By , January 18, 2014 8:39 pm
Thailand today encompasses most of the old kingdom of Siam. Siam, of course,  is famous for both Siamese Twins and Siamese Cats. Oddly enough, we didn't spot either of them on this visit. In it's heyday (1500's to 1767) Siam's capital city, Ayutthaya, was a splendorous trade hub. Foreign nations were invited to set up their own villages outside the capital, facilitating a great amount of trade. Once compared in both size and wealth to Paris and termed the Invincible City, Ayutthaya was sacked by the Burmese in 1767, bringing an end to the kingdom of Siam. Today, Ayutthaya is famous for two things: its collection of stone ruins in various states of collapse and its rabid dogs.

Rabid Dogs

The rabid dogs are real. I was bit by one. I suppose I can't say with a certainty that the thing was rabid, but I'm pretty sure. Basically, Ashley and I were walking on the sidewalk one evening when we encountered three dogs adjacent to the sidewalk. Two of them were barking and growling, while the third seemed to be in a deep slumber. Just to be safe, we decided to give them a wide berth as we walked past. Our efforts seemed to appease the barkers, who quieted down as we walked past. If their body language were put to words, it'd say something like "That's right chump, you've got nothing. Go home and cry to mamma." Just as I relaxed (dogs always seem to  make me nervous. I think it comes from my childhood job as paper delivery boy), the sleeper jumped up, ran towards me and bit my leg. No growl, snort, or bark. Just a lightning fast dash and a bite. It seemed that's all he wanted to accomplish, and he backed off as soon as I turned towards him. The bite itself didn't really hurt but the skin was broken.

Just a scratch really

That night, Ashley suggested that the dog might have  been rabid. Of course, I didn't believe her. The dog wasn't foaming from the mouth and it had a relatively wimpy bite. I figured it was more likely that the poor thing was just suffering from a little doggy nightmare and bit me in its sleep without realizing what it was doing. Ashley didn't give up though. She brought Google to her aid and started quoting me a bunch of internet facts, which she may or may not have made up on the spot.
"Gee, did you know that if you are infected by rabies, it can take up to seven years to show symptoms?" "Look here, It says that if left untreated rabies is 100% fatal, and it has to be treated within 1 week of an exposure if you already have your shots." "Did you know that it's impossible to tell if a dog has rabies just by looking at it? Not all infected animals foam at the mouths." "This says that as many as 85% of all dogs in Ayutthaya may be infected with rabies." "Rabid dog bites look the same as non-rabid dog bites. If you see signs of infection it's already too late."
You get the picture. After three days of this, I eventually caved in and agreed to seek treatment in Chiang Mai. An experience that I can only describe as eye-openingly pleasant. I saw a doctor within minutes of entering the hospital (who, to my annoyance, said that I absolutely needed the shots - making me have to deal with Ashley's "I told-you-so's for the next couple of days). I received my first booster shot from the nurse a few minutes after that. Best of all, the cost of the vaccine was fairly minimal. In total, for two shots of rabies vaccine and the doctor's consultation, we paid 2,115 Bhat ($72.93CAD). Looking back at the rabies vaccines we received in Canada before we left on this trip (which I'm now glad we did) I noticed that the same thing would have cost us $490CAD. Much cheaper in Thailand!

Getting Around

We used bicycles for transport exclusively in this city. It's really flat, and the streets are in good condition with little traffic. There's plenty of rental shops that offer very reasonable rates in the hotel district, so finding a bike was a cinch. I managed to have the misfortune of renting a cycle with a flat tire one day, and did have to walk a bit. Fortunately, there were plenty of repair shops on our route, and they all gladly filled my tire with air without charge so my walking time was reduced to a minimum.  Just don't forget the sunscreen.

