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April 11, 2008

Heybrook Ridge is the large area in the middle of the picture.

If you have ever been there you know what a beautiful place Index is, but it’s in danger. There is a large area called Heybrook Ridge (east coasters would call it a mountain) which runs the full length of town and beyond. The ridge was originally logged in the hey day of Index (you’d probably be surprised to know that almost 2000 people lived there at one time) but has since completely regrown naturally. The owners of the ridge were about to sell it to a timber company due to the high price of wood, but were persuaded to delay the sale until the town was able to put a consortium together to raise enough money to buy it.

The Friends of Heybrook Ridge ( want to leave the property as is, but also use it for educational purposes. There is already a class from the U of W that makes regular trips to study it’s ecosystem. FOHR wants to make it an outdoor classroom for the world to enjoy. Only one hour from Seattle, it’s a true treasure.

Logging it would not only ruin the ecosystem of the ridge obviously, but also lead to erosion and potential slides (it’s quite steep), and pollution of the Skykomish River – a top steelhead and rafting river that runs through the heart of town. Of course it would also destroy the views (and housing values) of the town and all of it’s visitors. The river isn’t the only attaction – the town hosts a huge granite wall that is world renowned by climbers. Some of you getting this message have climbed it yourself – imagine those views from the top being blighted by a huge clear cut.

This is a small town, the smallest in Western Washington actually with only 155 residents, and most of them are quite poor so their personal fundraising efforts have been not even close to what is needed. The proposition that the ridge might be saved didn’t look good.

Then something great happened.

A local Seattle man inherited a bunch of money and decided that he would use $500,000 of it to match any other donations that were received. Read the Seatle Times article.

Then just TODAY the “Gateway to the Wild Sky” passed the US Senate, and is moving on to the house. Of course, it still needs to be passed by the House and then signed by our champion of the environment President. But it did pass with overwhelming support so it looks positive.

Unfortunately as I understand it, that bill would not cover the purchase of Heybrook Ridge but might offer some more matching monies.

There is, for the first time, serious momentum that you can help keep going by making even a small donation. It’s not so much the size of the donation that matters but that somebody says “I care.” I care about education, I care about small towns and their residents, I care about fish, I care about rafting, I care about climbing, I care about trees and the great outdoors, and I care about making a difference where I can.

Please consider making even a tiny donation right now, while the iron is hot here: Notice the paypal button on the first page. If you are not a paypal person, it only takes a couple minutes to register or you can send a check here: Friends of Heybrook Ridge P.O. Box 387, Index, WA 98256

I know that like me, you probably get asked for money on a regular basis. Please consider making the smallest of gestures to this cause. Anything you donate will get doubled!
Thanks for your support!



What will happen to our Blog?

April 10, 2008

Now that Molly and I are home, I’ve thought about what to do with our blog. We still need to update it with a bunch more photos of our travels – stay tuned on that.

But as far as long term, I think it will become the home page for all things molly and ken, unless we get ambitious enough to do another iweb site.

I saw this excellent article today which I give 5 stars. I couldn’t agree more with it’s conclusion that America needs a 12-step program.


2 Weeks in Vietnam

March 28, 2008

Okay, okay… It’s true. We are home. It’s been almost a month at this point and we’re still adjusting back into this Seattle version of reality. We have an apartment rented on the top of Queen Anne, a few boxes left to unpack, Ken’s been back and forth to Vegas already, and I’ve started officially looking for a job. Urgk. Or maybe Wompf. Or perhaps the classic Oofta. We’ve definitely been going through a reverse culture shock, but it’s easing up and the sticker scare about gas and food prices is starting to fade. Everyone keeps asking us if we’re happy to be back… The answer is yes, but if you gave me a chance to snap my fingers and be back on a Thai beach- I may take you up on it!

But that’s not why I started this blog… I want to quickly wrap up the rest of our time in SE Asia with a musing or two on our time in Vietnam and lots of photos of course.

