Cambodia - Temples, Books, Films and ruminations...by Andy Brouwer
Monday, November 30, 2009
Coach Scott O'Donell leads the team to receive the welcome from the Laos delegation at the border
The whole squad file one by one into Laos and to meet the SEA Games delegation
I know it's a bit out of sync after my posts today but here's the meat of a piece I submitted to the PPP today, based on the two-day bus journey from Phnom Penh to Vientiane with the Cambodian football team.
Chalk and cheese is how I would describe the enthusiasm with which the Laotian authorities have embraced the SEA Games compared to their equivalent in Cambodia (the National Olympic Committee). Of course, Laos are the hosts and there’s a suggestion they’ve gone into national debt to pay for the Games, hence their almost fever-pitch desire to get it right, down to the most minor detail. But the differences have been dramatic.
I left Phnom Penh on Saturday with the Cambodian football team on a bus that should’ve been retired to the bus cemetery years ago. The plastic seats were of the sweat-inducing variety, far from ideal for the nine hour journey to the Dong Kralor border, north of Stung Treng. The on-board toilet was broken, the video screen was out of action and when the players got on, they entered what resembled a mosquito breeding ground. An hour into the trip, everyone was still killing mosquitoes despite a hastily-purchased can of Raid. A short cut via Chhlong gave the bus-driver problems negotiating some serious pot-holes, and all in, exactly the type of journey that professional athletes should not have to endure. The best part of the trip was the lunch stop at the Malop Dong restaurant in Kratie. I won't comment on the number of toilet stops but it was a coach full of Cambodians, so enough said.
As we reached the border, everything changed for the better. Despite having to wait ninety minutes to get the immigration formalities resolved (on both sides), the welcome from the Lao delegation was heartfelt, the television cameras were present and the coach they provided for the second leg of the journey, put its Cambodian cousin to shame. Okay, the hotel (Hotel Malila, out of town but we arrived in the dark anyway) chosen for the overnight stay in Pakse wasn't ideal but it was clean and serviceable and the food they laid on for dibner and breakfast the next day at the Cham Paxaise restaurant, was appreciated by all. For the next twelve hours, we swept through southern and central Laos in a police car convey, backed by an army wagon mounted by machine-gun wielding soldiers. They were taking security very seriously.
The Cambodian team were welcomed into the GamesVillage by a traditional Lao band at 7pm Sunday evening. The accommodation, on the NationalUniversity campus 17 kms outside of Vientiane, is acceptable without being plush and they trained twice on Monday, to get the two-day bus journey out of their system. Aside from Nov Soseila, who is nursing a sprained ankle, everyone is in good shape and the 20-man squad will train twice a day until they open their Group A competition against the gold medal favourites Thailand on Friday 4 December in Vientiane’s Chao Anuvong Stadium.
My article in the Phnom Penh Post on the squad's selection and Scott O'Donell's views, can be read here.
All quiet on arrival at the Cambodian border of Dong Kralor - no fanfare send off
The players return from an early morning stretch and jog in Pakse
Some of the players take on the game of petanque at the border crossing
At one of our many road stops in Laos, the door was besieged by chicken on a stick sellers
Malaysian tv interview Scott O'Donell after this afternoon's training session
Rather than undertake a fruitless search for the television headquarters, I got a tuk-tuk (which I didn't want to as the drivers are greedier than Phnom Penh's riverside tuk-tuk drivers, yes I know, hard to believe, but true) and went out to the Games Village to hook up with the Cambodian squad as they boarded their bus bound for the tv stadium this afternoon. Actually stadium is a misnomer, a hard, bumpy pitch with the grass cut but left on top is a more accurate description, hardly conducive to an international football team training for an important regional competition. Nevertheless the team trained for about an hour, starting with a warm-up and then a game which coach Scott O'Donell stopped at regular intervals as incidents took place that he felt needed correcting. One of the important points he made to his team was to be positive in the final third, take players on, look to get the wide players in behind the opposition, whilst in defence, if in trouble, boot it out or up the field rather than try to play your way out. All straightforward stuff but important points that need to be rammed home time and again before they sink in. You have to remember that this is a team that has very limited time together, unlike a club side who work on these tactics day in, day out over a whole season. Worryingly, the fans' favourite, Nov Soseila sat out most of the afternoon session - held in bright sunshine - with an ice-pack on a sprained ankle, a remnant of their last game in Vietnam against Can Tho. The morning session had been held at the army stadium, which I didn't attend as I was stuck in the media center getting my press pass. Scott reported the pitch was much better so its disappointing they had to swap this afternoon. They return to the bumpy pitch tomorrow morning before their first look at the Chao Anuvong stadium in central Vientiane (five minutes from my guesthouse) for their afternoon session. A request for access to a swimming pool was met with a blank stare but time in the water worked well in Vietnam, so I know Scott won't take no for an answer. Rather than an overpriced crappy tuk-tuk, I waved down a song thaw for the ride back to town, considerably quicker and cheaper. Whoops, nearly forgot to mention that captain Sun Sovannarith takes his international duties seriously. So seriously, he missed the birth of his first child, this morning, a baby girl. "My wife and baby are okay," he beamed with pride.
