Kirstoire Maclean

Joined October 2018
  • Apr7

    A brutal ending

    April 7 in Cambodia ⋅ 🌧 33 °C

    I fly home tomorrow from Phnom Penh and so far in Cambodia I have not seen anything of the brutal recent history that was the Khmer Genocide. It has been in my mind often and I find myself imagining what these people have seen and lived through. Ideally I wouldn't finish on this experience, but I can't leave the country ignorant to it and I think it is important to learn more. So today I visited the Killing Fields and S-21, a prison where innocent people were tortured.

    This is not a nice story, but I'm sharing it because it should not be forgotten. The horrors of history like this would be completely pointless if we didn't learn from them and help them shape our future.

    In 1975 Pol Pot began a derranged revolution in which he wanted to rid the country of capitalism and 'begin again from the year 0'. He believed the education and tecnological advancements were dangerous to his country and so he led an utterly brutal cleansing system which killed 3 million of the country's 8 million population. It began by emptying all the cities and forcing everyone to the countryside. Here, if people survived the arduous journey people were given the chance to 'live' if they were paupers-Pots favoured class, they continued life in arduous slavery working up to 21 hours a day in burning sun to create farms in traditional laboursome methods, as he banned all new equipment.

    Anyone with smooth hands, who wore glasses, had an education or who spoke a foreign language were the enemy. Their fate was much worse. S-21, now a museum, used to be a school and was turned into a prison where these people were taken for days, weeks, months, in some cases years of brutal torture, until they confessed to a crime. Once they 'confessed' they were taken to the killing fields to be killed. The prison was run by officers indoctrinated by Pot, many of whom were children. What they did to people here defies belief, the museum gave accounts from some of the few survivors and had paintings by a survivor who recreated scenes he had witnessed.

    Visiting this museum was always going to be a harrowing experience so I will try not to dwell on that. The tour is led by an audio guide, which allows them for personal reflection along the way. I suspect it would be too much to have locals be guides here, to relive their history so frequently. It was a very well curated exhibition sensitively showing graffic images of the bodies found when the Khmer were pushed out. The Khmer were very vigilant about documenting everything and some hasn't been destroyed, so there are photos of prisoners and of guards lining the rooms that were used for cells. Walking through the buildings that have some evidence of blood stains on, with these faces staring at you is a powerful experience. I felt I had to look every face in the eye to let them keep living.

    After 1.5 hours immersed in the shocking truth of Khmer we got back in the tuktuk to go to the killing Fields. We were a group of four who met that morning and had chatted the whole way there. Now the mood had significantly changed and we had periods of silence stirred by deep discussions about what we had seen. Trying to get our heads around it seemed an impossible quest, how could such a massive cruel act upon an entire country, by someone of its' own, ever make sense?

    We arrived at the killing Fields and braced ourselves for more. I won't go into further detail because I rattle on a lot and it won't be a pleasant read. But it didn't get any nicer. Nothing can prepare you for seeing the evidence that remains here of what happened in those fields.

    I found it hard upon leaving to know what to do next with my day. The four of us went for lunch and hung out in the pool at our hostel. We shared reflections on the morning and we returned to normal travel chat. But I don't think any of us will ever forget what we have seen.

    There aren't many old people in this country, I've noticed that since I arrived. Anyone that I do see that is over 40 makes me wonder how they live from day to day without fear and suffering. Because this is fresh, the country is still recovering and everyone has lost family members to the hideous crimes of the genocide.

    But there are people laughing, singing, kids playing and new businesses. You have to look in the corners to see it, beyond the poverty and child labour. Cambodia is a long way from being the country it deserves to be. But there is hope.
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  • Apr6

    Kep

    April 6 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C

    Kep is a little fishing village on the sea, buzzing with activity, yet still feels relaxed and calm. Along the sea front Cambodians gather in big groups and sit on the pavements dining on feasts of seafood. The whole sea front is lined with food carts and women come by on motorbikes with bags hanging over the bars, of crabs and fruits from the market to sell. The beach has plenty of activity too; locals swimming and playing in inflatables. Behind the activity the while stretch is lined with rows of hammocks in the shade. A couple of km along the seafront is a market known as the crab market, but it sells fruits, tatty souvenirs and all kinds of fish. Here there is constant activity of women bringing in crab baskets that are full of crabs. It is what Kep is famous for and it certainly seems to have a lot of them!

