Published on January 31st, 2012 | by Ann Rickard1
Travel : Ann’s Blog – On the Mekong River
- Visit two of the world’s most iconic sights and create not-so-savoury memories.
- Go into the spice cupboard with mask and rubber gloves. Then tackle the freezer.
- Going to get my teeth done for a ‘more youthful’ look.
How about our Australian dollar? I know it’s not good for manufacturing but it is so good for travelling, and if you’re rich, for buying a property in Europe or the US. This year is the best it’s been for us to travel so don’t hesitate if you’re thinking of making plans.
We were cruising the Mekong last November and the dollar was good then but not as high as now. I’d wanted to visit Cambodia for a long time and the cruise was a wonderful chance to do it. Although Cambodia’s name is synonymous with terror, death and poverty, and a visit wasn’t going to be exactly cheerful, I really wanted to go.
I wanted to see the terrible S21 School, turned prison by the Khmer Rouge (picture below), where so many souls were tortured and killed, and I wanted to visit the Killing Fields where thousands were taken to be cruelly executed and to be tossed into mass graves.I know this is grim but it is recent history and I believe if we can, we should visit sites such as these to ensure the terrible deeds of the past will not be forgotten and thereby lessen the chance of them happening again.
That’s my theory anyway but a lot of our fellow passengers on the Pandaw river cruise didn’t feel the same way and chose not to visit these sites when the ship stopped at Phnom Penn, instead opting to trawl the Russian Markets and buy souvenirs. Each to his own.
I also wanted to visit Angkor Wat, the ancient iconic temple we hear so much about. So to do both these things on my Bucket List during a river cruise with Pandaw, from Vietnam into Cambodia was a little travel dream come true.
But as you might expect, both these visitations have now become memorable to me, not so much for their own importance and significance, but because of my dear Geoffrey’s aberrations.
Here’s what made it so.
Into the dreadful S21 building in Phom Penn we went with a guide who showed us into the rooms where innocent souls were taken, photographed and tortured in unspeakable ways. I was braced for horror and while it was terrible to stand in the very rooms where so much agony and suffering had taken place, it wasn’t as horrific as I had expected. The authorities have turned the school into a museum and the grounds are grassy and neat and somehow take away some of the terror. (Have a look at the school, on the right.)
But the photographs of innocent people, especially young mothers with babies, were particularly haunting. One of the prisoners and only one a few to survive the prison was an artist and he had painted pictures of the tortures – these paintings were the most confronting thing in the museum for me.
After touring the prison we drove about half an hour to the Killing Fields. Surprisingly this place, also now a museum like the S21 School, was tranquil and serene. (See how parik-like it looks, below, but look at the skulls on the left.) It was very late afternoon when we arrived and the sun was going down, the air soft, still and balmy.
The place was so grassy and filled with trees it actually looked like a pleasant spot for a picnic. Butterflies and birds flew all around us and where the executions took place and each of the mass graves had been discovered, there stood a little temple depicting the awful acts that had taken place. In the centre of the park/museum was the Stupa monument filled with skulls, more than eight thousand of them, all sitting staring through their vacant eye sockets on layer upon layer of shelves reaching so high up most were beyond sight. (That’s the stupa below, left…full of skulls.)
The strong feeling to be silent, to show respect and reverence was all-powerful and as we strolled quietly and deferentially around the grounds, Geoffrey Rickard’s mobile phone rang shrilly piercing the air, frightening the butterflies and scaring the birds. He took the call – from Australia – while I crept on ahead, mortified.
He told me later it was an important call as there were many machinations going on back home that he was involved in and had to sort them out.
So that is my strongest memory of the Killing Fields. Me walking around in a sombre and grim mood with Geoffrey trailing behind me talking on his phone about local politics. In fairness he did try to keep his voice down and the issues he was talking about were important to him and many others back home…but still…a phone call in the Killing Fields?
Next stop, Angkor Wat. For as long as I can remember I’d wanted to see this famous temple and now that we were so close, staying at the glamorous Sofitel resort just down the road, to say I was excited was a bit of an understatement.
Off we went in a tuk tuk – great little machines that cost about $2 for a decent ride – got to the temples with several million other tourists and gasped a lot as you do when something so grand and magnificent is before you. We strolled through the arches and admired the towering edifices and moss covered walls and the serene lake.
Built between the 8th and 13th centuries by a succession of Hindu and Buddhist kings, these marvels were created in stone. The elaborate carvings of serpents and gods and kings were amazing, and you know I only use the word ‘amazing’ literally. (See the temple, right and the serene monks below.) The sheer scale of it overwhelmed.
Then Geoffrey, who had had several large beers at lunch, announced his urgent need for a pee. Well, as is always the case when the bladder is about to explode, there is not a rest room in sight.
We looked around for options, always easy for a bloke, but not when you are in a massive stone temple surrounded by thousands of tourists.
“I’ve got an empty water bottle in my backpack,’’ he finally said.
“Oh, no,” I said. “You can’t pee in a bottle in this iconic place.”
