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The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson

Archive for the ‘Angkor’ Category

PHNOM PENH

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PHNOM PENH

Angkor Travel Brochure

NOTE TO READERS

The look of this blog will change slightly: I’m out of Vietnam, I’m in Cambodia, and I have a camera. There will be more pictures than there have been so far.

My letters all along were distributed to family and friends: so there is very little in them about gay things. From here on, I will occasionally interrupt the narrative from letters to interject a “BACKSTORY”, which will include whatever it was I did not put in my letter to start with. I’ll change the gay backstory text to blue, which seems appropriate! Other BACKSTORY entries will remain in black & white.

I had with me a tablet of very thin paper, suitable for air-mailing, and I wrote continuous letters until I was able to mail them. Hence, some letters were long, covering several days. And now, without a typewriter, I am long-handing letters again, so for this blog all will have to be keyed in. This will slow things down a bit!

BEFORE I BEGIN

You will see quickly that in late 1968 Cambodia was a very pleasant place. It went quickly to the top of my list of “places I want to go back to”. You’ll also learn that I eventually returned to the states just in time to see places in Cambodia I had visited being blown to smithereens when Tricky Dick Nixon ordered the Vietnam war into Cambodia. There followed the horrors of the Khmer Rouge: Cambodia has not even yet returned to the condition it was when I was there, which grieves me to this day.

ONE MORE THING

I am utterly appalled by the behavior of the right-wing nut-cases raising such a ruckus over President Obama’s proposals about our health-care system. Former President Carter put his finger on it yesterday: racism is alive and well in the USA. We can only hope this bunch of nuts represents too small a portion of our population to cause more than noisy trouble, but I fear the violent nature of the rhetoric is likely to send some fool over the edge.

ON WITH MY STORY!

RAC Brochure 1

Just look at those prices!

RAC Brochure 2

Handy map of Phnom Penh as it was in 1968

Phnom Penh, 05 September 1968

Dear everyone~

Despite nearly everyone’s saying it couldn’t be done, here I am at Phnom Penh, exhausted, but delighted. The motorcycle is still at the airport—there are some customs formalities to complete tomorrow in the morning, also have to get proper exit visa so I can go out (as planned) via Arranya Prathet to Thailand (3 weeks hence). So I took a bus into town, have a nice Hotel, had a couple of hours of daylight for a quick walking tour; had a leisurely & plentiful meal of pork sautee’d avec champignons et. al., (very good), and am shortly going to turn in for a well deserved rest. It’s been a long day! Met a chap from Holland who is going on to BK tomorrow—he’s just come from Angkor & says it’s lovely and very devoid of tourists (this is not the season; the rains are not really quite over yet).

BACKSTORY: I checked into room 206 in the Hotel Mondial and took a short rest. When I went downstairs to the street to see what I could see, there was a clutch of cyclos and drivers at the curb. They crowded around vieing for my custom, and offering sight-seeing, girls, more sightseeing, more girls. But one chap sidled up and said quietly, “Would you like a girl—or a boy?” I agreed to take a ride in his cyclo, and once we were away from the crowd, it turned out the boy he had in mind was himself! We repaired to a small hotel of his choice, and had a wonderful romp! So, I had my first Cambodian within a few hours of arriving: he was not the last!

I am amused by a statement in a booklet I have before me that says, “Tourists of all nationalities except Chinese (mainland), Vietnamese, Thais and journalists can obtain visa . . .” Apparently they don’t like reporters! A very striking new University is along the route from airport to down-town; just beyond it is a clumpish big technical University built by the Soviets. It is unusual (for me) to see a Polish Embassy (I didn’t even see them in Europe!), but there is one, and Rumanian, and others as well. No American embassy, though—and I doubt I shall miss it a bit. Lots of English spoken here in PnhP, but I may get away from that later.

06 September 1968

The French have left behind throughout “Indo-China” a number of impressive monuments, not the least of which is a monumental bureaucracy that tends to put even us to shame! As a consequence, I still do not have my bike clear of “formalities”; I’m assured by the Australian Embassy however that we should be able to complete arrangements tomorrow morning sometime. Since the pressure is off, I can take all this philosophically; after all, I didn’t have to do it this way—I could have toured in the more conventional manner—hence there’s no one to blame for the delays but myself. But no matter—I got in a good deal of sight-seeing shuttling back & forth between the aerodrome, the Embassy and the Commissioner’s Office. The hang-up actually seems to be the requirement of a “caution”—actually an in-country co-signer who will assume responsibility if I fail to re-export the machine in the allotted time. Naturally, I know no one here who will undertake this, and (rightfully) the Embassy won’t do it either. But they’ve been most helpful—the Australians actually act in some capacities in lieu of an american embassy under a loose agreement we have with them—and I feel sure the matter can be cleared up tomorrow.

