One of the advantages of living less than an hour from Kuala Lumpur airport is that it’s easy to get to many of the nearby countries. My preference would be to spend a few weeks at a time travelling around the area but as I’ve got to go to work during the week it means that we’ll be doing the grand tour a couple of days at a time.
The destination this weekend was Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia and the venue for the Suzuki Cup qualifier between Brunei DS and East Timor. We took a two-hour flight that arrived around breakfast time on the Saturday and which gave us plenty of time to see some of the sights before the football.
First up was the Killing Fields. I was initially a little unsure of the wisdom of this, after all if the killing is over, wouldn’t it just be, well, fields? It wasn’t though, it was an interesting museum, mainly outdoors, as fields tend to be, with a couple of rooms full of photos.
There was a tower in the middle of the site, where the skulls of some of the 12,000 or so victims were kept. They had been sorted by age, gender and method of killing. Not many had received a bullet, with most of them being bludgeoned by a stick or an iron bar.
We walked around the site on the raised walkways that enabled us to keep out of the mud. They also served the purpose of keeping us from walking over the areas of the excavated graves. That was just as well as the recent heavy rain had caused some of the items that hadn’t been exhumed to rise to the surface. We saw numerous rags that had once been clothes and the underside of a set of upper teeth. Apparently the ‘fresh’ remains are gathered for storage at the end of each rainy season.
Next was the S-21 prison that housed a lot of the prisoners of the Khymer Rouge before they made their way to the Killing Fields. It was another sobering experience, with the only real change from the seventies being the addition of photographs of the inmates.
There were a couple of ex-prisoners selling their books by the exit. The first one seemed to have learned his lesson and so we bought a copy. For most of the survivors it invariably seemed to be a stroke of luck that saved them from becoming one more skull surfacing on a rainy day.
I’ll just briefly mention the food, which was generally quite similar to the sort of thing that you might expect to eat in most areas of South East Asia. Quite similar that is, apart from the deep-fried spiders. Jen spotted a pile of them as we wandered through the central market. I’ve no idea what the collective term for spiders is, but pile seems as good as anything.
They were a type of tarantua and just thirty pence each. How could you pass up that kind of opportunity? We couldn’t and so we shared one. The legs had a crunchy texture and were chewier than I’d expected. They would probably have benefitted from having all of the hair removed and being served with a tub of garlic sauce.
As this isn’t a food blog I’ll move on to the match at the National Olympic Stadium. It was built in the sixties and as Cambodia has yet to host the Olympics, the name has remained a bit of wishful thinking. We’d seen a 1970’s photo of the ground in the Killing Fields museum that suggested that there were greater priorities during the civil war years than keeping the stadium in good repair.
There were two games scheduled for the Saturday of our visit. Brunei DS against East Timor at 3.30pm followed by Cambodia taking on Laos three hours later. Our plan was just to see the first of the double-header, hopefully with a sparse crowd, before heading out into the evening.
We wandered around the stadium for ten minutes or so before finding the ticket office. I couldn’t work out how to get tickets for the covered grandstand and so we ended up with two for general admission at a quid a go.
There wasn’t really any shade to be had, but we found a spot close to a wall that looked like it might be ok once the sun dipped a little further down. As the game kicked off there were probably about five or six thousand people in the ground, but by the time it finished I’d say the 63,000 capacity stadium was at least two-thirds full. We watched the second game on the telly later on and by that time the stadium had sold out.
We were probably the only people who had turned up specifically to watch the first game, but I think most of the locals realised that it would be a lot easier to find a spot to sit on the terracing if they arrived well before the Cambodia game.
There were food and drink sellers down by the fencing at the bottom of the bowl. I had a lukewarm bottle of green tea that might have been better had the bloke who turned up with an enormous block of ice for the cooler arrived that bit sooner.
There were also people, mainly women, wandering around the terrace selling food from trays balanced on top of their heads. One had what looked like a selection of fruit salad, another had assorted crisps and snacks. An older woman had a washing up bowl of monkey nuts, whilst the star attractions were a large tray of duck eggs and a foot tall pile of deep-fried something. Probably not tarantulas.
The game itself wasn’t really up to much. But with so much going on in the crowd that didn’t really matter. We’d seen Brunei the week before in a warm up game against Malaysia U22s. As the Malaysian kids looked the better side in a deserved victory it didn’t really bode well for the standard of this game.
East Timor took the lead early on in the first half, but Brunei fought back and went into the break two-one up. East Timor thought that they had equalised in the second half, but the effort was disallowed for a clattering of the keeper that Nat Lofthouse would have been proud of.
On the final whistle we fought against the flow of incomers to leave the crowd at least two spectators short of the reported capacity and then kept an eye the Cambodia v Laos game whilst in a bar having dinner.
The television sound was turned down, but with the open window and the short distance to the stadium we were able to hear the encouragement of the crowd whenever Cambodia pushed forward.