    I spent two days in Keep, mainly exploring on foot. On the first day I took a long walk through the National Park that meets the village. It was a beautiful peaceful afternoon, I think I had more. encounters with monkeys than people (although one rather vicious monkey nearly bit my leg, but instead got my shoe). I walked 14km in jungle forest to see various viewpoints over the surrounding countryside.

    Next day I walked around the village to see the activity everywhere and then I took a tuktuk to a pepper farm-the other thing this region is famous for. The journey was very scenic, passing through the countryside. At the pepper farm I and a tour and got to taste all the different peppers. The premium range pepper was noticeably stronger than the others and I could understand why some top chefs will only cook with Kampot pepper. There were women sorting peppercorns by hand, getting paid 5USD a day to send back to their families.

    It's been a relaxing and refreshing couple of days, just what I need as my trip starts to come to an end.
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  • Apr3

    Kampot

    April 3 in Cambodia ⋅ ☀️ 32 °C

    I left the island to come to Kampot, a town on a river that is known for the beautiful countryside that surrounds.

    I took a tour of the local national park, which was very nice in parts, but was also very odd. The Chinese are building here (of course) and they are building houses, hotels and even casinos within what is a beautiful green and natural place. None of their buildings have anyone in or around, beacause who wants to place bets when exploring a national park?!

    It is such a shame that Cambodia needs the money, because I think the whole country is going to be ruined by the Chinese developers. Everywhere I have been has Chinese owned construction. If you look beyond the construction the country is very beautiful.

    In the evening the tour took us on a boat to do a river cruise. I met some locals and shared some beers with them. It was very interesting to learn about their experiences, one of them was a woman who felt repressed and controlled by her society. And one of them had moved to USA 35 years ago and had plenty to say about here and there. I had got a bit fed up on the tour-being with tourists and carted around from place to place, so I was really glad to meet these people and have some stimulating conversation. The boat journey was very beautiful, the river is clean and surrounded by lushious green jungle. We saw sunset and fireflies.

    I've decided to move from Kampot to Kep because my hostel is full of gap year kids who wan to get drunk and stoned. So I've booked myself a private room in a guesthouse in Keep, which is a small fisherman village famous for crabs. Now I can tell I have grown up!
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  • Mar31

    Koh Rong Sanloem

    March 31 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    When Rohit left I took a ferry to the neighboring island, Koh Rong Sanloem. It is smaller and quieter. I treated myself to my own bungalow in the bush, where it was peaceful. I spent a couple of days relaxing and taking long walks to discover new beautiful beaches. The beaches are really stunning and very quiet, I felt like I had discovered one of Asia's secret paradise's.

    I decided not to go diving as it was expensive and the snorkeling was terrible, hardly any coral and a few fish. Better to leave on the high is Komodo than have a boring dive here.

    I finally got a good night sleep, and slept for 11 hours. Rohit had been waking me up early, so I was glad to be alone again!

    I met some people on the beach at dinner and ended up having an accidental huge night at a beach bar. It was good fun, but slightly regrettable the next morning as I had a journey to make! But I have lived to tell the tale.
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  • Mar31

    Ko Rong Island

    March 31 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    We travelled overnight on a bus to Sihonoukeville, the coastal town of Cambodia. There used to be a beautiful coastline, but it has all been bought by the Chinese and so has become a concrete construction zone. Therefore we bypassed the mainland beaches and came straight to as island ,that has also been bought by Chinese but has not been developed on so aggressively. In fact most of the businesses here are owned and ran by Europeans, so it doesn't feel very Cambodian.

    It is a very beautiful island with soft squeaky white sand and turquoise clear water. Some beaches are littered with waste dragged in the sea. I started cleaning the sea yesterday only to arrive at a beach that you could not see the sand because of all the palstic waste on it. Made my efforts seam quite pointless!

    It is very much a backpacker haven and is geared around partying. Not really what I am after, but the cheapest option. We didn't join the drinking games or pub crawl, but still managed to casually drink enough to end up dancing on the beach on the first night.

    Then yesterday we took a boat tour around the island, stopping at places for snorkelling, a village to see local life and some of the beautiful beaches on the island. It was a great day out packed with information. Rohit had never snorkelled before, so I taught him and he gradually became more confident and pretty delighted when he managed to do it in the dark and see the bioluminescent plankton. It was a great day,but very exhausting. After 11 hours on a boat we were pretty wiped out by the tips we got back.

