I’ve been having fun with bitcoins recently, the QR code above can be scanned with a smartphone and will instruct a bitcoin payment provider like CoinBase etc to leave a 10cent tip. Pretty amazing……….
“I’m not exactly a morning person” I stated matter of factly explaining my fatigue. “Yes! Yes! I know” said Brun-hilda nodding vigorously in agreement, as though I’d just admitted I was a cnut. We were stopped at a shabby supply station on the dusty road from Phnomn Penh to Sihanoukville. She got up to exit the bus to use the toilet. I began to fantasize that driver might shut the door and drive off just as she would come barreling out of the outhouse roaring, waving with one hand and desperately trying to pull her pants up with the other. There was no good reason in the world why I needed to tolerate this crap. Anyway, not much longer before they would vanish forever back into the throng.
Eventually we arrived in Sihanoukville and settled into a medium sized bamboo, palm treey type hostel / guesthouse type place full of solitary sunburnt balding German men in their mid fifties and hemp wearing dreadlock bedecked kids who thought they’d found “The Beach” in a sex tourist hot spot.
I decided to wander down to the beach which was just across the road, “oh pirates yes day rob I….”, “ah from Christ’s sake” swerving left I avoid the guitar playing sandal wearers and wander off down the beach in the opposite direction from bamboo seaside shacks and soon find myself alone. Away from the designated touristic area the beach quickly became more detrius strewn and less fine underfoot. As the guitar wailing faded into the distance I noticed a little copses of bamboo and palm tree with small plumes of smoke drifting up from small clearings. There seemed to be people living here amongst ramshackle huts of corrugated iron, worn tires and random flotsam. I was hardly surprised, in Cambodia rarely do you ever have to even scratch the surface, reality generally comes oozing through the cracks in the pavement and hammering at the door. After walking for an hour in solitude and noting that Cambodia is far from a safe country, tourist who venture into deserted areas are the frequent victims of gunpoint robbery, I decide to double back and help myself to some fresh coconuts back at the beach front.
There is something not quite right about the whole bar area beachfront, lots of pasty white guys lying next to tanned oil slathered young ladies wearing bikinis which would not be out of place on a porn shoot. Later I met up with the Dutchies who told me they saw men bringing the girls into private curtained rooms at the back of the bar. The whole place may have been a beachfront brothel, “oh pirates yes they rob I” indeed.
Settling into my room, the malarial spectre began to raise it’s head once more. I hadn’t slept well and drank heavily the past few night and so was beginning to get a bit weird again. Opening my backpack I pulled out a thick roll of black masking and began taping up the gaps between the window and door frames. Once that was done I methodically swept the room from corner to corner brutally murdering every mosquito I found. For the grand finale I doused the doors and windows in DEET and set a mosquito coil burning at the entrance to the room.
I spend most of the following day lounging around semi-comotosed in the heat before my curiosity finally got the better of me. Whilst persuring the “yellow bible” as the fabled South East Asia on a shoestring Lonely Planet had become to be known, I had notice a restaurant and hotel on the other side of Sihanoukville known as the Snake House and decided it was worth a tuk-tuk journey. Boarding my chariot, the ajoining motorbike belched out a litte put-put-put noise and we were away. As the sun began drooping slowly towarrds the horizon, unexpectedly the winds began to pick up and storm clouds came riding in from across the sea. A sudden cloud burst quickly drenched the parched earth and soon we were tearing along through small rivulettes running down the road before us. The trees bristled and danced in the wind and dried dusty soil took on a boisterous redish hue, it was a though the earth was showing its gratitude. The gasping relief of a tropical storm is truely a marvel to behold.
Green, leafy, vine ridden the Snake House was pretty much as I had pictured it. The dimly lit interior gave the impression of dining outdoors in a jungle clearing. Sqawking parakeets, bamboo furniture and bizzare glass tables which doubled as a snake cage.
The water feature was an interesting touch, by interesting I mean there was a crocodile in it, wearing what looked like a dog choak chain.