Session over, but still time to learn. The coach gives his squad the benefit of his knowledge.
On-field instruction from coach Scott O'Donell in red
On-field running repairs for Chan Dara from physio Hay Sakiry
A look at the accommodation block where Cambodia's football squad are housed in the Games Village
As I thought, obtaining my press pass, despite having an email letter from the Laos authorities confirming approval of my accreditation, was a complete hassle. I'm afraid Laos has embraced officialdom and jobsworth mentality in earnest and after completing more forms, handing over more portrait photographs and deciding whether I was a journalist or photographer, as I couldn't be both, I was officially handed my press pass and media booklet about an hour and half after arriving. It took so long that I missed the Cambodian football team's first training session at the army stadium, but no-one knew where it was anyway, so I'll have to try and get to the afternoon session at the television stadium, though again, no-one at the media center could tell me its location! Yes it's going to be that type of two weeks. I must say that the people from the national sports committee were very friendly and helpful and took me to the media center, some 5kms out of town, before I met the official brick-wall. Anyhow, I have my press pass (they put photographer on the pass, after I asked to be classed as journalist), I need some lunch and then I need to uncover the whereabouts of the tv stadium. It's anyone's guess where it is. More later.
To regular readers please be aware that there will be a glut of football-related posts over the next two weeks. The reason is that I am in Vientiane, Laos to cover the 25thSoutheast Asian Games - a massive event here in SE Asia - and more specifically, the fortunes of the Cambodian football team in their bid for SEA Games medals. I'm reporting for the Phnom Penh Post and will try and cover some of the other Cambodian participants in 18 other sports though football is my main focus.I arrived last night after a 2-day bus journey, with the team, via the overland Cambodian-Laos border at Dong Kralor. That was an ordeal in itself. In a few minutes I am off to seek my press accreditation, which should be interesting. Already I've worked out that nothing here is going to be straightforward. Wish me luck. If I have time I will catch up on some other posts from my recent travels, but I can't guarantee it.
In an exclusive interview with Cambodia’s national football coach, Scott O’Donell, I sought his views on the high levels of expectation that have gripped the Cambodian public following their BIDC Cup success earlier this month, just before they set out for Laos to take on the rest of the region’s footballing giants in the 25th Southeast Asian Games. “I expect the players to go out and give 100% and try their very best. I think people have to be realistic and honest with themselves that it was great to win the BIDC Cup, the players did very well and it was great for their confidence but there’s a big difference in the BIDC Cup, where we played Laos and 2 professional Vietnamese clubs in the middle of their pre-season. There’s a big difference in these two teams and the Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysian U23 teams and I think people have to be aware of that. It was great to see the support at the Olympic Stadium in the final of the BIDC Cup, great to see so many people supporting the national team but we have got to be realistic and there’s a big difference playing in a friendly tournament at home to playing in the SEA Games. The players have worked hard over the past six weeks and we’re going to do the very best that we can, I can’t ask anymore than that."
How would you compare your current squad with the 2007 squad you took to Khorat in Thailand? “Five of the current squad, Seiha, Tiny, Sovannarith, Sokumpheak and Borey played for me in 2007. It will be an advantage for the players who’ve experienced SEA Games competition before, having those relatively senior players is a big help for the younger players, because we have got a lot of young boys in the team, and it’ll be their 1st trip to the SEA Games and their first real international tournament at a relatively senior level, so it’ll be a big help. I would say in what we’ve been doing for the last six weeks, I think they have grasped how I want them to play a lot better and they have a good understanding of what I want and expect from them. Its easy to do it in training, the question comes can they do it under pressure against better players and that’s the big test and that’s always going to be a question that’ll be asked when Cambodia plays, until we start playing regular international football and start pitting ourselves against better teams more regularly."