Stone Buildings

AKA ruins. There's not really much for me to say. Especially now, about one year after visiting them. Fortunately, I snapped some photos and they haven't forgotten a thing. Enjoy.
By , January 18, 2014 9:30 am
Just like that, we are back on the road again... picking up right where we left off.  Literally.  Bangkok was the final city of our RTW tour that ended in March 2013.  Since then, we've spent a lot of time working in and touring our own country.  Now we find ourselves back in BKK.  We had full intentions of telling the rest of our RTW tales and keeping up with the blog during our Canadian stint, but life, work, social commitments, and plain old procrastination seem to have gotten the better of us.
Boarding the Plane in Regina... one last blast of arctic chill!

Boarding the plane in Regina... one last blast of arctic chill!

Some of you may have noticed that Mike optimistically announced our triumphant return to blogging in his last post.  And then we fell silent.  Again.  The blame for his empty promise falls squarely on my shoulders.  I was supposed to tell you all about the 10-day meditation retreat we attended in Thailand, but in reality I was in the middle of a temporary teaching contract that had me often working 12-14 hour days.  I was starting to lose myself in the process,  and was in a completely different headspace than I needed to be in to talk about meditation.  For now, let me just sum it up like this... the 10 days were some of the most rewarding and challenging in my life.  As cliche as it sounds, the retreat was life-changing (though if this last teaching gig has taught me anything, it's that I still need to find the elusive balance between work and play in my life). I expect that the next adventure we're about to embark on (teaching for a year in Bhutan) will be just the experience to help me find that balance.  I will be teaching full-time in a government school (with a six-day school week to boot) while being surrounded by a profoundly Buddhist culture that prioritizes and values such things as happiness and meditation.  Honestly, we can't wait to get there!  Luckily, we don't have to wait long...we fly into Bhutan on January 21. So.... like I said, we're back in Bangkok.  What better time than now to finally finish our RTW posts?  Among other things, we want to tell you all about Ayutthaya and stray dog bites, Chiang Mai and the elephants we met there, what it was like to finally be home (and how much at home we felt leaving again), some of the incredible scenery and hikes we experienced on our Eastern Canada summer roadtrip, just how safe Bangkok is right now amid the protests, and how exactly we got the opportunity to live and work in Bhutan for a year. Our only limiting factor now is the internet.  We're not exactly sure what our internet connection will look like in Bhutan, so we're going to try to hammer out as much as we can in the next couple of days.  Stay tuned!
Beautiful views from the plane...somewhere over Alaska or Russia

Beautiful views from the plane...somewhere over Alaska or Russia

By , November 11, 2013 8:09 pm

But first... A few words on our 80 day holiday

Thanks for letting us take such a long holiday. If you've been following us for a while, then you'd catch my lie if I said this is the first break we've had since this blog started 1070 days ago. So I'll come clean and admit that we've taken blogging holidays before, and guess what... we'll do it again. You'll forgive our absence though, won't you dear reader? The important thing now is that we're back to writing.  So let's just pick things up where we left of in Thailand, and speak no more about it. Okay? No! I guess that's fair, we have been offline for quite a while. And yes, to you our life probably seems like it is a big holiday. I should have known that you'd have some questions about just what it is that a travel blogger does when they go on holiday. And you're right, it's only fair that I tell you.
  1. We stopped travelling. Not permanently, but for a while. We spent some time crashing in our friends' and families' spare bedrooms, socializing, and otherwise trying to catch up with people we haven't seen since we left home a couple of years ago.
  2. We started working. Actually, Ashley started working. She managed to get her name on the substitute teaching list. Me... I've spent most of my time developing 100% whole grain bread recipes. I've been harbouring a dream of one day starting a bakery, so I figured I should spend a little time baking. Technically I'm not allowed to count it as work because I didn't make any money doing it.
  3. About 3 months into living at home we got really bored. Not to mention the school year ended, and neither of us were making any money working anymore. So we went back to "work" traveling and blogging. We spent two months this summer road tripping through Eastern Canada. We'll get around to posting some pics and stories one day. But you'll have to wait. We're going to keep with our generally chronological post order and finally finish writing about our time in South East Asia first.
  4. We finished up our road trip by mid September and ended up back home again. This time we're taking advantage of my sister's spare bedroom. Thanks, sis, we appreciate it.
  5. Working again. Ashley's landed a temporary teaching contract that lasts until we head to Bhutan in January. I kept on baking for a while and spent some time learning to program with Python. I've been toying with making some online income programming for a while, so I figured I could spend some time developing my programming skills. Then I became real bored and mopey. In the end I had no choice but to go out and get a real job to occupy myself. For those that are curious, I'm working with a home builder doing residential construction.
So that's it, a travel blogger's holiday is a lot like everyone else's regular life. And just like you, I can only take so much time on holiday before I really want to go back to my regular day job. So here we are.