The atmosphere was probably only enhanced by the fact that the only other guest in the Snake House was a pecular Chinese man with a bellowing voice who stare intensely at me through the course of my meal. Afterwards I ventured outside into the adjoining “wildlife zone”. The first sign I encouterd was a warning to travellers that crocodiles were in fact dangerous and you were entering at your own risk. Really? It was dark and I was considering entering a heavily wooded area containing crocodiles and snakes. A tactical retreat was perhaps in order.
Leaving the snake house I return back to my accomodation. The rain had stopped but the jungle hisses and steams in the late evening heat and powerful flashes of lightening silently illuminate the Gulf of Thailand. Taking a frost coated beer I walk down to the shore line, sit down in the sand and gaze out into the inky night. A sudden flash and like the parting of a curtain, small fishing boats materialise in the ghostly glow, then vanish. Raising the icy glass to my lips and tasting the beers gentle bitterness, lying here lost in my own thoughts, listening to the waves breaking against the shore. Perhaps I was not quite surewhere I was, but then I had nothing to do and nowhere to be in the whole wide world “all I ever had, these songs of freedom….”
I’m now accepting bitcoin donations for the blog at:
I don’t honestly expect to make any money but bitcoins have become my latest obsession, they are, after all, the next “big thing”. Remember, you heard it here first.
Posted in Travel | Tags: around the world, Beijing, bitcoin, bitcoins travel, Cambodia, Chengdu, china, Chungking Mansions, guangxi, Guilin, Halong Bay, ho chi minh, Hong Kong, kuala lumpur, kunming, Round the World, saigon, solo travel, st petersburg, Trans Siberian, Travel, Vietnam, Xi'an, Yangshuo, yunnan
I counted days and miles like an addict measures ounces. How far had I come, how many days had I travelled, how many countries, how many time zones and how many days were left, and how many days were left, and how many days were left? Over and over in my mind I ran the computation. Every day which passed the end of my idyllic fantasy crept closer into view. I’d set forth to sate a hunger, to slake a thirst but instead I’d drunk too deeply and the world I knew and the life I’d led slipped away like the mournful wail of a train passing into night. Here was my new reality, stalking the earth, another lost and wanton creature with eyes fastened on some far horizon, a donkey following a carrot on a stick, a perpetual optimist.
I tried to gather in my mind threads of commonality between the people I had met travelling, was there any connection between all of these people. Why do some people travel, whereas others detest it, why do some people throw away all that is familiar, their family, their friends the places they have known since childhood and seek out the unknown. Or is to travel the symptom of a greater mental illness. A seeker or perhaps a fugitive? Nothing cures depression like hope, to roll the dice and chance for a better tomorrow. A constant flit of images across the eyes to keep them from turning inwards,
Returning to the capital I begin to sense that my relationship with my two Dutch travelling partners had begun to sour, I told myself that it was most likely down to the fact that I’d been so rude as to have not nailed at least one if not both of them at this point, as it so happened I hadn’t even shown the slightest interest in either of them despite ample opportunity. Of course it could have been down to my cantankerousness disposition and singularly selfish attitude towards travel, who knows. For whatever the reason I’d found Brun-hilda in particular now was poised and ready to strike like some jacked up alley cat at any perceived querulous utterance on my part. This was all becoming very tiring and completely unnecessary. I had decided to travel one last journey with them, south to Sihanookville, although as we approached the bus station a dark thought crossed my mind. How easy it would be to drop behind in the throng and vanish into a side passage, ditching these two irritances. Although I felt like heading south anyway, and I couldn’t be sure I wouldn’t see them again at Angkok Wat, not that it would matter I thought to myself, all this travelling was further the notion of the disposiblity of random people with whom I had little ties. Had I been Bangkok bound then perhaps it would have been a different story, they’d have never found me in that heaving mess of humanity.
Stopping briefly to rehydrate in a small cafe. I notice an extremely fat middle aged Australian man sitting at a table but facing, at a peculiar oblique angle, a young British couple who appeared to be intensely studying the food in front of them as they ate in silence. He looked like he could have been the father of the happy-ending hobbit from Beijing. “Yeeeeeeah” he muttered, “its not like in the movies, not like you see with Chuck Norris, looks like he just stepped out of the hairdresser. And you cant have a beard either, not in the jungle, yeeeeeeahh”. I could only imagine what I’d chanced upon here. “I’ve killed woman and children, you know, yeeeeeeah, killed whole villages of woman and children in Russia, had to be done” I could tell from his tone that this was supposed to be greeted with some form of admiration on the part of the young couple. Eventually the strange filthy looking man mounted a waiting tuk-tuk and swaned off like some hideous Roman emperor. Nothing to see here, just another pervert in the Phnom Penh afternoon. Throw a stone and you’d hit three or four of them here.
