M Y O B

The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson

PHNOM PENH to SIEM REAP

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I spent more than a week in and around Siem Reap. Now, I am surprised to find on-line references to many of the places and temples I visited. I’ve selected one link for some in the material which follows, but anyone wishing to learn more can cut and paste the names into google and find much more information. Bear in mind that in the forty years since I was there, many changes have  occurred.

One thing I had not realized until I got to Siem Reap:  Angkor Wat, is the most extraordinary of a large group of Wats, most of them located in the same general area. In fact, there are numerous temples all over Cambodia, Wat Nokor being the first I encountered. In the rainy season in 1968, many of the more remote temples were beyond reach except by water buffalo and cart! I tried to reach one or two, but the motorcycle met its match on flooded roads and mud churned up by herds of water B’s.

Here is a letter I wrote when about to depart Siem Reap for Thailand: following the letter is a group of diary entries which are more detailed and interesting.

23 Sept 68

Dear Everyone~

Unfortunately, I seem to have lost track of just when I wrote last. Probably Phnom Penh. I spent four more delightful days in that charming capital, taking several tours around thereabouts. Got on some really wonderful back roads, where I’m sure my appearance on a “moto” was as startling to the natives as a green martian would be to me. But the reception was, always, courteous and friendly. Got to Prey Veng & Kampong Cham, the latter a very charming city on the banks of the Mekong, & with Wat Nokor  (contemporary with Angkor) nearby.

Then off to Kampong Thom. Stayed overnight there, but not much to see other than a local zoo) of all things!) that had some interesting beasts & birds. Pressed on (through some rain) & arrived in Siem Reap Wed the 18th. Except for a brief excursion to Battambang on the 20-21st, I’ve been here ever since, and day after tomorrow, alas, I have to go on.

Angkor is simply not to be believed—except that is very much here to be seen. The various temples and ruins are incredible, both in their dimensions, and in their decor. The feat of simply cutting and piling the necessary stones to make Angkor Wat, for instance, is fantastic enough; but then every square inch of the whole thing inside AND out was carved and decorated—a  process that must have taken years. I wish only there were some artists’ renderings or scale models available to show what the temple looked like in their hey-day. Since all the wood involved has disappeared, and since virtually all the colors used on the relief-work have similarly disappeared, one really has to use his imagination to see the temples in their more complete state. One of the most fascinating of the group is Ta Prohm, which has been left largely as it was re-discovered, still greatly over-grown by the jungle. Seeing it as it is now, one can more readily see how temples even as large as Angkor Wat were “lost” in the jungle—it is amazing how it swallows things up. Poking around in this rubble one can almost get the same sensation the discoverers of the 1860s must have had.

Siem Reap is remarkably unspoiled despite the tourist flow. Right now, probably the worst time to see the ruins because of weather, there are marvelously few tourists here. So the town in quiet—except for the calls of jillions of frogs in some nearby [marshy] areas near the Hotel here. Altogether, very restful place. Although it rains nearly every afternoon for a couple of hours, this is no trouble, since  having started the day around 6 am (to get the best light in the ruins) one is generally quite ready for a siesta come 3 or 4 o’clock!

And everywhere, the wonderful Khmer people, who have just got to be one of the world’s most unspoiled and delightful ethnic sub-groups. Their friendliness and good nature are matchless; the only “danger” in this country is that of falling in love with it and its people. It will be truly with regret that I push on to Thailand, though I may find the Thai’s friendly as well.

The Honda runs beautifully—even through water 2½ feet deep! The only mishap so far has been one unexpected bump that I took rather too fast on a remote track somewhere between Angkor and Beng Mealea; the violent rebound brought the luggage rack and the tail-light into smart contact, smashing the latter. Not even a flat tire yet, and I’ve driven over 2000 km since arriving in P.Penh! The enclosed map shows my routes to date. As you can see, I couldn’t make the whole circle of the Tonle Sap—just not enuf time!

Much love~
Bruce

Here is the Map I Actually Carried, Marked with My Routes

DIARY ENTRIES: Sunday,15TH [SEPTEMBER, 68] Off to a somewhat later start than desirable, about 9. The road to Svey Reng is not too bad—about 40 mph except in the villages. Made Svey Reng, after about 1/2 hour wait for the ferry, about 12. Not much to see here, but the flooded country-side is beautiful!! Ride across the Mekong pretty, but takes only about 5 minutes. [Retraced my route back across the M again, then turned north on Highway 25 and] Pushed on to Kampong Cham, which is quite a large city on the banks of the Mekong, and very pretty. The ruins of Wat Nokor are just outside of town. Between S R and K C I went through a large rubber plantation—the trees are being tapped now, and they are dropping their nuts, which hit the pavement with a loud noise. Between K C and Skoun saw 4 elephants—photographed one group of 3. A third ferry (not on map) across the Mekong put me about 30 km out of P.Penh at sundown, and when the sun goes down here, the bugs go up!! Very buggy from there on to P.Penh. Got sun/wind burn on face and legs rather badly. Will see how I feel after a night’s rest, but doubt I want to go all the way to Pursat tomorrow. Maybe to Kg. Chhnang. Will see.

