding and at least fifteen people have died. Ratanakiri has also felt the effects but it wasn't helped when Vietnam opened the gates of one of their dams and that added to the high water levels.
There's a book launch, On Trial, at Monument at 5pm this afternoon which I'll get along to now that the football season has finished and I'm twiddling my thumbs on Saturday afternoons. There's also a shadow puppet show at Chenla Theatre tonight but I don't think I can make it as I've been invited to an office party at 6pm.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Oh the trauma...

An article today in the Phnom Penh Post by columnist Ken Gadaffi mentions the trauma of last weekend's frosty reception for the media at the CPL Super 4 finals. I say trauma with my tongue firmly in my cheek. Ken's piece details the following:
'Post reporter Andy Brouwer was forced to sit lower down amongst rowdy spectators, making it difficult to view the action and record accurate match notes. To make things worse, a clumsy guard kicked over his drink, mistaking him for a tourist. Other media representatives were also resigned to sit among the crowds, having been asked to vacate their seats in the press box for children of a CPL sponsor, even though numerous chairs were available.'
Storm in a teacup in my view, but yes, the football federation could've acted more professionally and need to consider the media for future events like this, and the international that was played the following day. I don't mind sitting with the smelly riff-raff (wink wink) once in a while but the security guard really did get up my nose. An apology from May Tola, the federation's deputy general secretary, is more than enough to put the matter to rest. "It's very unfortunate for the Federation, and so we take full responsibility of this neglect. Our actions did not show good hospitality to the press, who have been supportive all through the season, especially The Phnom Penh Post coverage of the league. The press box must be respected because the media are so important to us." The CPL and the professionalism of football in Cambodia is in its infancy, so these things will happen. As long as they learn and make provisions in the future, everyone will be happy. Link: PPP.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Flood update

Siem Reap and Pub Street's waterways, courtesy of Eric de Vries
As the tropical storm Ketsana hits landfall in Vietnam and Cambodia, Hoi An is under water in central Vietnam and storms in Cambodia's Kompong Thom Province have seen some loss of life in Sandan district. Overnight rain in Siem Reap has left the old market area under water including pub street and other areas including Wat Bo road and the roads in front of Hotel De La Paix, Amansara and La Residence Hotels. National Road 6 out towards the airport is also under water. In Angkor, the roads around Prasat Kravann and Banteay Kdei are flooded and the level of the water in the moat surrounding Angkor Wat is at its peak. At the moment Phnom Penh hasn't really been affected. Fingers crossed the rain disappears and the sun comes out.