How will you approach the competition, against some of the region's best teams? "We’ll be approaching the games in the same way as we approached the BIDC Cup games and in training. How we played in the BIDC Cup is how we’re going to try and play, hopefully better, and in terms of our tactical approach and how we set ourselves up, formations and style, will beexactly the same. We haven’t trained for anything else, we don’t intend to get ten players defending the penalty area – we’re going out there to try and play good football. When we get the ball I want us to play, I want to enjoy watching my team, I want the players to enjoy playing and that’s what we are going to try and do."
"What we did in the BIDC Cup is what we’ll do in the SEA Games. No intention of doing anything different from my first training session until this morning – we want to play attacking football if we can, if the opposition allows us to do that, and we’ll be trying to score goals. What we’ve got to work on improving is conceding goals."
"We’ve got to play them [Thailand and Vietnam], it doesn’t matter if it’s the first game or whenever. The advantage we have, if you can call it that, is that we don’t play in the first round of games, so we get to watch all four teams. I’ve got some videos, a few match reports, scouting reports, and we‘ve got a fair idea of what we’re up against. We know that Thailand & Vietnam, if you ask the majority of the coaches at the SEA Games, are the two favourites to go through. Malaysia have got some good boys, they’ve been together for a long time, playing in the U21 team in the Malaysian Premier League and they’ve got some good results over the past year, playing a lot of friendly games, a lot of exposure and there are high expectations. The higher the expectation for the opposition, the better it is for us. I know nothing about East Timor at all apart from they’ve done well at U19 level."
Your preparation has gone well and are the players fit and well? "I said before the BIDC Cup it was an excellent tournament for us to participate in. The time we spent in Vietnam was great too. It was hard work, the boys did very well, they worked extremely hard and under the circumstances, for the six weeks we had to work with them, I couldn’t have asked for anymore. What I would’ve liked is a lot more time with the players, but circumstances didn’t allow that. Given that we only had six weeks to do what we did, I was happy with it."
"I wasn’t happy with their fitness when we tested them when we first arrived in Ho Chi Minh. But as I said the boys worked very hard and their aerobic and anerobic fitness levels all increased while we were there, as you’d expectit to do, I’m happy with it. Once again the problem we’ll have is in a high intensity game, being able to reproduce that over 90 minutes is a different thing. Fitness testing is a good indication but nothing replicates game situations of high intensity pressure – but I’m happy with the players fitness levels."
"The players are looking after themselves, looking after their injuries now and eating the right food and I’d like to think that when we train it’s a more professional approach. When we make a mistake in training, it’s just like making a mistake in a game, we don’t laugh and joke about it. The players are taking their responsibilities in training seriously because training is just as important as the games."
Why choose Sun Sovannarith as your captain? "He’s been in the national team for five years now, he's an experienced player, a very good player, sets a good example to the younger boys and he’s one of the players who should be playing overseas somewhere because he’s got a lot of ability. He’s a good boy and I trust him. He has the respect of the coaching staff and the players, which is important."
How important is the fans' darling, Nov Soseila, to your plans? "Sometimes he’s my darling and sometimes he’s not. When he does what he’s told, he’s a very good player, a very dangerous player as we saw in the BIDC Cup. He likes to take on players and has got that little bit of mongrel in him which I like. He’s got loads of ability, but he’s got to be switched on and concentrating all the time and use his brain. He’s a good outlet for us."
How strong is your squad and any injury concerns? "The boys who may not make the starting eleven have been given plenty of opportunities, they know how we’re going to play and I’ve got full confidence in the nine players who’ll be sitting on the bench. I’ll have no hesitation to put any of them on the field at anytime during the game. They will all go out to do a job."
“We had a thorough check on Sothearath. He’s got a few issues but nothing that will cause any more damage. He’s structurally sound and in the last ten days in Vietnam he trained full on. He’s got confidence from being told there’s nothing seriously wrong with his knee. He played nearly a full game the other day at Can Tho and he’s an important player in the team and we missed him in the BIDC Cup."