I’ve been suffering from chronic laziness and procrastination these past several months. I’m not going to make any wild promises about actually posting anything here on anything like a semi regular basis, but do aim to improve. Here are a few nice photos, I’ll even try writing a story to string them together in a while.
Briefly, “Blood, brains and bit of hair”, was to be the opening line of this post, but I baulked at what seemed obscene in its deliberate intent to shock. The truth unvarnished should be enough. Staring at thousands of rictus grins and collapsed skulls I began to ask myself what I was doing here, what had I hoped for in coming here and what had I expected to learn? Was it not enough to know that many people had been murdered horribly in the Killings Fields of Choeung Ek. Perhaps to stand in the same place is to make it more visceral, more real, to feel something of what these people may have felt. The truth of the matter is that Choeung Ek appears as a pleasant countryside meadow cleared out of the surrounding brush. There are no ghosts here, it is the country of Cambodia itself that remains haunted and the horror is a living one. Children wander about at play in the fields but on approach can be heard muttering their quite under-breath mantra of “please give me moooney, please give me moooney, please …….. ” to the rubberneckers and various other assorted western gawkers, an unusually large number of butterflies flutter about in silence on the breeze. Pits, which are the sites of excavated mass graves seem to punctuate the area and small bits of bone litter the grass in places. On the surface it could almost be mistaken for a picnic zone.
“Brain, brains and bit of hair……” this was written on a sign next to a large solitary tree in reference to what was discovered on the trunk after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. It was against this tree that the executioners would hold infants and young children by the ankles and beat the life out of them. Maybe people need a visceral shock to imagine something so unfathomable. What we as a species are capable of is certainly worth being reminded of.
Over everything an elegant Buddhist stupa rises, its centre is hollow and stacked full of the shattered and fractured skulls of those executed here by shovel and hoe. The glass door at the base is slightly ajar as if to allow the skulls to breath in the heat of the day. Fatigued and dehydrated, in its shadow, dazed, I sheltered from the midday sun.
There is a back story as to how I ended up sharing my hotel bedroom with two blonde Dutch girls, but I assure you it’s not especially interesting so I’ll resist elaborating further. Suffice it to say that I did and for that brief period in the dying days of 2009 throughout the country of Cambodia the subject of my meeting, subsequent enchamberment and implied living arrangments with these two young ladies, speculative or otherwise, was one of considerable intrigue for hotel owners, gawking locals and assorted leering tuk-tuk drivers nationwide. “Lucky guy” quipped one idler lounging in a basket on a street corner, “greedy man” remarked another lazing in a hammock as we walked by.
This was something I was starting to notice, whereas the Vietnamese and Chinese were busy and industrious, here, despite the crushing poverty so many people seemed to be just hanging around doing nothing. “Its because they’ve had a genocide of the intellect” had claimed one big boorish British imperious Jeremy-Clarkson-looking-mutha-f**kr I’d met who was running a charity. “They are lazy and in need of help” he claimed addressing the empty space slightly above everybody’s head, Listening in amusement I’d always suspected that charities tended to attract pathological personalities, my suspicions proved well founded as I later discovered. His helping out also extended to the local industry, although less for charity and more for services rendered shall we say. Of course it was nonsense what he claimed, that a nation so dug up and torn apart as Cambodia looked a little like Lord Of the Flies was hardly surprising. I’d always suspect that many charity workers were really about getting their jollies having people suckling at their metaphorical teats.