10 day Thai Silent Meditation Retreat (Mike's Thoughts)

If you didn't read our 80 day old introduction to this retreat, you really should. I'm not going to re-hash all that was already said. Consider it prerequisite reading. First up, I enjoyed the retreat. A lot. Like a lot, a lot. Which is odd, as I was sort of teetering on not going before it started. I mean after reading the rules and the daily schedule for the retreat I was probably thinking along the same lines as you. Why would anyone want to do this? To be honest, it sounded a bit like torture. Obviously, the reality was far different. The day the retreat ended I was really feeling good. I felt like I had learned enough to write several doctorate theses in the fields of psychology, philosophy, and religion. At the time, I was so excited to write this blog post that I whipped out my laptop and wrote and wrote and wrote. I even did up a couple of graphical conceptual models to help describe the various parts of the brain and how they interact to form what is commonly referred to as human consciousness. Then, I started talking about my experiences with some of the other people from the retreat, including Ashley. I was expecting to be preaching to the choir so to speak, but what I learned is that not a single person agreed with me or experienced anything similar. Needless to say, I took a cold hard second look at all the universal truth I'd uncovered during my 10 days, and came to the realization that there was nothing universal about it. It is incredibly profound, it is incredibly useful, but it only has relevance or meaning to just one person... myself. As a result, I've chosen to spare you from all the preachy jibber jabber and leave it to you to go to a retreat like this one and find your own truths if you so desire. What you'll get here are my more superficial thoughts on the whole thing.

Food

Suan Mokkh - Meal Hall

Suan Mokkh - Meal Hall

The food was delicious and healthy. The diet included plenty of whole grains (rice) and balanced proportions of vegetables, starches, and proteins. I've noticed since becoming vegetarian that eating balanced meals with whole grains is the difference between feeling fantastic and feeling lethargic. This was good food, and if you want to become vegetarian yourself one day, I'd suggest modelling your diet after these meals. On the flip side, the meals were fairly repetitive, keeping with the Buddhist philosophy that you really shouldn't be looking forward to you next meal. In fact there is a meal time reading that emphasizes how you should only eat to stay alive, not for pleasure. None the less, the food tasted good to me. Even if it was the substantially the same day after day. Naturally, I didn't mind the lack of meat being served either.

Meal Frequency

Only eating twice (or once) a day didn't really do much for me. After lunch I routinely felt sick and bloated from having just eaten an entire days worth of food in one sitting. The point of it is to help your meditation by keeping your mind off of your stomach, but I found it had the opposite effect.

Mindfulness

The goal is meditation, and meditation requires concentration. Unfortunately, as I found out in a hurry, if you haven't practised meditation before, you're probably incapable of concentrating even for a little while. Left to its own devices, the brain spends it's waking hours in constant thought. It'll think about everything you see, smell, hear, touch, and taste. It'll also worry about the future, and re-live memories of the past. And it does these things weather you want it to or not. The solution is what the Buddhists call mindfulness or what we might call "living in the now". Basically, you actively pay attention to something boring, like your breath, and ignore everything else. Over time, your brain will slow down it's constant thought chatter and start paying attention to it too. Over the 10 days, by trying actively to not think about anything, or remember anything, or worry about anything, or feel anything, I gained the level of mastery over my brain to actually stop it from doing those things. Believe it or not, as a result I really don't get stressed or worried about anything anymore. Unless I let myself that is. That's part of the reason I could go 80 days without writing a blog post and not really feel all too bad about it.