The Cambodian squad get together for a group photo outside their hotel this morning
Okay I've calmed done now, after a meal at the Kop Chai Deu restaurant, and am back on the lobby internet at my guesthouse, the Mali Namphu, which has a good reputation, but crap in-room internet. I'll just briefly mention our 12 hours on the road today, after we left our Pakse hotel at 7am this morning and woolfed down a breakfast before we were back on the road, with a police car in front, horns blaring and lights flashing, and an army carrier in the back, with heavily armed troops including a machine-gun mounted on the back of their vehicle. The security has been very tight since we entered Laos and the organization, whilst a bit chaotic, has been pretty thorough. To ensure we made good time we had a packed lunch on board though the number of toilet breaks we took probably negated the saving gained by not stopping for lunch. More details in another more detailed post. We arrived at the SEA Games Village at 7pm, where the players and coaching staff lined up to be welcomed in by a band and a very loud public address system and I got a lift into Vientiane to my guesthouse. I haven't got my press accreditation yet, fingers crossed that goes smoothly in the morning. The team will train twice tomorrow and if I get my pass, I'll get out to the training venues to see how they shape up after their 2 days cramped up on a bus. Obviously not an ideal way to travel such a long disatnce but at least the players have a few days to recover before they face Thailand on the 4th.
The entrance to the SEA Games Athletes Village, just before the band struck up to welcome the Cambodian team
I am going to explode in a minute. I finally arrived at my Vientiane guesthouse at 7.30pm - after 12 hours on the road - and we've just spent the last hour trying to connect my laptop to the in-house free internet in my room, which isn't working. When we get it working in the lobby, access to my yahoo emails is now unavailable. Hence the steam coming out of my ears and I haven't had any dinner yet either. I was going to post some interesting details from the last two days on the road with the Cambodian football team but I am so pissed off I need to go and lie down in a darkened room for an hour to cool off. I'll be back later, when I've also filled my stomach, which is making all sorts of weird noises.
I'm in an internet cafe in Pakse but I have about five minute so can't post anything of much relevance. We left at 7.15am today and arrived in Pakse exactly 12 hours later after our overland journey alongside the Mekong River and across the border at Dong Kralor and onward to Pakse in Laos. The two countries couldn't have been more different. More on that when I have more than five minutes internet time. I'm in good nick, so are the Cambodian football team, with whom I've hitched a ride and who are looking after me like one of their own. We expect to reach Vientiane in the dark tomorrow night, so if I can get to an internet cafe I will post. If not, expect a flood of stuff on Monday. Bye for now.
Chhun Sothearath is included in the SEA games squad having shaken off a knee injury
Cambodia's Australian-born coach Scott O'Donell today announced his Cambodian U23 20-man squad for the forthcoming SEA Games in Laos, the day before the players and coaching staff leave Phnom Penh and head northwards overland to the Lao capital of Vientiane, a trip that will take a full two days of travelling by bus. There were no real surprises in the final 20, selected after more than a month of intensive training and practice matches in Vietnam as well as the round-robin BIDC Cup which the Cambodian team won in fine style in front of 30,000 home fans in the final. Midfield dynamo Chhun Sothearath missed the BIDC Cup matches with a knee injury but has recovered enough to make the final squad, playing most of the midweek practice game against Can Tho, and will travel to Laos at the expense of Phuong Narong and Keo Kosal, who both featured in the recent friendly tournament. Also not in the travelling party are goalkeeper Peng Bunchhay, Ieng Piseth and To Vann Thann. The team leave the Olympic Stadium just after 7am tomorrow morning and will cross the Cambodian-Laos border at Dong Kralor before an overnight stop en route at Pakse. Day 2 will be the eight to ten hour bus ride to the Lao capital Vientiane, where the 25th SEA Games are being held. The players will be housed in the athletes village and will be assigned a training location on arrival. Their first match isn't until 4 December which will give them an opportunity to see all their four opponents in Group A in action before they meet Thailand in their opening game. It's a tough opener for Cambodia as Thailand have won the last eight SEA Games football gold medals and beat their Khmer opponents 8-0 in the last SEA encounter in Khorat in 2007. At the press conference this afternoon, led by Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema and the national Military Police commander Sao Sokha, various sponsors raised the stakes with financial incentives of up to $56,000 if the Cambodian team carry off the gold medal. The sponsors also promised monetary rewards for silver and bronze medals too. The sponsors were BBWorld, Crown Casino & Resort and the Ministry of Education, Youth & Sport. MetFone also promised individual incentives for the players and team as a whole, based on goals scored. A couple of days ago Thailand announced sums of over $150,000 if their team win the gold medal for the 9th consecutive time. The press conference attracted cameras from the numerous television channels including TV3, Bayon, Apsara, CTN, and more as well as the printed media as well. I will be travelling with the team to Laos, to report on the SEA Games for the Phnom Penh Post, so this blog will be quiet for a couple of days as we hit the roads of Cambodia and our northern neighbour Laos. I'll bring you up to date with events on the road as soon as I can.