We started off in Saigon, or what they now call Ho Chi Minh City. We rode around on motorcycles taxis for a couple of days. The traffic was insane, but organized. I held on for dear life and laughed my head off and attempted to take pictures of Ken on his cyclo. Once I was wearing a skirt and had to sit side saddle and my “taxi” driver kept bumping my legs into other scooters. I was just much larger than his normal passengers I think! But, we survived and spent a few days bopping around the city and soaking in the young metro upscale vibe.


Ken being driven around the block a few times enroute to our hotel that was literally across the street!


Waiting for the Light to Turn Green.


Catching a Few Winks

We didn’t realize it before we arrived in Vietnam, but we were coming during their New Year’s week of Tet. There were elaborate decorations all over the city and lots of shops were closed, but the real problem was transportation. We had planned on taking a cheap flight up to Hoi An and then another flight to Hanoi, but everything was booked. Not only booked for the days we were interested in, but for weeks! And the train was full as well. This was really the first time in our entire trip that we were coming up with a major block due to lack of advance planning. We soldiered on by riding a bus for 26 hours. Yes, 26 hours in a “sleeping” bus which basically meant we couldn’t sit up. We were forced into reclining positions with 3 other strangers across the back of a normal width bus. Talk about uncomfortable! When we finally arrived in Hoi An, Ken went in search of the Superbowl and I went to sleep. I was successful, Ken was not. (Note- no one else in the world enjoys American football. I don’t care what the stats are on the Superbowl viewers worldwide- no one cares and no one watches…).

Hoi An was lovely.  It’s set on the Thu Bon river and was an early international trading port way back when.  It’s got adorable narrow lanes and lots of neat architecture.  The Japenese Covered bridge from 1593 was my favorite site in the Old Town, especially at night.


The Japanese Covered Bridge 


Selling Lanterns 


Hoi An Old Town, Lit by those Lanterns

Most other travellers to Hoi An get a bunch of clothes tailored by the thousand-and-one custom tailoring shops, but after doing a little investigating we decided we weren’t going to have time to stick around for all the fittings, plus with Tet, half the shops were closed anyway.  Not that we didn’t shop for the beautiful raw silk, but unlike every other backpacker we met in Vietnam, we didn’t have to ship a box full of suits and winter coats home!  We did end up buying some great paintings, however, that Ken toted around in a large tube for the remainder of our trip.  (I almost left them in a cab in Bangkok, so after that I wasn’t allowed to carry them anymore…)


Ken and the Artist

When we weren’t shopping, we were sleeping in a cute hotel with an actual bathtub (though not enough hot water to fill it!) and a view over some very green rice paddies.  And when we weren’t sleeping, we were eating!  Hoi An had some great food.  As our bible, Lonely Planet says, “Hoi An is a gastronomic treat!”  We tackled all the (fairly tame) local specialties, especially enjoying the cao lau— doughy noodles with pork, sprouts, greens & croutons in broth.  And apparently you can only eat authentic cao lau in Hoi An because the water used to boil the noodles must come from the Ba Le well.  Who knew?  After all that eating, we tried to recover by renting bicycles a few times and touring ourselves around the non-tourist outskirts of Hoi An.  Good fun.

After Hoi An, we flew up to Hanoi.  Brrrr!  My blood may have thinned from chasing an endless summer, but I was freezing in Hoi An!  And if you wanted heat in your room- you had to rent a heater!  And the boat trip we took out in Halong Bay- also cold!  But besides the weather, I really liked Hanoi.  We stayed in the Old Quarter and puttered about the markets, walked around the lake and ate a lot of Pho on the streets for  15,000 dong (about $1).   Here’s a few of my favorite shots from the city–


 Bridge across Hoan Kiem Lake to the Ngoc Son Temple


Bundled Up to Explore Hanoi 


Making Offerings at the Ngoc Son Temple


Pho!  So Good!  (FYI- pronounced- Fuh!)

