The never-ending adventures of a travel writer in Vietnam, Cambodia, New Zealand and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kim Jong-Il: Phnom Penh's Inconsolable Bereavement

Phnom Penh mourned today at news of the death of North Korea's Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-Il. Though there were no real outward signs detectable to the naked eye, there was presumably an unmistakable grief, deep in the cockles of every Khmer person's heart. Cambodia and the DPRK have had a history of good relations, the details of which we will not get into for fear of a late-night knock on the door... but needless to say, things are officially very friendly between the two countries.

The North Korean Embassy. The Flag isn't quite at half staff. It's kind of in that grey area where you aren't sure if they've really heard the terrible news, or perhaps they couldn't bare to face the reality and only got it down a few inches before bursting in tears.

There were no announcements of the death of the Dear Leader at the embassy gates. Just a few old sun-bleached photos of Kim looking at this or that, and a tattered old statement of The General's great deeds. "In the Late 1990s when the country experienced grueling hardships due to the vicious schemes of the imperialists, Kim Jong Il paid close attention to the problems related to the improvement of the people's standard of living. He personally provided on-site guidance to solve knotty problems." The last part really choked me up.

Restaurant Pyongyang is a not-so-secret North Korean government facility, designed to help finance the country's activities in Cambodia. Its a sort of dinner theatre serving Kim Jong-Il's culinary favorites with authentic song and dance numbers, rumored to be choreographed by our Dear Leader himself. Only US Dollars accepted.

Sadly the restaurant was closed today, apparently in mourning for The Supreme Leader. Only this small sign hung on the large locked, red gates. I haven't worked out what it says yet. Hopefully they will open again soon.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Adventures of Adam Bray & The Sacred Waters of Ratanakiri

Ratanakiri Province is located in northeastern Cambodia, bordering Laos and Vietnam. It has some of the loveliest natural scenery in the country. Below are photos from my explorations this month.

Yeak Laom is a volcanic crater lake. The waters were considered sacred by Kreung and Tampuan villagers. Much of the geology in Ratanakiri is influenced by volcanos. This has resulted in large deposits of gem stones, including zircon, peridot, amethyst, gem-quality quartz and other things like gold and petrified wood. Extinct and dormant volcanos are located throughout the region. There are also volcanic crater lakes on the other side of the border, near Pleiku, Vietnam.

An orgy of daddy-long-legs (arachnids)

Bamboo forests at Yeak Laom

Gourds decorated by ethnic Tampuan villagers. After they are dried they are used to hold rice wine or water. Souvenir rice wine is often sold in ceramic jugs shaped like these gourds. The curves are also said to resemble a woman.

Cha Ong Waterfall

Kachang Waterfall

Jungle flowers

Jungle fungus

I arrived at the Ton Le San River, which flows from Kon Tum, Vietnam, all the way to the Mekong River. It is one of only a few rivers that flow west from the mountains to the Mekong. Tall mountains loomed in the distance at Virachey National Park, and small sampan boats lurked under water.

If he can do it, so can I... right? This is one of the longest wooden suspension bridges that I have encountered in my local travels. I did indeed cross it... twice. I was 'thrilled' to find several broken planks as I drove across.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Adventures of Adam Bray & The Lost City of Ratanakiri

Last year my guide and I discovered a lost temple city in the jungles of Ratanakiri, Cambodia. The city, constructed with an earthen wall and a tall, central temple mound, was built using baked red bricks on a foundation of laterite slabs. As is customary for Cham cities and temples, it was situated on a rise overlooking a river; the Ton Le San, which extends from Kontum, Vietnam, to the Mekong River.

I returned this month to Ratanakiri, in northeastern Cambodia, to relocate the temple on my own. Using only a single GPS point, I traveled alone several hours north of the town of Ban Lung, driving through old logging and poaching trails, then hiked through the jungle, and at last came upon the city once again.

Overtaken by the jungle, this ancient ruined city is covered by trees and vines, Most of the structures have eroded leaving only the earthen walls, temple mound, moat and piles of bricks and stone slabs. Undoubtedly there are valuable artifacts buried underneath the city as well.

A moat around the city connects to a jungle stream which leads to the Ton Le San. The Cham were renowned for their sailing abilities, as well as their ability to conduct warfare on the water.

From the bottom of the earthen rampart looking up. The wall is about 5-6 meters tall here and 4 meters wide.

A tiny jungle gecko. This variety hides under debris on the forest floor, lacking the large toe-pads of common house geckos.

Tree bark freshly scratched by an animal. Perhaps a bear?

Giant spiders are everywhere. It's impossible not to stumble into a web or two or three. This small specimen is a male. Females are many times larger. More terrifying are the ants however. Black armies are everywhere. Step on the ground about a colony and thousands boil out of the ground. They shake in unison, apparently as a warning, which causes the ground to vibrate and the loose soil on top to rattle.

Three red bricks, worn by centuries of worms eating through them.

This slab has a post hole on either side. There are several of these slabs with postholes in identical positions, sitting together. Apparently there was a building here held up by wooden posts.

A reservoir inside the city walls.

Click here to see my post on the city from last year. Included are more photos of the ruins themselves, including a section of brick wall. Or, view all of my archaeological adventures here. Then check out my story for CNN on how to find Cham temple ruins yourself.