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26 Nov 2010

Enemies of the People

“Stunning. One of the most gripping and moving films I have ever seen.”
- Andrew Marr, BBC Radio

Danny reminded me of the release of this documentary film about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in the late 1970s.  It is showing in various cinemas across the UK from 3rd December, full listings here (beware the USA date format!).

Here is the poster:

23 Nov 2010


Gilly has already written about our new house, but here's a little side plot which I was involved with as part of the move...

 We requested two hobs for cooking on before we moved in but the landlords opted for the cheap option of a pair of these little portable stoves.  We had moved a giant gas cylinder that we bought for the stove in the last house but this didn't fit our new pieces of equipment.

 So, it was off on the motorbike, to pick up these little butane canisters.  They were just 75cents a can so I decided to buy four, expecting four identical cans.  No such thing, this first one is called 'Maxsun', I felt round two of Cambodian brands coming on.

 Next up was 'Any Power', I sure hope so, you're supposed to be cooking my dinner!

 How much more Ronseal can you get than this?  'Fire On' does exactly what it says on the can.  There was another one but the name wasn't in English so I didn't bother to photograph it.

The problem with the little cans is that they run out after boiling two saucepans of water.  The huge gas cylinder that we'd bought at the start of our time here was still almost full and so we just needed to acquire a double hob that it could be fitted to.

Two days later the gods were looking down on me and my luck was in.  Just next to the egg stall in the market a Delboy-type outfit had set up shop touting hobs, kettles, non-stick frying pans and lots more.  It really did look like it has all fallen off the back of a lorry but the $25 price tag on a double hob was much lower than the $100 we had been quoted by a couple of locals.

I told them I wanted it but that the money was at home.  They said no problem they'd come to my house.  I thought this meant a delivery service but what it actually involved was me giving one of the boys from the stall a backie on my bicycle with him carrying the boxed up hob as we rode.  I also had a non-stick frying pan in the front basket - what a sight!

 The box says it all.

 Hours of cooking joy lie ahead.

I hope Gilly doesn't get jealous that there's another lovely in our kitchen...

I'm now officially a member of 'The Fashion Generation', I've always said so...

 PS. A good omen for our new house, these are the boxes we used for moving.  What was originally in them I don't know, is it shoestrings or frozen potatoes?


Cambodia has a very large number of public holidays (see the full list here).  This weekend just gone was the water festival which means the whole country took Monday and Tuesday off.  The events in Phnom Penh have overshadowed what was for us a lovely trip further North and East to the province of Ratanakiri (literally gemstone mountains) and its capital, Ban Lung.

 Two of the group who arrived at the same time as us, Janet & David, have been posted to this small town which is a full day's travel from Phnom Penh, but less than two hours from Vietnam.  They recommended that we stay at traveller hot spot, Tree Tops, which was a good choice and incredibly peaceful after the sleepless nights we've been having in Kratie.  Here's the view from our private bungalow...

 Tree Tops by name...

 After the long morning journey to get there and a low key afternoon in the town, we woke up on day one and hired a troop of motorcycle taxis (a.k.a. 'motodops') to take us round some of the local sights.  As Ratanakiri is more mountainous than where we are based, this meant the morning was dedicated to waterfalls.

The journey down to the first fall was a perilous affair with spiders everywhere.

 I scored this one 6.5 out of 10.  It was quite tall with reasonable flow of water but was let down by the lack of swimming opportunities and poor light for photography.

Some of the nature was quite impressive though, this brightly coloured fungus caught my eye.

The photo doesn't do justice to the size of these monster ants, I didn't find out if they bite though.

 Gilly and waterfalls, what more could I ask for?

 Some of our travel companions, on the left Maria from Madrid and on the right Dharlis from Kratie.  This smaller waterfall was at the top of the tall one, a great spot for a picnic.

 Gilly was swinging on this vine despite past experience in tropical countries on swings...

 Here I am looking impressed just after arriving at the second fall, a solid 8 out of 10 as you can see below.
 How about that?  Powerful flow, nice jungle setting and volcanic rocks around the pool to sit on.

This is the view downstream, it reminded us both of the Gorges d'Heric in France.

Frolicking in the water, after some encouragement from another foreigner who took the plunge first.  In the red is Quennie from the Philippines who is also based in Kratie with VSO.  (NB. Modesty dictates that Cambodians, especially women, swim fully clothed, hence the swimsuit of these three.)

 This is the top of the falls with some nice yellow flowers.  We also saw some elephant tracks but sadly not the beast that made them
9 out of 10, these were brilliant.  Multiple falls, rocks to climb on, a couple of small jumps/dives and a spectacular jungle setting.  Perfect for cooling off after some hard driving on tough mountain roads.