After a few nights in Hanoi, we headed out with a group of 8 to spend 2 nights on a junk boat in Halong Bay.  Everyone and their mother does this trip when they come to Hanoi, so there are a million boats just like yours cruising around, but you know what?  It’s still worth it.  Halong Bay, with its 3,000 limestone pinnacle islands is truly magical.  Your ship staff may be surly, your nose may be cold, and your bed may be hard- but the it’s still amazing.  Along with our fellow travelers, Marion and Pierre from France (though living in China), Judy and Fay from Australian (though Judy was living and working in Cambodia), and the above mentioned Mom and Son team from Cali, we spent 1 night on the boat, 1 morning biking on a small habited island, 1 afternoon kayaking through caves and around grottos, and another night in a hotel on Cat Ba Island.  See below for the magic.


Happy we Found the Correct Boat! 


Just a Small Portion of the Junk Boat Madness


My Favorite Nighttime Shot


Biking through Rice Paddies


Still Biking?  (Err, Kissing…)


Fish Farms.  Boo.


Another Glorious Shot 

So, back from Halong Bay, we spent another night in Hanoi and celebrated Valentines Day at our favorite tapas restaurant- La Salsa in Hanoi.  (Tapas?  Yes, tapas!)   Then we flew to Bangkok, traveled to island of Ko Tao and spent 10 days soaking up sunshine and trying to wrap our minds around the fact that our trip around the world was over.  That’s depressing me to write that even now, and we’ve been home for a month…

Stayed tuned for our personal wrap-ups, lessons learned and the date of our slideshow/cocktail party.  And don’t worry- I know we’ll be back out on the road again someday.  Backpack in place, flip flops broken in and camera firmly attached.  In the meantime, I encourage you (Yes- You!) to get out there.  There’s a whole wide world to see!

Show up for a change

March 26, 2008

(This post was originally sent as an email to our email list, on Feb 4th)


Molly and I saw the second showing in the world of “Lions for Lambs” while we were in England. We missed the premier (and Tom Cruise) by one day. That movie made a pretty big impact on me, one of those movies that you keep thinking about long after you left the theater. The main thing I kept thinking about was “When did I stop showing up?”


You may not know this but I was very involved in student government during high school, including becoming the ASB President my senior year. I used to be involved, committed to change, and ready to defend against injustice and tyranny (like our school policy against wearing shorts) to the nth degree. Then something happened.


It didn’t happen with a big bang, and really I didn’t even realized that it happened until Robert Redford poked his finger in my chest with that movie. “When did you stop showing up…” it kept ringing in my head. I got carried away with my own life. I thought that all the problems were bigger than me. I got fat, lazy, greedy and self centered.


As we travel around the globe the number one bonding question that vendors ask you is “Where you from?” When we reply “America”, there is usually just dead silence. It’s as if you can hear their mother’s instructions in their conscious saying if you can’t say something nice about somebody, don’t say anything at all…” When bars post flags out front as if to welcome their different international clientele, our flag is usually missing.


Like many Americans, I am near tears about the state of my country. Our leaders, if you can call them that, are ignorant, arrogant and self serving. I keep telling myself, only 346 more days, only 346 more days. And although that will be a great day in American history, it’s not really the problem. I am the problem.


Despite my gifts for action and persuasion, I sit idly by while my country’s resources are squandered on war, and pork, and to line the pockets of the already rich via their squadron of lobbyists plying the halls of congress. I allowed us to have a leader that is mocked by the rest of the world by not doing more last election. I allowed our country to lose all of it’s moral authority by condoning a government now committed to torture, suspending the privacy rights and the spying of it’s citizens without a warrant (for a worthy cause!) and other atrocities.


Well, I’m here to say – I’m done. I’m angry at myself and this email is my first step to correct things.