Anyway I digress, back to the story, so there was me and two blonde Dutch girls, after dinner we decided to check out the Penomh Penh nightlife, and made our way towards the aptly named “Heart of Darkness”. “No guns allowed in nightclub” claimed a sign at the door, and it wasn’t a joke, apparently the place was regularly shot up. “As soon as the guns go off, the hookers hit the floor, and its suddenly a scary, empty place with nowhere to hide” claimed one internet poster I’d read. Approaching the door I was frisked but luckily I’d remember to leave my kalasnikov back in Nam. Inside looked like a scene from the fall of Rome. A weird mix of bra-less deadlocked bedecked backpackers, middleaged pot bellied P.E teachers and tiny elfin temptresses. The P.E teaching perverts generally stood with backs pressed to the wall with beer in hand as the local ladies ground up on them with a frightening ferocity. One grinning chap with an uncanny resemblance to Jabba the Hut stood in the corner with his eyes slowly glazing over as one pixie like girl gyrated into him. I had sudden horrific flashes as a hellish vista open before me, imagery of tiny grasping hands rooting, searching, clawing through mounds of flesh.
We sit down near the back observing the spectacle and are joined by the French version of the Addams family. They were ostensibly a mother and father and two sons in their early twenties. The mother got up and started dancing in a wholely inappropriate manner with her two boys, it began to seem as if she had brought them here as some sort of initiation ritual as she pushed them towards the local honeies. As one of them paired off with one of the pros, the other turned back to whom I had presumed was his mother and plunged his tongue down her throat.
It’s time to get the hell out of here I told my blonde haired retinue and it was back out onto the streets. As we wander around in search of somewhere else the ramshackle darkened city took on an increasingly sinister feel, solitary white men appear like wandering spectres in unlit debris strewn streets. Suddenly Jeremy Beaddle’s uglier brother turns into a side alley. I watched him lope off into the darkness, his strange gangly walk and pasty white skin taking on the ghoulish appearance of a badly reanimated corpse slouching on his journey, bound for some god forsaken place. What was he doing here in this infamous place, who would ever come here alone who was not a backpacker. What were these people and what was their business. Were you to put the whole world in a sieve and shake it, whatever dropped out and landed in Cambodia must surely the be the scum of the earth, the sort of people that keep Josef Fritzl awake at night.
Eventually we ended up in an almost deserted Cambodian nightclub. The only other people in the place were a group of Cambodians with a seemingly unlimited beer supply. The young man who appeared to be the leader of the group approached me offering beer, cigarettes and the promise of friendship. Although it quickly transpired that in fact this was all part of the process of brokering a swap deal for my two Dutch blondies in exchange for a choice of any two of the ladies in his entourage. I remember reading a line in the Lonely Planet about how Cambodian patrons of nightclubs are the children of the elite, are usually armed and accompanied by a troop of thugs hired to do their dirty work. We made good our escape.
Photos to follow soon…….
Any day you dont find yourself playing Russian Roulette in a Vietnamese prison cell can’t really be described as anything other than good. Whether or not today was going to be one of these days I was about to find out. By some strange, possibly deliberate, bureaucratic quirk on my Vietnamese visa I wasnt quite sure that I hadn’t overstayed my welcome in the country.
I wasnt in the mood for any mishaps so I jumped on the first plush air-conditioned tourist bus bound for Phnom Penh. Ordinarily I might have commandeered the back seat and sprawled my geographically atypically long legs out down the aisle but for some reason this bus had assigned seating so instead I found myself seated next to a blond Dutch girl who we’ll call Erika. In an uncharacteristically loquacious mood I chatted merrily with Erika as the giant behemoth of a bus ploughed through the late morning traffic of Ho Chi Minh city. As it turned out she had followed an almost identical route from Europe as me, with the exception of a short detour to Thailand for a course in massage therapy. Which, she claimed also contained an additional optional component in “handjob techniques” she informed me smiling. Whether or not she opted in for this I didnt inquire.
Long before we could see the Cambodian border we could feel its approach as the usual ramshackle collection of wooden slates and corrugated iron roofs which constitute the standard Vietnamese roadside dwelling began to deteriorate into barely habitable junk heaps.
Eventually the bus pulls up to the crossing for the usual tragicomic farcical pissing contest that characterises a border anywhere in the world. Marched single file and eyed suspiciously for the probable drug smugglers, anarchists and welfare frauds that we most likely are we entered the immigration offices. Ah border guards my old friends, how I have missed your Molotov cocktail of boredom and spiteful malice.