Studying the Brain

Once I got the hang of slowing my brain down by concentrating on boring stuff, I started to analyze how my brain was working. When I got to the point that I was only having one or two thoughts a minute, I was able to reflect on where each thought came from and why I had that thought. I could also study my gut reaction, and my emotional response. It's when I started doing this that I really started to get into the subject matter that I thought could fuel a productive career as a humanities academic. To me, this was the most rewarding part of the whole meditation retreat. I came into contact with myself, and I began to figure myself out. This is the reward that trumps all of the hardships of the retreat.

Meditation

Suan Mokkh

Suan Mokkh Meditation Hall

Of course, there was a lot of meditation time. I thought that sitting on the ground cross-legged for several hours a day would be unbearably painful for my stiff knees, and it was. So I didn't. I spent most of my time propped up on a wooden box, or several pillows. After that, I really didn't have any comfort problems. It took about 4 days before I had any success with my meditation at all, but once I figured it out, I was able to fall into a deep meditation within about 15 minutes of starting. For me the secret was keeping from moving any muscles - twitching a finger, straightening my back, flexing a leg muscle, any slight movement aside from breathing would set me back to square one. Describing meditation is difficult, and likely one of those things that varies person by person. Please don't expect that it'll be the same for you as it was for me. In my opinion, meditation is basically about tricking your brain into falling asleep while remaining conscious. I know that doesn't make much sense, but try to imagine that the part of your brain that does the thinking and the part that does the remembering are separate pieces. Normally they both fall asleep at about the same time, so you don't remember much of it. When you are meditating however, your brain falls into different levels of slumber but you remember everything. Strangely, the first two levels of meditation for me were marked by a feeling of intense pleasure or desire, followed by a feeling of intense satisfaction. It's these two feelings that make up the Buddhist teachings on the cycle of want, living in the now, and suffering. After experiencing it, I get it, but there's no way to explain it to you. It's one of those things you just have to experience and get for yourself. Level 3 of meditation felt a lot like daydreaming Level 4 was similar to what you might experience when you come out of a very deep, vivid, and realistic dream/nightmare suddenly in the middle of the night. Level 5 contained nothing but brain inactivity and slumber. That was pretty much it for me. If you are trying to connect to the teachings of Buddha, I imagine that the actual meditation will be very important for you. For me, I found the analytic studying of my brain while being awake and mindful much more revealing and interesting than what I could study while meditating.

Stone Beds

The wooden pillows and concrete mattresses were uncomfortable, but I slept like a rock, and woke up refreshed every morning. There's something to it. I thought it'd be worse than it was.

The Gardens

Defiantly a highlight. I spent a lot of hours looking at exotic plants, watching fish, birds, and ants. It's about as stimulating of an environment as you could want, and really highlights the pure enjoyment you can get from nature if you can get your brain to pay attention to it.

Buddhist Teachings

Suan Mokkh

The Dharma talks were fairly light, and mostly tuned towards the purpose of the retreat: Meditation. I enjoyed them, as they broke up the day, and gave a bit of cultural insight that I wouldn't get hanging out on a beach. Probably the most interesting thing to me was the differences between this school of Buddhism and others. Even within Thailand. Apparently, the ancient language of Pali that the Buddha wrote in, has a very limited vocabulary and can be translated to mean many different things. For example, here they believe that the Buddha was teaching that to want is suffering, and that allowing yourself to want leads to a cycle of more wanting and more suffering. Therefore you should not allow yourself to want so you can break the cycle and end suffering. This same teaching, is often translated by others to mean that life is suffering, and life is made up of many deaths (reincarnation). Therefore you should try to become enlightened so that you can end your cycle of reincarnation and end suffering (i.e. die for good). Hugely different ideas, translated from the same words. Like I said, interesting.

Mosquitoes

Really, really, really bad. But only when the sun was rising and setting. The rest of the time they were fine. I didn't wear any mosquito repellent, but that was probably a mistake. Did I mention you're not allowed to kill them?  So when they bite you are supposed do nothing. On average, it seemed to take about 2 minutes for them to get their fill and fly off.