The Problems are numerous


Energy Policy

My country is deeply committed to funding our enemies by continuing our addiction to foreign oil. Did you know that you and I subsidize the oil industry (please read this article) to the tune of 14 Billion dollars, while just today Exxon announced the highest yearly profit by any US company ever – over 40.65 Billion Dollars!


40 Billion. And I can promise you that my accounting friends will agree, that Exxon did everything in it’s creative bookkeeping grab bag to take every deferment and write-down even remotely possible before releasing that embarrassing number.


Could you imaging being the CEO of Exxon’s neighbor, walking over and taking $40 bucks out of your pocket and saying here Bill, the government thought you should have this. Yet that is exactly what you and I are doing. By the way, have you noticed that gas prices spike an hour after bad oil industry news, yet take weeks to drop after good news? Where do you think that spread goes? It adds up to 40 Billion at Exxon. It adds up to 25 Billion at Shell – also a record year for them.


This is the point in the past where I have shaken my head, spit on the ground and said “Yep, big money runs this country…” You know what? That is bullshit and an excuse for being “too busy” to do something about it. In other words, I quit showing up. I need to take another look at the Constitution and realize that you and I run this country. This is not a goddamn dictatorship, but the f#*%@ing United States of America. What we say goes, and we need to start acting like it.


I used to live in Phoenix, and went back for the College Football Championships a couple years back. In a city of 300+ days of sunshine and 120 degree heat, I was shocked upon flying in through the haze of smog that I couldn’t see a single solar panel. Lots of pools, but no solar panels. Not a one in a city where every single dwelling has an air conditioner a hot water heater and more. As I’ve traveled around the world I’ve seen absolute bamboo shacks with solar panels. How about just one year, we use 14B to subsidize the buying of solar panels and hot water heaters for homeowners instead of for oil companies?


Better yet, how about we have an Apollo-like race to develop alternative fuels and put a $100 Million dollar prize on it? An open contest to America’s best and brightest. By the way, if you are thinking that hydrogen powered automobiles are the future – you’ve been brainwashed by the oil industry. They know that oil is going to run out, but if we go and do something crazy, like invent cars that run on simple compressed air (Time Magazine, Best Inventions of 2007) where would that put them? The reason they are pushing hydrogen is that it is very complicated and needs big companies to produce, control, and distribute. Sound familiar? It’s the next oil industry in the making. For a great, and infuriating perspective on this – put Who Killed the Electric Car on your Netflix list.


Foreign Policy

While our energy policies are exacerbating, our foreign policies are even worse. Of course, with a President that never owned a passport before being elected, that’s hardly shocking. When we support dictators like Saddam Hussein and General Musharraf who repress the freedom of their people in an unholy grasp for power, it’s not hard to understand why we ring the Al Qaeda recruiting bell louder than anyone. If you think for a moment I’m dismissing the actions of Al Qaeda that is hardly the case. I think we should have stayed the course and annihilated them in Afghanistan instead of starting the war for oil, er Halliburton, er WMD.



I am just finishing the excellent book, The World is Flat. If anything I’ve learned that our schools are woefully incompetent in producing the kind of educated workforce needed for the next century. Unless we just want to trade service jobs for each other, we better get on this stick right away.



Our broadband access is 15th in the world, behind super powers like Iceland and South Korea. What is our national policy around this, making sure we have a level playing field with the rest of the world? Uh, we don’t. We let cable companies dictate to us how much we are going to pay for broadband. You can get Internet 40 times faster in Japan for $10 per month. Think about that every time you sit and wait for your next Internet page to load.


Tax Policy

Even the rich are embarrassed by this one. On the front lines of fighting for more appropriate estate taxes are Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Enough said. The pendulum has swung so far to the right that it is now warped. Yeah, we all want to be rich, and this is what the rich are counting on. The stats don’t lie – about 1% of this country’s population control 90% of the money. They don’t need any more of our help. This solution here starts with massive changes in our lobbying laws and supporting a presidential candidate that can stand up with a straight face and do that.