    Rohit has left this morning and now I am taking a boat to the neighbouring island, that is meant to be more quiet and peaceful. Hopefully there will be less gap year kids and a chance for me to do some yoga and go diving.
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  • Mar29

    Floating village

    March 29 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 34 °C

    Yesterday we took a tour of Kampong Phluk, a floating village on a river near Siem Reap. However because it is dry season the village is mostly not floating, instead is dry land with buildings on incredibly high stilts. The wet season starts in June and then the water from the river rises so high the whole area becomes sunk in about 2m of water.

    We had a tour from a guy who grew up there, but now lives in the city. It used to be a place thriving with fish and that is what made people live there, but now it is overpopulated and they have eaten all the fish, so it is far less prosperous. And I find myself wondering why they would still live somewhere so difficult.

    It was a smelly place, they were drying tiny shrimps in the sun. The market was a bike that rides around with fruit and veg hanging off it everywhere, in the wet season it becomes a boat instead.

    We were taken on a small boat to a floating restaurant and watched sunset there.

    It was an interesting day, but porbably would be more charming in the wet season when the village is afloat!
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  • Mar29

    Siem Reap and Angkor Wat

    March 29 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    After a long journey of three flights to Cambodia I arrived in Siem Reap at about midday and was very tired, but excited to be with Rohit. Having met him in a market in Kolkata it was quite surreal to be on holiday with him. We stayed in a hostel with a swimming pool, because it is stupidly hot in Cambodia at the moment. And on our first day we took a walk around the city and chilled out in the pool.

    Siem Reap is a very flat city with no high buildings and it is less busy that other Asian cities, so it was quite pleasant to be in. However it is incredibly touristy and has a street named 'pub street' which has 24 hour pubs selling beer at 50c., Which of course attracts party seekers and the gap year kids. But we didn't stay up late enough to get bothered by this! I was completely exhausted after the journey and a week of no sleep prior to it.

    We woke at 4.15am the next day to go to Angkor Wat to see sunrise behind it. I was expecting it to be busier, but as the temple is huge there is a large area for us to spread out, so it was possible to get a view of sunrise without people in the way. It was fairly nice sunrise, but not the best. At 6am they opened the temple and we began temple touring....the first of many.

    Angkor Way is the largest religious building in the world and dates back to 11th century. It took us 3 hours to walk around it, so that gives some idea of the scale of it. There are many many steps, taking us to high floors of the temple. It was suffered a lot of weather damage over the years, but internally the engravings on the stone are still preserved and tell stories of the history of the era. We didn't have a guide, but I have since bought a book so I can learn more about this.

    The area around Angkor Wat was the centre of power in Cambodia from 6th century until 15th and every new king seemed to build at least one new temple. So the area is littered with ancient buildings. Some of the temples have been partly destroyed by trees that have grown within them, the roots wrapped around the structure. It is an impressive sight to see.

    We visited about 7 temples and spent 13 hours on the tour. We had hired 'the cowboy' tuktuk driver for the day, he had a pimped up tuktuk that played music and had a coolbox with beers and water. He was a fascinating person to meet, having been an orphan living on the streets as a child he then became a monk at 19 to get an education, worked in the police and security and now loves his job as a tourist guide.

    It was a long ,very interesting day. The temples are really beautiful and so impressively made. They have no cement holding the stones together and the stones are all different shapes and sizes, yet form perfect symmetrical walls. Many of the ceilings have collapsed and there are piles of the fallen stones that look like an earthquake has occurred. When a ceiling remains it is remarkable to see because the stones are balanced on top of each other and wedged in, with no fixative. It's amazing that they could ever be built, let alone remain standing for so long.

    That evening we took a well deserved massage, having walked 19.7km- much of which was steps.
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  • Mar23

    More diving photos

    March 23 in Indonesia ⋅ 🌧 30 °C

    Unfortunately the most incredible views we saw underwater were not possible to get photos of, because our energy and concentration was being used on managing the currents. But my eyes won't forget!

  • Mar23

    Komodo Live aboard dive trip

    March 23 in Indonesia ⋅ 🌧 29 °C

    I'm sorry I can't make this brief. This is for me as much as anyone else, I want to remember everything. But just read the first paragraph if you like!

