Sunday, 3 December 2017

Back from South East Asia

It's been two and a half fascinating weeks. First ten days travelling through western Thailand in the footsteps of the 100.000 POWs who contributed to the construction of the infamous Burma railway (together with thousands of Japanese and perhaps 200.000 South East Asians). Then five days in Cambodia around the fabled temples of Angkor.

The party of premier Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, has effectively ruled Cambodia since 1979


It's been a lot of information to take in, even though much of that was self-inflicted. And as always while travelling, full of impressions that go beyond the immediate subjects of the trip. You can't help to notice that both Thailand and Cambodia have shed much of the essence of democracy despite still maintaining the trappings. Thailand is ruled by a military junta (that isn't very good at listening to the people) and the Cambodian government has just had the major opposition party banned.


Police booth in Kanchanaburi, Thailand


Yet life seems to be going on anyway. Military and police presence are light. In Bangkok and Siem Reap the Christmas season has started. Around the royal palace in downtown Bangkok we experienced the perfect storm of tourists, graduation day at university and the last opportunity to visit the ashes of revered former king Bhumibol (the exhibition has since been extended).

Tourist entrance to the inner sanctum of the royal palace, Bangkok


The poverty gap in these countries is still huge between those in the airconditioned zone (including us tourists) and those outside. Yes, I caught a cold.

Christmas decorations are prepared before the luxury mall in Siem Reap (opened in 2016)
And Bangkok is a powerhouse, ever expanding its network of flyover roads and sky trains. I remember that the first skytrain rode between my first two trips in Thailand in 1999 and 2000. Now there are several lines and an underground. Then there were 6.3 million inhabitants, now 9.6 million.

Flyover roads under construction, Bangkok


It was also intense to make this trip. I'm not a group travel person and when you are around 35-40 co travellers, that takes some energy out of me. Most of these people had a direct personal relation to the railway, which for them made it an emotional experience that I could only relate to from a distance. I wouldn't have survived if it had not been for my travel companion Michael. We never ran out of topics to discuss and events to comment on, however silly.



I will be posting a few bits from the Angkor part over the next week, but the Thailand-Burma railway story will arrive after that and in a different format as I have a distant personal stake in it.

2 comments:

  1. I am lucky enough to be going to Cambodia in the New Year. I cant wait. I have ofetn wondered how the Allied troops coped with the horrific conditions that the Far East has, I know I never would have been able to handle it.

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    1. Hi Roddie, I hope you'll enjoy Cambodia (I don't know whether you'll be going different places than just Angkor). Coping with the monsoon climate I think the allies learned the hard way. The incredible achievement of maintaining the offensive during the rainy season of 1944 surely must stand out in terms of logistics. Not just the road building and air supply, but also the medical infrastructure necessary. Casualties from illness must have been horrific by the standards of the day, and would have killed a less prepared army. So planning and logistics, I'd say.

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