I’m going to start showing up, starting now.

Yeah, you knew I had to have a point to all this. I’m doing what I can from this small town in Vietnam (how ironic) to spread the message of democracy and real freedom. My fellow Americans – democrats, independents, and republicans – please do me this favor. Listen to Barack Obama’s message. We long for someone honest and sharp to finally identify themselves as willing to lead, and this guy has it. Listen to him speak. Listen to your heart when he does. Of all the orators that I’ve watched move through the political process, this guy can move mountains. He can inspire, and that is what this country needs more than anything. One of his major messages is not just to believe in his ability to bring change to Washington, but to believe in yours.


We need to believe in ourselves again. We need to hold our chin up. We need to apologize to the world and start to make up for it by being the super power that everyone wants us to be, if we only would have the courage to do the right thing. Not just the best thing for us, but the best thing for the world.


Barack can do it because he can reach across the aisle and get things done. His strategy to stay above the fray of dirty tricks politics pays dividends – you make a lot less enemies. If you think that one term in the Senate is not enough, I disagree. I had high school and college pretty much wired after 4 years. And if you have ever believed that “A good man can’t get elected as President” ask yourself why that is. Is it because they get indoctrinated into the “system” and therefore can’t commit to it’s change? I think that is exactly why one term in the Senate is perfect – enough to see what’s going on, but not enough time to get caught up in it.

Why not Hillary? I guess my gut response is, why Hillary when a much more powerful choice exists? I just read an article that the Republicans are hoping among all hopes that the democrats nominate Hillary. They understand that after the last 8 year debacle that without her, the election is already over. Nothing can solidify and activate the republican party like the lightning rod that is Hillary Clinton. While I had a lot of respect for Bill, right up to the end there, Hillary is not Bill (although it’s getting confusing on the campaign trail). And if there was ever anyone who can keep the country divided it is Hillary and Bill Clinton. I’ve had enough of that show.


I also don’t like her campaign financing. Look me in the eye and tell me that huge campaign contributions don’t buy influence. I love that Barack has a grass roots strategy and owes nobody anything. He’s refused lobbyists who are tripping over themselves to give money. And if I truly value that stance, should I not reward that with my own money? Is the guy perfect? I haven’t seen him walk on water so I imagine that he is human, and is by definition fallible. But what an amazing individual, with impeccable character, and an authentic humility to lead by example. That’s why I just made the largest campaign contribution to a presidential candidate that I have ever made. This is my country and I’m going to start acting like it.


Please vote, please engage your neighbor, please donate your money or your time, please allow yourself in a world of skepticism to have a little hope. I’m showing up. I’m encouraging you to do the same.


Please join me in support of Barack by donating on my personal page, or sign up for his emails on his home page at and please check out his policies.


Have a Super Tuesday.

Ken Mahar


Cambodia, Corrupt Border Agents, The Killing Fields

February 24, 2008

Our travel day from Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia started very early. We wanted to be at the border crossing before the hordes of Thai’s looking to gamble in the DMZ arrived. Molly did a great job researching this journey and found a great article by someone who makes the trip regularly and advised on how to side-step the various scams that we would encounter along the way. This proved to be very valuable and I’m sure anyone not armed with the truth would easily fall for the various scams while running this gauntlet. Our journey was fairly uneventful until we reached the border. Stamping out of Thailand was no problem, but entering Cambodia was a different story.