The players, coaching staff and VIP guests & sponsors at this afternoon's press conference
More later as I've just got back to the office after the chaotic football press conference at the Military Police HQ in Tuol Kork, to announce a series of financial incentives for the Cambodian U23s, who will leave for Laos to compete in the SEA Games first thing tomorrow morning. I'll bring you more on the 20-man squad and an interview with coach Scott O'Donell later tonight. As for the financial incentives, don't ask me, the whole conference was in Khmer without any translation. I have a paper list, also in Khmer, which I'll get translated later as well. The Governor of Phnom Penh, the Commander of the Military Police (who is also president of the football federation) and the head of MetFone were the distinquished guests though my view was almost permanently obscured by about a dozen television cameras from all the local tv stations. Catch me on the news later tonight. For those who can't wait, the 20-man squad is: Goalkeepers Sou Yaty, Samreth Seiha (Ministry of National Defence) Defenders Lay Raksmey, Sok Rithy (Preah Khan Reach) Pheak Rady (MND) Tieng Tiny, Touch Pancharong (Phnom Penh Crown) Chan Dara (Khemara Keila) Sun Sovannarith (Naga Corp) Midfielders Prak Mony Udom, San Narith, Khuon La Boravy (PKR) Nov Sokseila, Oum Kumpheak, Lorn Sotheara (MND) Chhun Sothearath (Build Bright United) Forwards Chan Chhaya, Keo Sokngorn (PP Crown) Kuoch Sokumpheak (Khemara Keila) Khim Borey (MND)
Cambodia U23 skipper Sun Sovannarith accepts a gift from Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema
Sponsors and the players, and tv cameras, fill the conference hall at the Military Police HQ
Prasat Muang Thi resides in the grounds of a pagoda in Surin province
En route during my few days in Isaan, Northeast Thailand, we came across a few prasats (ancient stone temples) that weren't specifically Khmer in origin. Take Prasat Muang Thi for example. Thirty minutes after we left Surin and just off the main road, in the grounds of a pagoda and next to a boisterous playground of schoolchildren, are the five stupa-like towers of Muang Thi, which are much more influenced by Laotian art than Khmer. There would've originally been five brick and mortar towers, now only three remain. The main tower in the center has been altered over time, most likely in the 18th century. Muang Thi isn't Khmer but made a pleasant diversion for a few minutes on our relentless hunt for Khmer prasats in Isaan.
The three remaining stupa towers of Prasat Muang Thi
The towers at Muang Thi stand right up against the vihara of the local wat
40 years is way too lenient for this harbinger of death
Is it me or does anyone else find the prosecution demands for a 40 year prison sentence for Comrade Duch as totally underwhelming and almost a slap in the face of the millions of Cambodians who have been patiently waiting, for 30 years, to see real justice served against the key perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge insanity. Okay, Duch is 67 and if he served the full 40 years, if the judges agree with the prosecution demands, he wouldn't see the light of day again but that's not really the point. This man presided over the deaths of at least 12,000 people, 99.9% of them were fellow Cambodians alongwith a handful of westerners who were also murdered. He made certain, with consumate precision, that many of them were interrogated and subjected to inhumane punishments before they were executed. Despite his protestations, he ran S-21 (Tuol Sleng) as his personal fiefdom and his word was law. This man is guilty, though butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, of managing and controlling one of the worst excesses of torture and murder in modern times. He has the blood of thousands on his hands. So I find the request from the prosecution for a 40-year term of imprisonment as missing the point for many Cambodians. It doesn't seem just or proportionate, and I think many people here will simply not understand why he won't be serving 12,000 life sentences (let alone facing a death sentence). I'm aware that in cases of this nature, the prosecution has to be realistic based on the sample evidence that can be presented in court, which is a fraction of what he's responsible for, but 40 years, with five years already taken off for being a good boy (and don't get me started on his ludicrous final statement), just doesn't cut the mustard with me, and many others.