    The four days I have been on this boat have probably been the highlight of this entire trip so far. And of my life (but I wonder how many times I have said that?!). Komodo National Park is beautiful, above and below water. But below water it is mind blowing, I feel like I have taken diving to the next level and challenged myself, learnt a lot and seen things I will never forget and forever cherish. I have found my new happy place and at the moment when I close my eyes I see it. It is actually making sleep quite hard! I just don't know how to describe it to you to do it justice, but the effect it has on my subconscience should give some indication to how phenomenal the underwater world is. I am struggling to read and to sleep because I have been so stimulated by beauty and adrenaline.

    I will try to explain the experience chronologically and not get carried away in my current state of elation!

    Komodo National Park is a large group of islands off the east part of Indonesia. There are only four small villages within the park and the entire area is protected. So you just see nature, with no buildings. Being on a live aboard boat we are able to access places other boats cannot get to, so a lot of the time it is just us surrounded by beautiful green sculptured islands, with surreal rock formations and a diverse forms of landscape. As it is the end of wet season the land is bright green, but soon it will dry out and be yellow.

    We are on an Indonesian wooden built catermeran that sleeps up to 10 guests, but we are a group of 7. The other guests are very interesting, an Italian couple who live in Gabon working in gorilla conservation, an American mother and daughter who both travel and do a lot of extreme sports, Canadian guy who has retired and sold his house so lives overseas throughout the winter and myself and Rebecca-the friend I made in Bali in January. We all get along very well and enjoy the time between dives chatting about all sorts of topics.

    The boat has a large crew who are all Indonesian, consisting of captain, cruise director/dive instructor, 2 dive guides, 2 dingy boat drivers, 2 mechanics/engineers, 2 chefs and a table service man. They sleep on deck and in a shared cabin. The boat has 4 levels-lower deck has bedrooms, first deck has diving platform with all our dive gear, kitchen and dining, more bedrooms and bathrooms, second floor has captains office, another bedroom and seating area and the top deck is a lounging/sun deck. The staff are incredible, they feed us ridiculous amounts of delicious food, wait on us at mealtimes and give full assistance with all our dive gear so we carry heavy equipment as little as possible and don't have to set up any of our own gear.

    The dive guides have astonished me with skill, strength and understanding-to be a guide here you need to know the sites extremely well and be able to manage stressful and difficult scenarios on almost every dive. They give detailed breifings of our dives and pay attention to our individual diving experience and skills. Komodo is renowned for having very strong currents and complex diving, so it needs to be managed especially safely. We are in small groups of 2-3 with a guide, who is our guide for the entire trip. Myself and Becky have a tiny little Indonesian called Hans and I am in awe of him. He is so strong for someone so tiny, he can carry both of us against a current in order to get us somewhere safe to hang out and watch the underwater world go by. After I had a scary experience in the Philippines I told him I was scared of drift dives, where you ride a current and 'fly' through the water. He has offered alternative entrances to some dive sites, but told me that he knows from my skills that I can manage the more complex journey. I trust him entirely and have taken the latter option and now I have done about 8 dives with strong currents, complex management and involved drift diving for all or part of the dive. And now I am not scared and I bloody love it.

    So there are two elements of diving here to describe; the scenery and the technical adrenaline pumping journeys involved within the dives.

    We started with two dives that were 'simple' in terms of Komodo NP, so that our guides could see how we are under water and what your air consumption is. This is important so that they know for later dives how to time the routes and keep us with enough air to ride the currents to get to a safe exit point of the site. (For example they use reef hooks to keep us in place when there is an extremely strong current and we could stay there for 5-10 minutes if we used air quickly or 15-20 minutes if we consumed less air.) These two dives were indescribably beautiful, they were at islands that were surrounded by neverending coral forest. The islands provided some shelter from the currents that wrap around the land, so we would enter the sites at around 25m and then zigzag up towards the top nice and slowly, whilst spoiling our eyes with a rich view of wonderful colours and countless fish and creatures. As we would reach the edge of the island we would feel a current and go back in the other direction. Even this was harder than most dives I have ever done and it was just the beginning! As soon as we went down I saw a sea snake and it was just the smallest welcome to what was about to be the biggest ever treat to my eyes. I can't even begin to tell you what I have seen in each dive, it would take way too long!