At the Poipet border crossing the Cambodian visa agents are crooks, that is just the simple truth. As we approached the little building that says “Cambodian Visa” there was a large sign hanging above the window that says “Visa $20 USD” and there was a very helpful person who pointed us to the proper forms. Having just left Thailand where everyone is friendly, helpful, and for the most part extremely honest we thought nothing of the generosity. The form was extremely short and easy (we’ve already avoided another posted scam where people want to charge you to fill out the form which would likely take about 5 times longer than you just filling your name in yourself). There was no line so I sauntered up to the window with a big smile on my face. The agent slid open the window and said 1000 baht (equivalent of $30). I backed up a foot, looked up at the sign, pointed to it and said – “1000 Baht is $30 USD, and the sign says $20.” “1000 baht” was his curt reply and when I said respectfully, “uh, actually $20 is 750 baht” he just stared at me like I was from Mars, or America or something. It was here that I decided to switch strategies and pay in USD. I took out a $50 dollar bill (what I would have given for the proper change!) and said “here, $40 for 2.” This is when he simply slid the window shut in my face and went to sit down behind his desk.

I was already geared up for this fight as it’s clearly discussed in the “cheat sheet” we have. So, I stood there in front of the window waiting for him to return. My on-the-spot strategy is not to move out of line until they accept my proper payment – although no one is behind me so I have little leverage at this point. I figure I’m about 100 lbs. larger and a foot taller than any of them so I’m not feeling threatened whatsoever, although in hindsight they probably had some motivating techniques should they feel the need to impose them.

Finally someone gets in line behind me, and the power position is now mine. This is when the friendly “helper” who is basically a plain clothes agent in on the con comes over with three passports in his hand with a 1000 baht bill sticking out from each and reaches around me to the window from which the passports are taken. He says “See, everyone pay 1000 baht.” I don’t fall for it a minute and just stand there.

The window opens back up as people are now lining up behind me. The officer motions for me to move out of line and I just smile. No thanks, here’s my $40 for two visas. “OK, for you $25 each” (down from the $30 initial price) he says. No, I say calmly, $20 each for $40. I’m hoping to be more hassle than it’s worth and I think it’s beginning to work. The agent says something to the “handler” and then just takes my $50 bill and my two passports without agreeing to my deal. I leave the line and move over to the waiting area where there are maybe 5 other people thinking that may be the last I see of my $10 change. About 2 minutes later the handler comes over and asks “You pay $20 or $25?” “I pay $20” I chant to match his broken English. He replies – “Oh, you wait a long time…” and goes back to the counter to relate my position. Having sold thousands of cars in similar circumstances I’m aware of the third-party dynamics. Molly is a little nervous at this point, but knows better than to try and talk me down from my high and mighty position, and wisely just keeps to herself. About 3 minutes of torturous waiting later, her tongue now bloody, she asks “How long do you think it’s going to take?” I confidently replied, “about 5 more minutes.” We have other monetary considerations as we plan on splitting the 4 hour cab ride to Siem Reap with a couple that we met on the bus. I’m aware of this potential dollars dilemma but at this point am fixated on my stance of not getting ripped off. My logic is that if more people act like me, these scams will eventually disappear as too troublesome to try.

That’s exactly when some new backpackers show up at the building – Brits. I warn them they are about to get hustled and they approach the window, point to the same sign, but quickly pay the extortion fee – $25 each for the three of them. Brits are exceptionally polite, almost embarrassingly so at times I’ve concluded. The guy had the same problem I did with exact change, but essentially agreed to extortion probably because of it. When his visas were returned a minute later, it was then he decided to let the “handler” have it by telling him that he was a thief, and that he should be concerned about Karma, and “why are you stealing from me?” guilt trip. Not a bad tirade for a Brit, but I’m wondering why he didn’t put up that kind of fight during the exchange. Regardless, he probably felt better and “got his money’s worth” by chastising the handler who simply shrugged and probably thought (Hey, if dumb-asses like you are quick to agree to pay what amounts to a week’s salary to us just because we ask for it despite a huge frickin sign that says $20 who’s the asshole here?) I couldn’t agree more.

About a minute later, and exactly-as-predicted 5 minutes after Molly asked, the Handler delivered our two passports, of course without our change. I instantly ask for the $10 and put my hand out. He nods towards and starts walking back towards the office. He says something in Cambodian and the agent goes over to the early retirement fund and grabs a $10 bill and hands it over. Thanks I say with a big smile and walk over to collect my girlfriend, my bags, and my pedestal.