The folks at Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) in Battambang are busting a gut to get their name and their wide range of activities known throughout Cambodia and elsewhere. The thriving artistic community that makes up the PPS organization, and which provides schooling to hundreds of children in Cambodia's northwest city, are perhaps better known for their circus performances and have been in the capital this week, with a couple of shows. One of the PPS future exhibitions that caught my eye will take place at Le Lezard bleu cafe on St 240 from Friday 11 December (5pm) and will remain on display for the rest of the month. Ancient pagodas of Battambang Province is the title of the exhibition, which showcases the talents of artists Long Kosal and Leurm Lorn, who have captured, on canvas, some of the most remarkable examples of these older wats which populate their province of Battambang. There is a saying in Cambodia that new is better than old and that is applied across the board, often at the expense of beautiful ornate structures such as pagodas. This exhibition will give us a chance to see these wats before they disappear forever. Find out more at the PPS website. Interesting fact of the day: Across Cambodia there are 4,307 pagodas with 55,000 monks in attendance.
One of the Battambang pagodas that could soon disappear
SEA Games update. The Laos Embassy is busy so they won't issue my visa until just a few hours before I leave on Saturday, when I'm scheduled to join the Cambodian football team on their 2-day bus journey to Vientiane overland, crossing the border north of Stung Treng. A Khmer friend of mine, Phalla, who lives in Vientiane, has sorted me a nice guesthouse for the duration of my stay and its all systems go. My press accreditation has been agreed with the Lao authorities and that seems to have progrssed smoothly enough. I still have to have a final sit-down with my Phnom Penh Post colleague Chamroeun who will also be going to Vientiane to cover the sporting events. Meanwhile, the football team are still in Vietnam. They play their final warm-up practice match against Can Tho today, return to Phnom Penh tomorrow and then have a few hours with their families before they board the bus for Vientiane on Saturday morning. Coach Scott O'Donell will be announcing his SEA Games squad of 20 players sometime on Friday. I'm not a betting man but here's my final 20 for what it's worth: Seiha, Yaty; Rady, Tiny, Rithy, Dara, Raksmey, Sovannarith, Pancharong; Narong, Soseila, Mony Udom, Narith, Sothearath, Kumpheak, Laboravy; Borey, Sokumpheak, Chhaya, Sokngorn. Newsflash: The Cambodian U23s lost their final warm-up game, 1-0 to Can Tho this afternoon. Coach O'Donell used it to give as many of his players their final run-out before he announces his final 20-man squad after training on Friday morning, and then at a press conference for the media. Well that's me, a couple of Khmer newspaper guys and the local tv cameras.
The bedroom in a bungalow at Nataya Coral Bay Resort, 17kms west of Kampot
The real focus of my whistle-stop trip to Kampot and Kep at the weekend was to pay a visit to a bunch of hotels, old and new. For some it was quite literally poke my head in the door then out again, others it was a more formal inspection. The latter included new resorts like Nataya in Kampot and Eskepe in Kep. Here's some pictures to show you a few places I visited.
A view of the Nataya bungalows, which houses two separate rooms
The 1km beach at Nataya is a big attraction. I think it used to be the Queen's favourite beach in bygone times.
The Magic Sponge GH in Kampot. Clean and comfortable, housed in a former building used by Acleda Bank.