BACKSTORY: The real problem in dealing with the motorcycle was the language barrier: everyone thought I wanted to import the bike to Cambodia, which would have meant paying a hefty duty. I was unable to explain, my french and cambodian language skills being meager at best, that what I wanted to do was ride the bike in the country, and on out of it. Nevertheless, I was amused by the kind of forms the importers wanted to prepare: they had typewriters with carriages about 20 inches long, and huge sheets of paper to go into them! There were, of course, NO computers!

Hence, when 1:30 pm came along—everything stops then anyway—I took the more accepted “tour” of Phnom Penh, via “cyclo pousse”. When I get the bike I shall revisit all the spots for a more direct inspection.

I suspect PnhP is now rather like Saigon was in 1958 when Todd was there. It is, of course, much smaller than Sgn is now: about 600,000. Untouched by war in many years, it is hence much better kept, cleaner, & far less crowded. It is, among other things, much quieter: all the motorbikes have their silencers left in; thank goodness I brought with me the one for my machine, which otherwise would disrupt this place mightily. Since the Khmer are in general slightly stockier and larger than the Vietnamese, the Hondas popular here are the 65 & 90 cc models, though 125s are also around.

Another French institution that is universally found in the Extreme d’Orient is BGI (many americans call it British Gas Industries!). Actually, it is Brassieries et Glacieries de l’Indochine. Despite the limitation of the name, they are into all sorts of things—beer, soft-drinks, ice-cream, ice manufacture, etc.

This is the first city I have ever been in that is not plastered with “Beveté Coca Cola” signs. The signs are there, but they read “Drink Pepsi”!! I’m told that in the course of the falling-out with the USA, Coca Cola was somehow banned. How Pepsi slipped by I don’t know—the bottles all clearly say “bottled under license of Pepsi Corp, USA”. Ah, the mysterious East!

There are lots of new buildings, the most spectacular being the Unicversity mentioned earlier and the Olympic Stadii—there are at least two. A big bridge over the Tonle Sap looks like it might be new since Todd was here, but the “Phnom” seems to have been sinking, and a project is underway to shore it up by boring beneath it & putting in a new footing. The Royal Palace looks fascinating & I shall take the tour, tho’ possibly after I get back from Sihanoukville. My tentatively “planned” route is now:

09  Phnom Penh –> Kampot –> Kep . . . . . . . 195km

10   Kep

11   Kep –> Bokor –> Popokvil –> Sihanoukville . . . . . . . 100km

12, 13, 14: Sihanoukville

15  Sihanoukville –> Kirirom . . . . . . . 120km

16  Kirirom –> Phnom Penh . . . . . . . 125km

17  Phnom Penh –> Oudong –> Kampong Thom –> Siem Reap . . . . . . . 314km

18-24 Siem Reap & environs (Angkor, etc)

25 or 26 Siem Reap –> Poipet –> Bangkok . . . . . . . 420km

Subject to change! Will probably break the Siem Reap to Bangkok part into two parts, depending on availability of accommodations en-route. Divide the figures above by 1.6 to get miles, and the distances don’t seem so great—they aren’t!

Have to arise early tomorrow: life begins before dawn here, for some reason, and the Embassy opens at 7:30 am. Hence it is now time to get some sleep. Will add more tomorrow.

07.09.68

Got the bike today OK & toured the Palace—will get this in the mail & start a new letter soon.

Love to all~
Bruce

BACKSTORY: Once the folks at the Australian Embassy got clear in their mind what I wanted to do, they prepared a letter (in French) which I was to take to the Customs authorities at the aerodrome. Apparently the letter made clear to them what I wanted to do, because, after some delay filling out forms, they released the bike and told me I was free to visit any part of Cambodia I wanted: just to hand in the form at whatever point of departure I would use. Expecting the letter to do the trick, I had brought with me the bottle of gasoline procured in Vietnam and the silencer for the muffler. I installed the silencer, put gas in the tank, fired up the cycle and drove back into Phnom Penh. At night, the Mondial staff moved the bike inside the main entrance, not to protect it from thieves, but to keep the weather off of it!

This is the “Phnom” for Which the City is Named.

More letters soon!

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Written by Bruce

January 7th, 2010 at 4:17 pm