We quickly caught up to our friends in the “Enter Cambodia” building who had gotten in the wrong line. I noticed for the first time that they had some serious luggage including a large framed picture. It was then that we met some friendly Australians (they only come friendly) who asked about sharing a cab. We hedged with them and said possibly, but we need to find out from our other contacts. That minute they came up and said they were getting their own cab because of their luggage. No problem, as we had new mates to split costs with.

We negotiated a premium price for a 3 hour cab ride down a dusty and very rough road – $30 if I remember correctly, and the cab guy seemed nice at first, but tried to pull the exact scams that were listed in our cheat sheet. We didn’t fall for his “I can’t drive into town, so you have to take a Tuc-Tuc from here” scam where the Tuc-Tuc slides him some money for the opportunity to hustle us off to a spiff-paying property. We just stayed in the car and read him the exact scam he was pulling from our sheet. Hustle blown, he pulled back onto the road and drove us into town. Even though he lived in Siem Reap, and said he knew exactly where everything was, he suddenly had amnesia and claimed not only not to know the location of the hotels we gave him in the beginning, but also an inability to read a map. Tired of the bullshit, my cohorts (not me, I was ready for another fight) piled out of the car and were ready to move on. The driver, careful to get his money before opening the trunk of his car, was just another scammer.

The next day in Siem Reap was hot and sunny. Molly and I decided to rent bicycles and see the town from them. We selected some desirable steeds for the rate of $1 per day and were off. We got a good feel for town, and resettled at our new home – a great little guest house across the river that was huge, air-conditioned, spotless, had a full bathroom including a tub, TV and even a minibar. Heaven.

The next day we grabbed an open-air tuc tuc for the day and explored the amazing complex of Angkor Wat temples. Fantastic, mind-blowing, spiritual, hot, steep, beautiful, extensive, massive were the adjectives of the day. Be sure to check out our post on Angkor for pictures.

We had such a nice hotel room in Siem Reap that we stayed a few extra days and even sought refure at a first class hotel (The Meridian) pool that we just walked over and used. The staff eventually caught on that we were not staying there, and on the third day (when I left Molly behind) a pool guy told me a boldfaced lie that they had spoken to Molly the day before about the situation and embarassed me into paying a $10 pool fee at the end of the day. I figured that since we had ordered $10 burgers the previous days they would overlook the fact we weren’t staying there but no such luck. Hey $10 for three days poolside was definitely worth it.

From Siem Reap we made our way to Phnom Penh via bus. The bus stop was hilarious. We hadn’t experienced that kind of pressure from taxi drivers since Central America. I pointed to one guy and told him our hotel and said $1. Of course he balked, a bold move with a dozen other people shouting at me. I gave him the “last chance” look and he said OK, ok. Negotiating cabs has become a favorite past time of mine, and I still promise an entire blog on the subject. We enjoyed the city very much as there was plenty of backpacker essentials – good English breakfast places, internet cafe’s, bars with great happy hours, etc. Just a block from our hotel was a huge market serving locals. One of our favorite things to do is visit the markets and just soak up the energy and the colors, and the smells, and the people, and the culture. I took a bunch of pictures, a few of which are here.




I thought this woman’s retail display skills were great. After I took the picture I started looking closely at what she was selling. Those little brown things are some kind of poultry with the head still on, and the near-black shellfish looking things were full size roaches. Just goes to show that with proper merchandising anything can be made to look appetizing. I also caught a couple of guys who had mastered the art of sleeping upon a tipped moped, supported only by a single kickstand. These guys were masters and not merely resting, but in full REM.




Part of Cambodia’s history includes the awful dictatorship of Pol Pot who of course was backed by the US. I’ve learned that the US is pretty much willing to support any thug as long as they can say “Well, at least they are not communist.” This regime makes Castro look like a Nobel Peace Prize candidate. Basically, the very short story is that Pol Pot and his cronies decided that they would rule with an iron fist and anyone that wasn’t an uneducated peasant was an enemy of the state. Doctors, professors, business leaders, artists and any one of any standing were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered in huge numbers.