 Clambering around, Gilly cooling off.  I fell in shortly after this photo was taken and the locals found that hilarious - is there anywhere in the world that people don't laugh at others falling over?

 Eventually I made it and thoroughly enjoyed my jump in of the 13cm cliff.

 In Ratanakiri there are still a number of forest-dwelling indigenous tribes.  This is an example of one of their traditional houses but their way of life is under threat from deforestation and other forms of encroachment onto their homelands.

 Here are a couple of boys in their traditional dress.  Don't be fooled by their innocent looks though, they tried to scam Gilly out of 25cents by pretending that they didn't have change for her [50cent] note.

Lunchtime, and my choice of a white shirt for the day was ill-advised.  Ratanakiri is also renowned for its red dusty roads and I acquired quite a bit of this getting thrown up by lorries, minibuses and other motorbikes.

 Gilly's choice of black trousers didn't help her much either...

 For the afternoon we headed to a volcanic lake which is sacred to the indigenous tribes and which is also the subject of protracted negotiation to ensure that they retain land rights to the area.  Contrary to most of the country we've seen so far there was a strong emphasis on maintaining the cleanliness of the place and signs like this were posted all around.

The lake itself is a perfect circle with jungle surrounding it.  The water was very clear and near the edge was a brilliant turquoise colour.  We overheard someone saying that in the middle it is 70m deep.

You can walk all the way around on a path, which we did.

I got talking to a couple of monks who quickly whipped out a camera and wanted a photo with me, the dirt covered 'barang' (foreigner).  The monks all have mobile phones and we've even seen a couple tapping away on their laptops - somehow it's not what you expect.

 At four points around the lake are these jetties that you can go swimming off.  Gilly and I went out to the middle and back a couple of times, the water gets very deep and a bit cooler very quickly after you leave the edge.  The Cambodians don't go very far at all and most were wearing life jackets, they don't have the same emphasis on learning to swim as we do back home.

So day one was great, lots of freshwater swimming, my favourite, and a nice feeling of physical tiredness which we haven't really had due to the lack of regular exercise since we arrived.

 On day two we hired our own motorbikes and teamed up with Janet & David to travel down the main road towards Vietnam.  It really was like something out of a film, cruising along the open road, the wind ruffling our clothes and taking in the scenery of jungle and rubber plantations.  Although I couldn't photograph them, I did manage to run over a snake (about 2-3 metres long) on the way going and we also saw a huge bird of prey circling on the way back.

 The end destination for the trip were these gem mines which without local knowledge we never would have known about or found.  They are located on this surreal, almost lunar, landscape which, on closer inspection, is technically man made.
 Dotted all over are these holes, about 50cm across and 10-15m deep.  These are dug by the miners searching for Zircon (typically blue).

Pretty scary, they go down using a series of holes made in the side as an improvised ladder.

 These rickety winches are used to send up buckets of earth which has been dug out at the bottom of the mine.  These are sifted through at the top in search of the precious stones.  While we were there we saw the winch also being used to send down a cup of iced coffee to the man labouring below...

 On the way back to town we stopped at the local market and found these which you can't buy in Kratie.  A small prize to anyone who can guess what it's for (or suggest the funniest use!).
 The day ended on the porch of our bungalow, Gilly doing some language practise and me chilling out in the hammock.

 And then, when the sun went down, there were two!
 All in all a great mini-break and somewhere we'll be recommending to all visitors when they/you come to stay.

18 Nov 2010

Our New house (take 2)

Last Sunday after returning from Ingran's house party in Stung Treng feeling a little bleary eyed, we set out to move house yet again.

Here we go again...same things, different mode of transport. We were so happy all our stuff fitted onto one tuk tuk!

Our new house is, in fact, newly built so the wood is beautiful. We are lacking in a bit of furniture though.

Yes, you're right, we have the biggest living room in the world!

Here is our lovely balcony which we will start using as soon as we get some chairs for it.

By moving we have lost all the luxuries of our old house. We still have a sink but no running water so we have to fill up that white container from the bigger buckets in the bathroom with water to do the dishes.

Our sitting, flushing toilet has been replaced with a squatting toilet.

And we're back to bucket showers.

Our bedroom which Sam is currently asleep in (7.30pm) claiming to be ill...again!

We still have a spare room so visitors are always welcome. (A bed is supposed to be arriving soon!)

So all in all our move has left us feeling a lot more like proper volunteers and a lot less tired although sadly the electric saw has been replaced by an annoyingly stupid cockerel who lives next door and thinks 4.30am is when the sun comes up. It doesn't.

But we're not complaining and are looking forward to our weekend away in Ratanakiri as it's holiday time again. I love Cambodian Bank holidays.