Little Vid does Cambodia

Here are a few shots from Little Vid’s adventures in Cambodia. The full Little Vid archive is here.

Little Vid hanging out with her buddy Hanuman at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

Little Vid offering the nagas a temporary extra head

Little Vid standing guard over Kenny while he catches a quick nap at the National Museum in Phnom Penh

Tuol Sleng

After lunch, we spent our afternoon reflecting on the terrible events of Cambodia’s recent past at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. When the Khmer Rouge were in power, this former high school was turned into S-21, one of Pol Pot’s secret prisons that were used to torture and interrogate anyone the regime felt like persecuting. In 1979 after the Khmer Rouge were ousted from power it was turned into a genocide museum.

There are five buildings in the complex. The first two are cleaned up but mostly intact illustrations of the living conditions of the prisoners. The others house various exhibits about life in Cambodia throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. There’s also an hour-long movie that covers the life of a female Cambodian in her early twenties as she was captured, raped, released, re-captured, tortured, and finally killed in S-21.

It’s a sobering place, and provides vivid images of how scary and miserable insane dictatorships can be. There were the security regulations, with items such as:  “Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that. You are strictly prohibited to contest me,” “while getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all,” and, at the end of the list, “if you don’t follow all of the above rules, you shall get many lashes of electric wire.” Of the 17,000 or so that were imprisoned at S-21, only twelve survived.

While it was a pretty emotional visit, Tuol Sleng is at the top of my list of recommendations if you are visiting Phnom Penh. It’s provides a good mix of frank, scary history and optimism for the future, and helps you begin to understand the times that shaped the psyche of today’s Cambodians.

Tuol Sleng
Building A. The buildings surround a courtyard where the gallows were placed. Prisoners were tied and hung upside down until they passed out, at which point they were lowered, head-first into a filthy bucket of water.

Prison room
One of the typical prison rooms – no mattresses, and prisoners were latched down so they couldn’t walk around

Pictures of prisoners
The Khmer Rouge were surprisingly meticulous in their documentation of their secret prison program. Many Cambodians have used this display to identify missing relatives.

Great Leap Forward
The delusional Great Leap Forward

Cambodian Capital Culture Consumption

We spent the morning checking out two of PP’s main tourist attractions: the Royal Palace and the National Museum. Lonely Planet insisted that long sleeves were required for the Royal Palace, which was not only incorrect but also extremely inconvenient as it was a very, very hot day.

Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace is nice, but honestly skippable if you’ve already seen the one in Bangkok, which is more impressive (if also gaudier). It was, however, a nice quiet haven in this loud city, and we arrived early enough that there weren’t too many tourists impeding our photography. Interestingly, both the palaces in Phnom Penh and Bangkok feature scale replicas of Angkor Wat, although Bangkok’s is much larger.

Bayon-style heads atop a spire

I was inspired to sing the teapot song

Kenny reading about the royal buildings surrounding him

Scale replica of Angkor Wat, surprisingly smaller than the one in Bangkok

After the Royal Palace, we made our way to the National Museum all the way across the street. The impressive Khmer-style red building houses a wide selection of Angkorian and pre-Angkorian sculpture. It was interesting to see after having been to Angkor Wat two years ago, as it helped put some of the temples we had seen into context historically. No photos allowed inside, but we snapped a few in the courtyard.

One of my favorite things about the National Museum was the building itself


Museum courtyard

Hanoi Museum Day

This morning we were greeted by the dark clouds and light rain typical of Hanoi in winter. Fortunately there are lots of good museums here. Since we covered the major sights (including a water puppet show and a visit to Uncle Ho) on our 2007 visit, today we decided to check out some lesser visited museums.

First stop was Hoa Lo, more commonly known to us Americans as the “Hanoi Hilton”. Turns out that there is indeed a hotel there now (it’s not a Hilton, though I read that “a Hilton Hotel in Hanoi opened in 1999 and was carefully named the Hilton Hanoi Opera Hotel”). However, a part of the prison was preserved and turned into a museum. It’s a small museum, but was quite interesting and gives some perspective on the various nasty stages of prison life run by the French and Vietnamese. Like many museums in Vietnam, the narrative is all about colonial aggression. The introduction talks about how the French displaced an entire village to make space for the prison. The name “Hoa Lo” means portable earthen stove, the product produced by the displaced village.

Inside are rooms showing male and female living quarters, medical reports on inmate conditions, and torture devices ranging from knives to boxing gloves. In the final room is a piece on the American War, with a brand new case showing off John McCain’s outfit from the time of his capture. The signage hasn’t been updated for awhile and still reads “[John McCain] is currently a candidate in the 2008 election.”

Hoa LoLauren escaping
While I was awaiting a guillotine sentencing, Lauren was trying to break in and save me

Boxing gloves as punishment
These boxing gloves were used to torture female prisoners

John McCain flight suit
Flight suit used by John McCain when flying his A4E Skyhawk that was shot down in 1967

In the afternoon we headed to the Vietnam Fine Arts Museum. They have a great collection of lacquer-based art (paintings and statues), ancient stone sculptures, and ethnic minority artwork. No cameras allowed in the art museum, so no photos.

After the close encounters of Hoa Lo and highbrow art, it was time to slum it with the locals for dinner. We got some street food in the Old Quarter and washed it down with some liquid refreshment at a Bia Hoi.

Lounging on a tiny plastic stool, enjoying my beer


Ni hao from rainy Shanghai.

We arrived around 11pm on Sunday night and crashed immediately. Kenny has an extremely full work schedule this week, with virtually every hour planned out. I have just the opposite – five completely free days to explore the city.

We are staying in a fancy international hotel in the French Concession that Kenny’s co-workers recommended, complete with ridiculous breakfast buffet, fabulous gym facility, tennis courts, and a bowling alley.

Given the wet, gloomy conditions I decided that my first day would be a museum day. Our hotel is only a few Metro stops from People’s Square, so I intended to check out the Shanghai Museum. For some reason the Time Out Shanghai guide  warns that the Shanghai Metro can be difficult to navigate and that foreigners should stick to taxis. I’m not quite sure what they’re talking about – from my experience yesterday, it works just like any other Metro system, and the English signage is abundant. And my few experiences with Shanghai traffic have taught me to avoid taxis if at all possible.

I made my way over to the museum, and before entering started talking with two young women from Hangzhou who stopped me to ask for a photograph. I ended up joining them for tea at a tea room nearby before the museum. They taught me some basic Mandarin and gave me some in-depth explanations about Chinese tea culture and etiquette.

The museum itself was massive, containing extensive collections of Chinese crafts dating back to 6000 BC, including bronze ware, coins, paintings, jade sculpture, and ceramics. I spent a few hours exploring, and took some photos for Kenny, since he’ll be in the office all week and needs to see the city vicariously through me. Here are a few, there are more in my Shanghai set:

Buddha Another Buddha
Jade face used on funeral cloth, placed over a corpse's face Inside the museum

After Kenny got home from work, we enjoyed a delicious Cantonese dinner at the Heng Shan Cafe, just a block from our hotel. Kenny will write a review, of course.

Everything left on my sightseeing agenda for Shanghai involves walking around outside, so I’m taking it easy indoors today to wait out the rain: doing some research on yoga/meditation retreats in Nepal, finishing a few things for work that didn’t get done last week, catching up on my photo backlog. In theory the weather will get better starting tomorrow, and I plan to do a few self-guided walking tours in the Old City, along the Bund, and around the French Concession.