Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Bangkok to Seam Reap via Poipet, January 1966

Later in January Helen and Clare will be visiting South East Asia for the first time as part of a remarkably sprawling visit by Helen's cohort. 

I have spoken before about the clannishness of the modern young.

Helen's school group, including their friends from other schools, have remained linked together in a way that simply wasn't possible when I was their age - email, mobiles and especially facebook provide the communications glue, aided by continuing geographical proximity.

I used the term sprawling because it isn't a single visit. People are going at somewhat different times and indeed to somewhat different places, but still overlapping and joining at points. In the case of my girls, they are going first to Malaysia as a twosome, before joining up with the others in, I think, Vietnam. I say think because I am stA1 Cambodia 1_1966 At border between Thailand and Cambodia cambodian sideill a little unclear as to the details.

At this time In January 1966, brother David and I were in Cambodia as part of our first visit to South East Asia. It does seem a long time ago!

The photo shows the party - Belshaws and Calverts - in Poipet on the Cambodian side of the border. Mr Calvert had been at Teachers' College with Dad in New Zealand, and they met up again in Bangkok where both were working for different agencies of the UN.

With the exception of the Cambodian police office sign, its actually a very Australian-New Zealand scene: the cars with the picnic spread out on the top of the bonnet with people eating and drinking tea, even the make of car, VW Beatle and Holden.  

There was some debate about the wisdom of the trip. There were tensions between Thailand and Cambodia, the Vietnam war was raging, the road was reported to be bad and little used, while the Khmer Serei were reported to be about to launch an attack on Seam Reap, our destination.  We decided to go anyway, relying on the UN plates on the cars as well as advice from others.

Much of the road from Bangkok to the Thai border town of Aranyapathet was dirt, dry and dusty with very few cars. Beyond Aranyapathet, the border itself was marked by a narrow bridge. There were no guards: the swinging gate marking the border was opened for us by some kids.

Beyond the border lay Poipet. The little town seemed almost deserted, dozing in the hot sun. We stopped and parked while Dad and Mr Calvert went to wake up the border police who seemed to have been having a quiet siesta. Communicating in school boy French, they completed the formalities.

Beyond Poipet the road was narrow with a strip of tar in the centre. We saw no other cars. As we drove through the little villages the kids, attracted by the presence of the cars and seeing the Thai writing on top of the number plates, ran behind us pointing and shouting Thai, Thai Thai! As we entered Seam Reap we drove past the military barracks. The sentry was leaning against the guard post wall half asleep with one legging undone. The stories about a Khmer Serei offensive seemed somewhat over-stated.

Only at one point on the entire drive did we become nervous when, rounding a bend, we came across a group of black pyjamed men riding bikes with rifles on their backs. We waved and hastily drove past. And the roads? Very similar to many of the roads we were used to driving on in country New England.

A few years later the border here was closed as Cambodia descended into chaos. The border is again open, with the road trip once again an adventure.        

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venus said...
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