Simplicity reigns in one of the bedrooms at Knai Bang Chatt in Kep
A view of Eskepe, a gorgeous house for rent in Kep, which is still to be completed
The pool and grounds looking out to sea at Eskepe in Kep
The eco-friendly Vine Retreat outside Kep has rooms on 2 floors and a relaxation area above that
Work in progress; the new swimming pool at the popular Veranda Resort in Kep
The ruined Prasat Tani at Wat Tani in the village of the same name
Even though my trip to Kampot and Kep at the weekend was purely business, I took the opportunity to veer off the main track to poke my nose around for anything interesting, as I always do, and benefited from my explorations. On the way down to Kampot by car, we stopped at Wat Tani, on the edge of the town of the same name, as I had never previously seen the prasat that sits in front of the rebuilt vihara. It's ruined and there are no carvings, and the light was poor as it was getting dark, but I was happy to see the 11th century laterite temple nonetheless. On the way back from inspecting the new Nataya Resort and after my visit to the ghost-like railway station at Koh Touch, I called into a trio of pagodas in the hope of unearthing something interesting. At Wat Rokar, the attractive wat had a low ceiling with the usual colourful wall paintings. At Wat Roluos there was a hive of painting activity on-going, both inside and out, about fifty metres from where the foundations of the old vihara stood. And at Wat Kampot, which was another visually pleasing-on-the-eye pagoda, I spent 20 minutes playing volleyball with two schoolboys, Omar and Kien, before their teacher scolded them for missing the start of their class. I was in the dog-house. Also on my travels I noticed an interesting wall painting in the grounds of Wat Kompong Tralach, which also houses a genocide memorial. The final batch of photos from the hotels I visited will follow.
The blackened laterite walls of Prasat Tani is due to old age rather than fire
The photogenic Wat Rokar with its low ceiling
One of the popular scenes you can see on the ceiling of pagodas around the country. This is at Wat Rokar.
The smell of fresh paint was overwhelming at Wat Roluos
The large Buddha and the wall & ceiling paintings at Wat Roluos
The painters were practising their artistic skills on this wall; eyes being a problem for some
A lovely older pagoda at Wat Kampot
My volleyball colleagues, Kien and Omar, who were scolded for missing class
A giant and other naked people on a wall at Wat Kompong Tralach
The countdown to the SEA Games - big sports news if you live in Southeast Asia, but not even on the radar if you live elsewhere in the world - is definitely on. The Games, the 25th edition of this bi-annual event, officially begins on 9 December (and ends on 18) in Laos. However, the group stages of the football competition kicks off a week earlier and the Cambodian team's first match is on the 4th, with games coming thick and fast after that. The squad, who are concluding their final preparations in neighbouring Vietnam, and have their final friendly against Can Tho on Wednesday, are due to get the bus from Phnom Penh to Vientiane on Saturday. All being well, I will be with them. That's if I get my Lao visa in time and can find some accommodation in Vientiane to rest my weary bones after two days on the road. I'm covering the Games for the Phnom Penh Post and will be there before most of the media to report back on the football team's efforts. I anticipate being there for a couple of weeks but it all depends on the team's success or otherwise. In between time, I will also cover some of the other sports too, with Cambodia taking part in 19 separate competitions.
The main open-sided entrance to Kampot's railway station
Okay, so I was a train-spotter when I was a youth, and trains and railway lines still hold a minor attraction for me. Hence on my weekend jaunt to Kampot I couldn't resist pottering along to the main station in Kampot itself and a minor station at Koh Touch, some 16kms west of the town, and about a kilometre from Prek Ampil beach. The railway station at Kampot is a throwback to the 1960's when the southern railway line from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville was created during that decade. The 167kms of single-gauge track from the capital to Kampot was completed in 1967 and the station looks pretty much like it did when it was built. The corrugated tin roof is a bit naff but the brickwork and style of the station is fairly typical of the period and quite low key by comparison to the station at Sihanoukville for example. Today, the only traffic the station sees is the movement of freight, namely cement, and sitting forlornly when I went to the station, were about fifteen brand-new freight wagons. Apart from a couple of boys playing the sandal-throwing game, the station was devoid of any human life, let alone any railway employees. Originally there were 28 railway stations between PP-S'ville, though 24 of them were destroyed during the civil war. And it was on the way to Kampot that three western tourists were captured and later killed by the Khmer Rouge in 1994. For a look at one of those destroyed stations, the shell of Koh Touch, some 16 kms west of Kampot, is worth a look if you are out that way. Some of the walls remain as do the floor tiles, but very little else, as the vegetation has a stranglehold on what's left. A group of female rice-workers in a nearby field looked at me as though I was a complete madman as I took pictures of this empty ghost of the bygone days of the southern line.
Get your tickets here please! These grills have seen better days.
Looking from the station buildings to the nearest line with yellow freight wagons
The railway offices under a corrugated tin roof, in keeping with the station's colour scheme
At Koh Touch, the rural railway station lies in a very ruined state
The line from Koh Touch station back towards Kampot
More of the ghost-like ruins at Koh Touch, near Prek Ampil