    After these dives we went to Rinca Island to do a small hike and see the Komodo dragons. I have always wanted to see the dragons, but since becoming a diver this part of the NP I had almost forgotten about! However they did not disappoint and have still been a highlight-we saw countless dragons. Most of them were just lounging in the shade, but some of the smaller ones (which need to eat more often) were on the prowl. It was everything I ever imagined, like watching a dinosaur in the desert hunt out prey warning their peers about the incoming predator. We were being guided by two rangers who had big forked sticks to protect us, should anything kick off. The rangers carefully managed our placement with the dragons and helped us take photos safely. The hike we did took us up a big hill that gave a great view of the bay and surrounding islands.

    We did a night dive that night, which are always in calm safe conditions and make for a very relaxing experience....then the next day the adrenaline started pumping!

    There is a reason why we do dives in challenging currents; the currents pull in plankton for fish to feast on and these fish attract large predators, so there is a good chance of seeing sharks, tuna, barracuda, Napoleon gropers and other large pelagic fish- all referenced as 'big fish. Then once within the calmer part of a dive, when out of the strong current there is usually a massive and wealthy coral garden which thrives in life and has many more fish and also lots of small and unusual things living within them-collectively referenced as 'micro'.

    We did 3 day dives a one night dive each day. Every dive we have done has been completely unique and has a story of its own, but to make it brief I will tell you how we managed the currents in order to see as much as we could. Usually we would enter the current at the beginning of a dive. The simplest would then be a drift dive, where we follow one straight route and then swim across the current into a sheltered bay at the end. Within this type of dive and for the more complex our dive guide would sometimes find a rock (or somewhere within the coral that would not damage it) that he could hook onto with a reef hook. A reef hook is a metal hook with 1-2 lines attached to it, with hooks on the end. Hans' hook had two lines so once he attached it Becka and I would each hang onto one of the hooks. Then we could relax and stay in once place and enjoy the view. Hans would sometimes hold the line if it was a super strong current, otherwise he would hand onto some rock with his fingers and his immense strength. Sometimes when we were hanging out like this the current would be so strong it would be pulling at our masks and regulators so we would have to hold them. It was an intense experience!

    Some of the dives involved more complex routes where we would go through small channels or 'cauldron' formations that suddenly create a 'shotgun' effect, where the current is suddenly much stronger and you get fired very quickly. In these instances we would always have to be very close to Hans so that he could get the hook in place and we would quickly hold on. If we missed the opportunity we would have just kept getting swept with the current and would have swam across the current into the calmer part of the dive. But we always managed to stay close enough and manouver ourselves so that we could use the reef hook he set up for us. These dives were exhilarating and physically tiresome. I always thought diving was the laziest sport, but now I have seen the more active way to do it!

    We did a total of 13 dives over 4 days and they were all the best dive I have ever done-everytime I came up to surface I was rushing with excitement and saying 'that is my best ever dive, favourite so far'! I won't list everything that we saw, but my highlight was definitely the manta rays as I have never seen them before and they are the most elegant creature. They are huge winged flat fish that feed on plankton in currents and hang out near coral bombies so that the smaller fish can clean them. We spent one drift dive in a current passing by bombie cleaning stations and we saw 14 of them. They move so gracefully with a gentle flap of their wings, swinging their jaws slowly to collect plankton. When you are hanging onto a rock and feel the strength of a current that can pull you at speed for a great distance it is so impressive this creature gracefully glide through. At the cleaning stations they glide around in circles whilst the smaller fish clean them, it looks like a dance and is mesmerising. This is what I see when I close my eyes at the moment and I hope it never stops!

    We were lucky enough to see these beautiful creatures in four dives and also we watched them from the boat gliding around in the shallows. Other big fish of particular excitement that we saw were many sharks (white tip, black tip and nurse sharks), huge bumphead parrot fish, tuna, Napoleon groper, big schools of barracuda and and jacks. We also saw many turtles and lots of micro creatures. On night dives we saw octopus, feeding lionfish, bizarre looking crabs and crustaceans.

    The coral was so colourful and diverse it was just so beautiful. I haven't seen anything so beautiful since being in PNG and I couldn't dive then, so this has finally made up for that.

    The whole experience has been so incredible I feel completely content and could come home tomorrow. I don't think my trip can get better than that and I've made my memories to focus on when I am trying to relax at home.

    ......but of course I still have two weeks to go. So this evening I fly to Cambodia to meet a friend I made in India.
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