Yoga

There were yoga classes every morning. This is an adaptation for westerners, as actual Buddhist teachings require no exercise whatsoever.  I understand the rule to some degree, as exercise does stir up the mind, and that's not good for meditation. Nonetheless, I was glad to have a little yoga time every day.

Silence

This is what makes it all work. Even though you are in a retreat with 100 other people, it really feels like it's just you. All alone. With nothing but your own thoughts for company. This is why it works.

Separation of the sexes

It was tough being in the retreat with Ashley and not being able to talk to her or sit beside her at meal time. We agreed ahead of time not to talk to each other at all and to try to take a break from each other as if we really were there alone. We cheated a bit, not by talking, but by leaving flowers for each other. It's hard to say which would be better - to be at the retreat at the same time like we did, or to go separately. At least the way we did it, I didn't have to think about what a great time Ashley would be having on the beach while I was waking up at dawn and watching mosquitoes sip at my blood.

10 days

The length seemed about right. It wasn't really until day 4 that I seemed to get anywhere, so I wouldn't bother with a shorter retreat. By day 10, I seemed to have enough figured out that I wanted a break. For me, 10 days was perfect and I'm glad it wasn't a day longer or a day shorter.
By , August 23, 2013 7:35 am
Upon our return to Thailand, we decided to treat ourselves with an all-inclusive retreat. A beautiful place where we could soak in the hot springs, walk along the groomed paths, and fill up our plates at buffet-style meals. 10 days of food, drink, and accommodation all included in the low, low price of 2000 baht (~$65 CAD) per person. Let me guess... you're thinking - how is that price even possible? Because this was no ordinary all-inclusive vacation... this was a 10-day Buddhist Silent Meditation Retreat at the International Dhamma Heritage at Wat Suan Mokkh. The first thing we noticed upon arrival is that paying your tab doesn't guarantee you a place. Registration day began with personal "interviews" - the only question I was asked during my 15 minute interview was "what do you want to get out of this retreat?".... the vast majority of it was actually a staff member explaining the rules and expectations of the retreat to make sure you're up to them. This is no token step, either. The schedule and rules are strict and if you're not 100% ready to follow them, the retreat simply isn't for you. To see what I mean, take a look at a typical day's schedule:
04.00 Wake up
04.30 Morning Reading
04.45 Sitting meditation
05.15 Yoga / Exercise - Mindfulness in motion
07.00 Dhamma talk & Sitting meditation
08.00 Breakfast & Chores
10.00 Dhamma talk
11.00 Walking or standing meditation
11.45 Sitting meditation
12.30 Lunch & chores
14.30 Meditation instruction & Sitting meditation
15.30 Walking or standing meditation
16.15 Sitting meditation
17.00 Chanting & Loving Kindness meditation
18.00 Tea & hot springs
19.30 Sitting meditation
20.00 Group walking meditation
20.30 Sitting meditation
21.00 Bedtime
(the gates will be closed at 21.15)
21.30 LIGHTS OUT
Depending on your attention to detail, you may have noticed a few things. First, there are only two meals each day. That's not a typo... that's all there is. Breakfast and lunch, no supper. Both meals are vegetarian. Breakfast is essentially rice porridge with a few veggies for good measure and, when you're lucky... bananas. Lunch is much more substantial - typically brown rice, a fried noodle dish, a curry, and a dessert. Tea time means hot soy milk, usually of the chocolate variety. *Spoiler alert* On Day 9, the schedule is blown apart. The entire day is left open as meditation time. Complete silence is the order of the day - there are no dhamma talks or verbal instructions, and no scheduled group meditation times. The whole point is to go at your own rhythm. To aid you with this, the menu is cut back to a single meal at breakfast time, with two teas scheduled in the afternoon. The retreat make no accommodations for picky eaters, though they do offer a small evening snack at tea time to anyone with a legitimate medical reason to need it (diabetics or pregnant women, for example). Chores are simple, easy tasks to be done mindfully... raking leaves, wiping tables, cleaning toilets, etc. The wake-up gong rings at 4 am sharp. Most people don't have a difficult time getting up at this hour, since the luxurious accommodations (a small concrete box of a room with concrete bed, wooden pillow, and straw mat) pretty much guarantee they were already awake and waiting for the gong to go off so they could leave the "comfort" of their beds.