First Mekong Crossing - Road to Svey

Elephants and the Gent Approaching Asked for Payment for the Photo.

Awaiting Ferry to Kg.Cham - On Ferry, Bikes Take First Place

Bicyclettes Awaiting Our Arrival, Kg. Cham

Passenger Ferry, Kg. Cham - Approaching the Far Shore of the Mekong

Monday 16th: I awakened early after a good night’s sleep assisted by a vitamin pill & a darvon tablet. Face too sore to shave, but legs (except ankles) not bad except in looks. Face not uncomfortable—just thought it better not to risk messing it up really badly by shaving. But I really don’t feel like the trip to Pursat—too far for round-trip in one day, and Kg. Chhnang will have to wait until my next trip here.

Instead, I took off with a “guide” for Odong. It was a very leisurely trip, passing Kg. Lovor. Parked at the bottom of the Phnom & climbed the time-worn steps to top of the hill. Said hello to Buddha. Spent three hours up there, with the guide; very pleasant. Back to Kg. Lovor for Pepsis, then leisurely back to P.Penh. Released the guide. Expensive, but helpful and spoke rather good English. Tonight I will have my last Cambodian Beefsteak at the Champey Siemreap, & visit with the French Peace-Corps worker I met on the ferry to Svey Reng.

BACKSTORY: The chap I spent most of my time with in Phnom Penh introduced me to a guide, who made it clear from the start that his fees included sex. He was one of the most handsome guys I ever met anywhere! Taller than most Khmers, I might have thought he was part-Thai, but of course the ethnic groups in this part of the wold rarely inter-marry. He assured me, using better-than-average english, that he was all Khmer with a blatant grope of his crotch. So, every population has its out-liers, and his height was not a problem, despite my preference (ordinarily) for smaller boy-toy types. I’d have gone with him even if he was ten feet tall: he was that handsome! We rode two-up to Oudong: he put his arms around me to hold on (the only safe way to ride two-up on a motorcycle) but was not above letting his hands wander, so it might be said we rode just “up” all the way. There is a long stairway up to the top of the Phnom, and there were many folks around. After the customary homage to Buddha, we chose a round-about path down the forested hill, and eventually found a warm clearing where we could lie on the leafy litter and enjoy each other as swarms of monkeys chattered in the canopy above. Having been kept in a state of anticipation all morning, the “event” when it arrived was extremely messy but satisfying. The guide really was “taller than most Khmers”—everywhere!

Somewhere in Cambodia

Banks of the Mekong, MC Mirror in Foreground.

Oudong, Cambodia

BACKSTORY: At the restaurant that night, the cook, evidently the “Director’s” wife, brought out a live turtle and showed it to me. He explained that she wished to prepare the beast for me, but I demurred. If she had just brought it to table prepared, I’d have eaten it, I expect, possibly without even knowing what it was. But I was unable to look the beast in the face and admit I could eat it. I settled for the usual beefsteak, which was delicious with the pile of watercress she always put under it.

Tuesday, 17 Sept: Trip to Kg. Thom uneventful. Rain in the afternoon. Kg. Thom, situated on the River Sen is about 2000 people. Pretty place, but I can’t see what keeps it going. Its chief claim to fame seems to be its zoo. Stayed at the Bungalow, where the rooms are too expensive and the mosquitoes fierce! Gekkos are fat here, though. No really good restaurant.

BACKSTORY: The zoo at K. T. was quite extensive, and I saw birds and beasts there I’d never seen before. I also saw a lot of town-folk and children visiting: as it was Tuesday, I surmised there was some local holiday, for otherwise the children would have been in school. Well off the beaten track here, I was the object of many stares—none unfriendly—there were literally dozens of handsome youngsters, any of which I would have entertained given the opportunity. Alas, the opportunity never arose. It pains me beyond measure to realize there were horrors that awaited them of which we all were oblivious at the time.

Wednesday, 18 Sept: Awoke early after a good sleep. Departed Kg. Thom about 6:30 am, without breakfast. Soon got into rain, which I more or less followed for about 2/3 of the way to Siem Reap. Stopped frequently to let the rain get ahead of me, but got into some heavy rain in spite of that. Arrived S R just before noon. Had soupe Cambodienne at a small restaurant, then checked into the Hotel de la Paix. Changed to dry clothes. Rain stopped, temperature up a little, and overcast. Went immediately to Angkor Wat, spent about 2-1/2 hrs there doing a quick tour. Then the circle trip, stopping only briefly at most of the temples. Back to the Hotel for dinner & then to the Grand Hotel for free movies.

I am peeling everywhere; my face is a mess & my nose has peeled so frequently I am amazed there is anything left of it!

(This entry continued on next blog page)

BACKSTORY: As I departed Kg. Thom early, I was suddenly aware of horrible screams of terror so powerful I had to pull over and wait as the pitiful sounds got closer. Around the corner came a fellow pedaling a beychek in the seat of which was a huge pig trussed in stout strips of split-bamboo. The pig was very unhappy, and probably on his way to slaughter.

Coming up: In and around Angkor. Stay tuned!

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Written by Bruce

December 14th, 2009 at 10:17 pm