Stepping up to the counter, the guard looked at my passport then at me then at my passport then back at me, I felt like a fly looking back at some drooling snot nosed child about to pluck my legs off for the sheer hell of it. He motions to hand back my passport, moving slowly, almost reluctantly as if his mind, realizing that this was his last opportunity to inflict some horrible damage on me was whirring madly trying to think of some devious ploy which would see me rotting in a prison cell.
Back aboard the bus for a journey of several meters before disembarking once again the driver herds us as though we were sheep being driven into a corral. The crossing on the Cambodian side went considerably smoother than I’d expected, I suspected this had perhaps something to do with the driver extracting a vague fee from everybody onboard for “travel agent” expenses, and collecting all our passports to allow him to engage in what you might term cash based diplomacy. There was no point in arguing we were now entering one of the most corrupt countries in the world where backhanders and greasy palms were considered to fall under the broad and honorable umbrella of “doing business”, oddly enough a, more than any other South East Asian country actually reminded me of another country with which I am intimately acquainted.
On the other side an ultra smooth super straight road in perfect condition ran right through the landscape in front of us. I suppose its not difficult to keep a road in perfect condition when there is virtually no traffic on it. A few cyclists and motorbike scatter like panicked chickens as the bus straddling the center line barrels down the road at full speed. The driver seems to never take his hand off the horn, I didnt know buses could go that fast.
The contrast between the country we had just left and the one we had entered was immediately apparent, waxy green vegetation sways and dances in the breeze and the countryside looks wilder and less intensively farmed. To my surprise the people too look dramatically different from the Vietnamese and Chinese before them, with much darker in some cases almost Indian coloured skin and bigger rounder eyes. Amidst the smiling faces and waving palm trees this idyllic rural scene from the vantage of the air-conditioned bus could easily be mistaken for some sort of pastoral paradise. But there is an unshakeable feeling that something sickly is waiting just below the surface, a queasiness in the sweltering tropical heat. As the bus stop to refuel we are immediately swamped by hoards of child beggars and hawkers. The door open with pneumatic hiss and the wet humid heat of midday pours in accompanied in single file by a troop of these tiny slightly comical fruit merchants chanting with an almost sing-song refrain “Hello Mister, you buy my pineapple? You buy my pineapple? Hello Mister. Now or maybe later, you buy my pineapple?”
Getting off the bus I tried to swat off one girl wearing a funny pink peaky cap, “maybe later” I replied, fatal mistake I quickly realised the purpose of “now or maybe later” as she followed me back and forth around the bus stop stall chanting “how bout now? how bout now? how bout now?”, ducking and diving between fellow passengers but to no avail I couldnt shake off my squeaky tail. Eventually I stopped and turned to face her, she looked up at me with what was probably a well rehearsed doe eyed expression and said “you no buy my pineapple you break my heart!”. I gave a sigh of exasperation, “why aren’t you in school?” I asked looking down at her, “I go to school in the morning” and without skipping a beat added “you no buy my pineapple no have money for school”. I had the feeling that this was a well anticipated response to a very common tourist question.
Little did I realise that my four foot fruit seller had tired of her current sales approach and was about to resort to her nuclear option. “You like Polly?” she asked, “Wha-” “Polly?” she replied “Holy Mother of effffffff” I roared silently in my head, before I had a chance to react she had reached into her pocket and placed a hideous hairy tarantula on my chest, I could feel its weight pulling on my tshirt as it just hung there. “Okaaaaaay” I answered slowly, “so how much did you want for that pineapple again?” trying to play it cool but in actuality I was standing frozen like you always see people doing in those stupid old films when confronted by some horrible stinging, poisonous creature. I was willing to accept an asking price of anywhere from one to one hundred dollars as reasonable, given the circumstances of course. One dollar sufficed and I was grateful, and it was a very nice pineapple indeed.
Now for some gratuitious music, here’s one by that annoying cue ball Moby, I feel its appropriate since it was used in the Bourne series of films. In fact in many ways Im actually a lot like Bourne or Bond or one of those other legendary nomads, that is if Jason Bourne were to have had a deathly fear of spiders, insects and contracting malaria.