The luxurious private rooms

Guys and gals are separated for the duration of the retreat. Dorm rooms are in separate buildings and the common dining hall and meditation halls are divided by gender. Finally, the meditation retreat is meant to be silent. For 10 days, not a word or sound should pass through your lips unless you have an emergency or you sign up for a personal interview on Days 3-6. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Well, here's the part of that rule that you might not expect: complete silence does not only mean no talking, it means no technology, no music, no games, no reading and no writing. At all. For the entire 10 days. The idea is to avoid analysis of the experience and just be in the moment.  You're not even supposed to write in a journal, though nearly everyone breaks that rule.  This all means, with the exception of the dhamma talks, you are entirely alone with your mind for 10 days with nothing to distract it from itself. All of these strict rules and removal of luxuries are intended to prepare you for meditation and to be in line with the Eight Buddhist Precepts. Think you could be alone with yourself for 10 days? Could you embrace a concrete bed and wooden pillow? Let us know and we'll let you know all about our retreat experience in our next post.
By , August 16, 2013 7:16 am
While my most poignant memories of Phnom Penh are of the genocide museum and killing fields, there were a few more things that the city had to offer.

Royal Palace

The royal palace of Cambodia is still the main residence of the monarchy. You can visit the grounds, but many of the buildings are off limits. The gardens are beautiful, and the buildings are nice. The famed silver pagoda is here, housing two marvels. A giant golden Buddha figure, and a floor covered entirely in silver tiles. I found them both a bit of a let down. The tile floor was almost entirely covered in carpet, leaving only hints of its silvery greatness showing. Likewise, the gold and jewel encrusted buddha was locked behind a glass display case which was so dirty, you could hardly see any shine at all.

The Cultural Centre Performances

These theatrical performances show you insights into the traditions, beliefs, and culture of the Khmer people. They are a spectacle including English translations, costumes, and live music. I really enjoyed the performance we attended which talked about the various rituals traditionally performed at birth, marriage, sickness, and death. More than just a source of entertainment, the Cultural Centre also acts as a school, teaching traditional dramatic and musical arts to a new generation. These traditional artistic elements were almost completely lost during the time of the Khmer Rouge, as an estimated 90% of artists were killed in the genocide. Much of their preservation to the present day can be attributed to this organization.

Other Sites Around Town

By , August 9, 2013 12:00 pm
We're writing about Canada a bit ahead of schedule. We're still trying to polish off our South East Asia posts, and we will be getting to them eventually. But... THIS JUST IN! Our friend, and one of our favourite Canadian artists - Pat LePoidevin - has released a new music video from his new album, American Fiction. Enjoy. We had the chance to visit with Pat (briefly, we're getting too old to stay up as late at night as we used to) at Sappyfest just a few days ago. We've written about him before when he played in Regina before we ever left on our RTW trip.  If you've never heard him play, he's definitely worth checking out.  He describeshis music as a looped orchestra of folk.  We've never seen anyone quite like him, and between his powerful voice, story-telling lyrics, and layered compositions, his live shows are something to see.  So, for all our Canadian friends out there (or international friends that just happen to be travelling around Canada) - he's coming to a town near you... check out his tour schedule here.
Pat Lepoidevin at Sappyfest 8