Molly and I visited two sites; the Killing Fields out of town and an in-city high-school turned prison/torture facility.

Killing Fields

After about a 30 minute Tuc-Tuc drive out of town we arrived at the Killing Fields. This is where truckloads of people were brought each day to be killed. Men, women, and children. There were these large wooden signs that said stuff like – this is where the truck stopped to unload the dozens of frightened people to be murdered each day.

After a while, they simply couldn’t process (kill) everyone that showed up on a single day, and had to work double time the next day to get the job done. Apparently they ran out of bullets, or the willingness to use them, and started using ordinary garden tools and other instruments to hack-up, dismember, puncture, and otherwise expunge the dissidents. As I was taking a picture of a bunch of skulls, I noticed a heavy wire “tool” that apparently had been recovered. I imagined that someone probably wrapped their fist around it and punched through people’s throat or heart.

We also saw a tree called the Killing Tree where kids were presumably picked up by the feet and swung through the air and up against the trunk of the tree crushing their skulls. There were remnants of kids clothes scattered at the base of this tree and that’s when I about lost it. This was not ancient history, but went on until 1979. How could something like this be happening in the modern era. Didn’t we learn anything from the Holocaust? Then I thought of Darfur, and realized that it’s likely happening today.

The exhibit was grossly underfunded and insecure. There was a large tower holding thousands of skulls on different tiers, and the bottom was piled high with clothing of prisoners. The rest of the exhibit was oddly unprotected. There were teeth on the top of one box that I held in my hand, and it seemed like if you had a shovel and some time you could wander out and discover more skeletons. Numbers vary widely but it’s estimated that up to 1 million Cambodian citizens were executed by their own government until the country was liberated by whom? Vietnam.



The second place we visited in our tour of hell that day was a high school turned prison. There were hundreds of photos of vicitims posted on boards so you could see their faces. You could enter the prison rooms where there were still iron beds, shackles, and chains. There were old blood stains on the tile floor and gruesome pictures of what were remnants of human beings that had been bound to these beds and tortured in ungodly fashion. There were like 12 survivors of this “camp” that were still holding on to life when they were rescued. There were gallows still standing where prisoners were raised up by the feet to be lowered into large pots of water and dipped until they recanted whatever crime against the state (like having a college degree), their confessions entered into their file, then they were sent to the killing fields. One of the tour guides I was eavesdropping on was giving incredible descriptions of the conditions here and eventually teared up and choked out the fact that her mother and two brothers were killed here. Their entire tour group by the time I caught up to them was in shock, eyes red and flushed with tears, chins quivering with disgust and horror and sorrow.

We stared at row after row of pictures, trying to give each picture the one second of reflection that it deserved as ghosts looked back at us from the past. About 2 hours later Molly and I exited the last building and sat in the sunshine. We were emotionally and physically drained. It’s hard to describe in words the impact that such horror can have. Take a look at their faces.


Worn out from Phnom Penh in more ways then one we headed for Sihanoukville and the beach. We found a great little hillside room for $15 and spent a few days on the beach eating, drinking, dozing, reading, writing, swimming, walking, etc. We then headed back to Phnom Penh for a day as it was the route to one of the few border crossings into Vietnam. We took advantage of our day to see the impressive palace and it’s amazing buildings, pictured below.





Angkor Wat, Cambodia

February 21, 2008

Without my guidebook, I’m lost to what is what (wat is wat!).  So enjoy the photos and I’ll attempt to write some intelligent captions soon.











My Favorite Thai Photo

February 20, 2008

I just came across this one from when Ken and I went snorkeling in Ko Phi Phi with my sister.  Heaven.  And checkout the other photos I posted in our Thailand blogs!