My head banging with a hangover, I awake, rolling to one side I slowly open my eyes. Before me, not much more than a foot from my face, lies that which had perhaps once served as a reproductive male organ, twitching and jerking it swings and bobs hither and thither as if it twere set dancing upon some merry gig mayhap by the mockery of unseen silent demonic flutes. Momentarily transfixed by this monstrous cycloptic puppet, I stare, caught in the hypnotic all knowing urethral glare. Too long I gazed into the abyss and the abyss it stared back into me as if to say “Behold! Such darkened and occulted recesses have I penetrated as now into your soul I delve and there I do see such craven sins that it does start from me like some wanton beast pregnant upon its benighted purpose. Flee! Flee! Before me and the burning light of truth and piety which I bring”. Recoiling in abject terror, drawing the bedsheets close upon me I clutch at the pillow like some desperate shipwreck to a piece of flotsam “Ye gods! Ye gods! Why do you mocketh me?”
So my day had started much as the previous had ended. Willy had in a single fluid almost gentle motion slipped his boxer shorts down over his boney concave buttocks, whos cheeks gently met and parted threatening to reveal unspeakable horrors as he hunched over his bed fixing the linen. In the bunk above me lay a petite Spanish girl with nothing but a flimsy magazine cover spread open unwittingly shielding her from unblinking brown eyed terror beneath.
Later that day I somehow got roped into traveling along with Willy to the Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong irregulars to penetrate right into the heart of American bases, attack and disappear. The tunnels were tiny and filled with booby traps, I pity anybody sent down to die in that muddy hell. Willy turned out to be relatively normal for a solitary older single male traveler but who knows the most sinister and dangerous learn to cover their tracks. We stopped at a food stall on the side of the road in Saigon where Willy attempted to strike up a conversation with a monosyllabic Belgian man with a tiny Vietnamese girl who looked she’d raided her mothers makeup cabinet, and in a big hurry too. The Belgian looked like a classic pervert you’d expect to see in a Viz magazine or something, big bald head, jam jar glasses and a permanent lupine leer plastered over his sunburnt face, just like my old PE teacher actually. My ears felt violated by his rapist deep tones followed by jarringly incongruous high pitch squelling laughter as he bellyached over some private joke in his own head after every response he gave to even the most trivial of questions. I was unfortunate enough to cross paths again with this man in Cambodia, what he was doing there I never found out although another young looking girl appeared to be sharing his room.
Incredibly load gunfire from Ak47s at the tunnels added an interesting imaginative factor. I purchased 10 rounds off some old guy who had probably killed people with the gun I fired and shot the hell out of some stuffed animals. A good day was had by all.
I met Sophia sitting at the bottom of the steps. Her eyes were red and puffy, she had been crying. “Its so horrible” she whispered. Andy was sitting a few feet away, his head hanging limply between slumped shoulders. “How can people do such things? Babies, children…..”. I sat down beside her, resting my elbows on my knees and starred outwards into the traffic chaos swarming around the War Remnants museum. My mind flitted between thoughts and clouded emotions as I tried to think of something comforting to say but instead settled into a wordless stupor.
The museum was filled with photos of atrocities from the war, only those committed by American featured of course not that it matter, the horror of some of the photos left you numb to such trifling details.Bawling, malformed victims of Agent Orange, photos of grinning marines with severed head trophies, that iconic photo of the screaming child with her clothes burned off running from advancing infantry. One photo showed an aged Senator Bob Kerrey, his face looked gaunt and haunted, his eyes fixed in the distance, beneath the photo was a plaque describing how Kerrey in his later years, tormented by the past admitted that as commander of an elite Navy SEAL unit he had partaken in the cold-blooded murder of Vietnamese families, many of whom were knifed to death during a raid on a peasant village. I was reminded of a quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Our time together was drawing to a close and as night fell, not wanting the atrocities of the museum to be our last impression of Vietnam we decided to let the childlike innocence of the Vietnamese water puppet show be our last memory together. The next day Sophia was to fly home to Paris and Andy was to push onward into Cambodia, I had decided to stay an extra day in Saigon ostensibly to visit the CuChi tunnels but in my heart I knew it was to allow some road between myself and Andy. There was no animosity in it but from the limp promises to meet up in Penomh Penh we both knew it was time, I was sure I’d meet him again somewhere along the trail but where we were going now we had to go alone.