A Travellerspoint blog

December 2005


It seems like we've been travelling forever, but we've now eventually arrived in Brisbane. The flight involved a change at Singapore and took 9 hours altogether - it doesn't look that far on a map. Thankfully we managed to switch onto a later flight that had bulkhead seats with extra legroom available which made the journey pretty comfortable, but there was lots of turbulence meaning neither of us got any sleep.

My bag got searched by customs, who were suspicious of my "coffee mate". Thank god that didn't happen in Thailand or somewhere similar, my Thai wouldn't be up to explaining away a suspicious white substance.

We've got a pre-booked hostel that we've checked into. There's no air conditioning and it's the middle of summer here so it's not easy to sleep. I gave up and decided to come downstairs and write the blog, but Tabi's still napping. Tabi knows some people who live nearby so we're going to stay there tomorrow night and over New Year's, which sounds nice.

Posted by roblist 00:00 Archived in Australia Comments (2)

Penang (Malaysia)

Penang is a little island that's probably to the west of the mainland. I think this was the last British settlement in the whole of South East Asia. I could look it up, but if there's one thing you should have learned from reading this blog, it's that I don't do research to get my facts straight.

We've been staying in a huge suite in an excellent four star hotel that's right on the beach, but miles from anywhere else, so we've been lumbered with some hefty taxi fares.

On Christmas eve we had a fantastic Christmas dinner at a local restaurant, but our 'Christmas Day Dinner' at the hotel was less successful, turning out to be a (cold) Chinese buffet.

On boxing day we went parasailing, which is where a speedboat drags you along in the air, with a parachute. It's great fun, and well worth trying if you ever get the chance. We also rented a jetski, which was great, although we got completely soaked. Tabi was obviously expecting a very different experience, as she’d hoped to bring along a picnic and a book to read during the ride.

Tomorrow we’re off to Brisbane, via Singapore. It’s an 8 hour flight, which makes it our second longest, so I’m going to try and call the airline and get a reserved seat with extra legroom as we won’t be able to check-in in advance.

We’ve been very lax with getting photos onto the blog, hopefully there will be somewhere at Singapore airport to do this tomorrow as we’ve got some great ones.

Posted by roblist 02:26 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Arrived in Singapore

We've arrived in Singapore after a short 2 hour flight from Ho Chi Minh. It's only a one night stop over on our way to Penang, so we've checked into a hostel for the night. We have to be up at 4am, so there isn't much time to do anything. Still, we're going to try and get to a couple of the major sights.

Not much else to report.

Posted by roblist 01:04 Archived in Singapore Comments (1)

Mui Ne Beach

We arrived at Mui Ne at about 2am, and were pretty tired after leaving Phnom Penh at 6:30 so checked into the hotel where we were dropped. It was a little expensive, but we managed to get the owner to knock $5 off if we went without the included breakfast. This wasn’t a problem, as we haven’t been up in time for a single breakfast yet.

Mui Ne is a very quiet little fishing village about 200km from HCMC, where there isn’t much to do and no tuk tuks or public transport so we rented a motorbike after being approached by a moto driver. He agreed to rent us his personal bike for just $5 and didn’t ask for any security, which shows the Vietnamese are much more hospitable and trusting than the guidebooks make out. It seemed a little harsh to be renting his entire livelihood for just $5 so we made sure to return it with a full tank of petrol.

We took the bike to sand dunes where I had a go at sand sledding. It’s like tobogganing, but with a lot more sand in your eyes. Tabi didn’t participate due to an altercation with our 11 year old guide. I wasn’t very good at it, so two days later, I’m still getting sand out of various nooks and crannies.

We’re now in Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as they call it in the South. We decided that as this was our last inexpensive country we’d push the boat out a little, so have got a suite in a hotel, with PC and hot water for just 7 pounds. We’ve just come back from a supermarket where we managed to spend $40 on cereals and cheese. So much for self catering being cheap!

We’ve got until the morning of the 22nd in HCMC, so have a few days just to relax, which will be nice after quite a hectic pace.

Posted by roblist 06:12 Archived in Vietnam Comments (3)

Phnom Penh

S21 Prison

As soon as the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh, they started a program of mass evacuations. Within 3 days the city streets were cleared and the entire population, including the hospitals' sick and dying, were making their way into the countryside. 2 million Cambodians gave up everything, traveling to far distant provinces to play their part in the 'agrarian utopia'. In a country that grows 30% of what it consumes the consequences are obvious - mass starvation. As one Cambodian put it "Where there were streets without people, houses without people and men fought over a grain of rice stuck to the tail of a dog".

An old school house in Phnom Penh stands as a museum to the cruelty and inhumanity of the Khmer Rouge. It was in this French colonial school, in the heart of an empty city, that 20,000 political prisoners were detained, questioned, tortured and raped. Security Office 21, or S21, was just one of many interrogation centres run by the Khmer Rouge. Here confessions and accusations were extracted under such duress that they couldn't be considered valid. For most, it ended at the killing fields – only 7 people of the 20,000 survived.

Amongst the cruellest of guards were the 12-16 year old wardens. Prisoners were regularly questioned and tortured with a variety of techniques, from fingernails being pulled out to electrification and suffocation. Important political prisoners were kept in their own 2 1/2 foot by 6 foot cell, feet shackled to an 2 foot iron bar. As horrible as this sounds it was infinitely preferable to the treatment of the bulk of S21’s residents. They were kept 60 to room, that in a different time taught classes of 25. Here there were just two iron bars, each the length of the room. 30 people would be shackled alternatively to each bar, feet touching feet. No bedding, sound or movement was allowed.

Killing Fields

After interrogation at S21, prisoners were taken 14km down the road to the killing fields, where, as the name suggests, they were killed. To save 'wasting' bullets, prisoners were beaten to death with bamboo, or had their necks sawn using branches from palm trees.

There isn't much to see now, only small dips in the ground that mark out where the mass graves once were. Scattered all across the ground underneath our feet were fragments of teeth, bones and clothing. In the centre is what looks like an ordinary monument, but as you get closer you can see it's a perspex tower, 17 storeys high, of skulls arranged by age and gender.

Other stuff...

Phnom Penh doesn't seem to be as dangerous as everyone makes out, although having said that we took the guide book's advice and stayed indoors after dark. Fortunately there was a fantastic French restaurant just a few meters away, where we had most of our meals.

We've taken a coach to Vietnam, and are now in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). We're waiting to take another bus to a little fishing village called Mui Ne. We'll be returning to HCMC in a few days time though.

Posted by roblist 00:00 Archived in Cambodia Comments (2)

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