Pat Lepoidevin at Sappyfest 8

 
By , August 5, 2013 8:04 am
I must admit that before I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, I had no idea that there had been a genocide in Cambodia. Knowing what I know now, I find that disgraceful. I'd like to blame my schooling and cultural upbringing for sheltering me from this world-scale bit of history, but I'm not sure that I rightfully can. It is possible, after all, that I'm the only one who grew up without hearing the tales of the Khmer Rouge. Maybe you could weigh in with a comment when you're done reading this, and help me figure that out. It'd be interesting to know if I'm with the majority in this or just disgracefully inattentive. As mentioned, this was my first introduction to the Khmer Rouge's genocide. For the benefit of those, like me, who didn't grow up hearing all about the Khmer Rouge, here's a brief outline of what went on. It's missing lots of detail, but it gets the general gist across.
  • During the Vietnam war, the prince of Cambodia had allowed a large North Vietnamese military presence into the country.
  • This resulted in the wide scale bombing of Cambodia by the Americans, trying to disrupt Vietnamese supply lines.
  • In 1970, Lon Nol, the Cambodian pro-American minister of defence staged a coup and ousted the left-leaning prince from power.
  • From 1970-1975, Lon Nol cracked down against the communist parties and peoples living inside Cambodia. He massacred around 30,000 Vietnamese living within Cambodia.
  • Meanwhile, the ousted prince allied himself with the communist/rural Khmer Rouge and made pleas to the people to join with them and resist Lon Nol's oppressive rule.
  • In 1975 the Khmer Rouge gained control of Cambodia.
  • Almost immediately, the Khmer Rouge made wide sweeping changes:
    • The prince was returned to the country and placed under house arrest
    • All people were forced out of the cities and placed in rural work camps
    • Families were separated - children, wives, and fathers were each sent to different villages
    • The monetary system and private property were completely abolished.
  • From 1975 to 1978, about 3 million Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge
Naturally, there was a lot of opposition to the Khmer Rouge's rule, and they were paranoid of an uprising against them. To suppress the opposition, they began massacring anyone who they thought may oppose them. This list of unfortunates included anyone who was educated (teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, people who wore glasses, artists), and those who had previously lived in cities. Even though the cities were abandoned, and virtually everyone was working long days on rice plantations, the reign of the Khmer Rouge was marked with famine and starvation. In an effort by the government to increase revenues, rice exports were kept at unsustainably high levels leaving their own people with nothing more than a few bowls of thin rice porridge to compensate them for working full days in the fields. In 1978, the Vietnamese army marched into Cambodia and liberated them from the Khmer Rouge. At this time, torture prisons such as Tuol Sleng were discovered, along with fields filled with mass graves. During the Khmer Rouge's 4 year reign, the population of Cambodia had decreased from 8 million people to 5 million. Nearly 40% of the population died during those 4 years. Astonishingly, western powers, through the United Nations, backed the defeated Pol Pot and the Khmer rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia after the Vietnamese overthrew them. This was more related to the fact that the Vietnamese had been the liberators, and the west could not accept any Cambodian government that was supported by the Vietnamese. The result of this decision saw Pol Pot receive the U.N. chair for Cambodia and all the aid that went along with that until 1992. The Khmer insurgency dragged on until 1996 when the majority of remaining Khmer soldiers abandoned the party because of a division in party leadership. The remaining party leaders were captured by 1998, and trials began in 2007.

S-21 - Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Over the Khmer Rouge's 4 year reign, they became increasingly paranoid. They accused anyone they suspected of plotting against them, and sent them to torture prisons like S-21. S-21 has been largely left the way it was found by the Vietnamese. Photos of the dead bodies they discovered are hanging on the walls of the still furnished torture chambers. You can freely explore the prisoners' cells. You'll still see blood stains on the ceilings, walls, and floors. There's a wealth of information available, including a selection of interrogation documents from the more than 10,000 inmates who resided in this torture facility for 2 to 7 months before being sent to the killing fields. The interrogation records seem to indicate that the inmates were tortured until they confessed to whatever manner of crimes they were accused of (usually involving the CIA or KGB) and they had named their accomplices. My understanding is that anyone accused and their entire family were imprisoned and subjected to this forced confession before being sent over to the killing fields. Nobody was ever released as innocent from this prison. It's a humbling experience. If you are planning on visiting the killing fields, make a stop here first to get the back story.

The Killing Fields

This is where life ended for 20,000 Cambodians. You can still see bits of bone, teeth, and clothing that are brought to the surface every time it rains. There is an excellent audio tour included with admission, and a small museum where you can see some of the implements used in the executions.