“Oh, yes, I can,’’ he said.
So off he goes to find a quiet corner while I fled as far away as possible and tried to close my mind off the vision of him emptying his spoils into a water bottle in a religious temple.
Then, because he is a tidy man, he emerged from his hiding spot and announced he’d put the bottle of pee back into his backpack – alongside my half full water bottle.
So it was that we toured this world famous site with me fretting and a bottle of warm piss in our bag.
These are my strongest memories of the Killing Fields and Angkor Wat.
Now let’s talk about something completely different.
Into the spice cupboard with mask and gloves.
I was propelled to attack the spice cupboard after coming down with a rare attack of Domestic Goddessism which thankfully I got over in a day without the need of antibiotics.
So into the spice cupboard I went like Nigella under full Domestic Goddess steam.
Removing dusty but almost-full jars fennel, tarragon, nutmeg and turmeric, I then went back in again wearing rubber gloves and white mask of the type favoured by Japanese people on crowded trains in Tokyo, and fumbled around towards the dark depths of the cupboard to discover dusty but almost-full jars of fennel, tarragon, nutmeg and turmeric.
This is what happens when you come across a new recipe that so fills you with culinary fervour you rush out to the supermarket to buy a jar of something you have no knowledge of already owning seeing as you probably bought it in 1987 during a previous state of culinary fervour.
There were some interesting things in the back of the spice cupboard beneath the withered bay leaves, the odourless cloves and shrivelled coriander seeds: vegetable stock cubes now in a soggy disintegrating state but their label arrogantly declaring ‘no trans fats’, and a rusty tin of curry powder proudly claiming to be ‘Clive of India authentic.’ Clive of India? How did he get in there?
Oh my, it was ugly in there, but if I may, I challenge you to delve into the back of your own spice cupboard and see what lies in wait for you.
How Nigella can go into her pantry and immediately put her hands on neat and labelled plastic bags full of the exact ingredients to make a complex paella I don’t know. But then a woman who can go into that same pantry and instantly find everything she needs to make spatchcocked poussins with baby leaf salad and sourdough croutons, and then dig into the bottom of her fridge to whip up a blistering vegetarian curry from the wilting contents, can do just about anything.
And speaking of the fridge, I didn’t dare go into mine after the spice cupboard trauma. But I did have a go at the freezer.
After gently removing two icy bottles of vodka (one plain for everyday use, one mango flavoured to impress visitors) and two icy bottles of gin (one Gordon’s for every day use and one Bombay Sapphire to impress visitors) and placing them lovingly on the bench for a return to the freezer when I’d cleaned it – and after I’d removed several ice-cube containers containing absolutely nothing, and one ice-pack thingie you put on ankles when they’re swollen, and approximately 24 half packets of frozen peas – I came to a couple of plastic bags of substances that looked like laboratory experiments gone wrong. One a crappy brown. One a lurid orange.
I put them out to defrost in the hope I may be able to decipher exactly what they were, but the next morning the wet and soggy oozes revealed only that they were wet and soggy oozes.
So the moral of the story is, if you must have one, leave the back of the spice cupboard alone and let items in the far reaches of the freezer lie in peace. The next generation in your family will take care of them.
New teeth to flash at you
We’re going to Thailand and I wish you were coming with us. The lovely Geoffrey and myself and a couple of mates are going to have 10 days of fun and food and drink in a private villa in Koh Samui and then Geoffrey and I are going off to try two of the Anatara resorts on the island, very swish, and ritzy. Except I’ll start off the holiday with a visit to the dentist. This isn’t as odd as sounds as the main reason for going to Thailand is to have some dental work done because as you probably already know it’s a fraction of the cost there.
I’ve decided to get a brand new smile. Veneers, my friends, veeners. You know how we have all embraced Botox and are not afraid to talk about it anymore because it’s perfectly acceptable. You’ll also know I’m a big proponent of doing anything that will give you a more youthful look, but what a lot of women and men don’t realise is, that no matter how smooth your face is or slim your figure is, it matters not a bit if your teeth are letting you down. Teeth, sadly, age rapidly and if you have a mouth full of yellowing old teeth with bits chipped off them, you’re going to look old even if your face and figure say otherwise.
So, a mouth full of veneers in Thailand it has to be. I’ll take ‘before and after’ photos so you can see the dramatic difference. But if I look crap, I won’t, so don’t rely on it.
That’s all happening mid February but before we go, we’re sailing off for a wee cruise on board aSilver Seas ship, very swish and so fabulous it’s going to be surreal. They have a 24 hour open bar policy and unlimited French champagne in the state rooms. If they knew me, they would have changed that policy before I boarded, but thank goodness they are obligingly unsuspecting. I’ll tell you a bit about that next time.
Goodbye my lovelies…thanks for reading me.
More adventures to come….
Love from Ann
P.S. Thanks to Geoff Rickard who allows me to write what I like about him and who really is usually the MOST well-mannered gentleman and holds his wee in until it hurts.
I look forward to your emails below. Talkk to me, it’s like old friends coming at me.