Tuesday 14th January 1969
When we arrived at the border the Lao truck was being loaded with goods from a Cambodian truck. It seems that although the two countries trade, the trucks don't drive over the border but simply swap goods at the border. They were just finishing the job as we arrived and our luggage was already on the back of the now empty Cambodian truck that was shortly going to set out to drive to Stung Treng.
We reported to the immigration officer and had our passports details noted in the usual large book. We were then given a piece of paper to take to the immigration office in Stung Treng where we would get our passports stamped. We then went out to get on the truck that was going to Stung Treng. The truck driver demanded we pay US$2 each for our fare and insisted in being paid in US dollars. We told him we didn't have any dollars and he immediately reacted by picking up our bags and throwing them down from the truck. This annoyed Louis so much that he jumped up on to the truck and punched the driver. This didn't help matters and the driver then put up the price to $10 each. The German guy had already paid his $2 and was sitting in the cab waiting to go. Louis, Mike, Titch and I decided that we were not going to get anywhere with this truck driver after Louis had clobbered him, so putting our packs on our backs we set off to walk into Cambodia.
After we had been walking for a short while the truck came along. We tried to be cheeky and put our thumbs out to hitch but the driver just sounded his horn and waved his fist at us as he drove past. After we had been walking for two hours we had covered just 5 km. It was tiring carrying our bags in the heat and we would take a short rest at each kilometre marker post. At each kilometre the rest period got longer and longer and before long it got dark. Although we were well south of the area were Vietcong were operating, we couldn't help but worry about running into a VC patrol trying to infiltrate from the North to the South via Laos and Cambodia. A large black car went the other way to the border and on the way back he stopped and picked us up. He took us 8 km to a road junction where he dropped us of and turned right towards a village called Osvay. He said he was coming back at 8 o-clock and would pick us up again if we were still there.
There was a half-built house at the junction and we sat in it and lit a fire while we waited. Titch told us that he was hoping to try to get into Vietnam overland. Mike was a medical student from Perth and was travelling around the area during his summer holidays, which in Australia is in December and January. The fire started to die down at about 8.30 and we all decided to walk the 2 km into Osvay to find somewhere to stay for the night rather than rely on a car that may or may not return. We started walking and had gone 1½ km when the taxi came back along the road and picked us up. We later heard stories about Osvay from other travellers who had tried to walk in and had been chased out by men with guns. They all said that a black car came along shortly afterwards and gave them a lift. Many years later we found out that it was a local headquarters for the Kymer Rouge. I can only presume that whenever some unwanted visitors got near, the car was despatched to get rid of them.
He drove us down to Stung Treng. By this time I was exhausted and slept for most of the journey. The road finished on the other side of the river to Stung Treng and the driver dropped us off headed back, presumably to Osvay. There was no bridge over the river, nor were there any boats. We could see the lights of Stung Treng on the other side, but the river must be about a mile wide at this point and even though we all shouted and waved our torches trying to attract attention, nothing came over to us. We eventually gave up and started to settle down to spend the night there when a ferry came over. When it docked a car drove off and we ran on board before they could go off again without us.
Although it was nearly 11.30 by the time we got into Stung Treng, yet we managed to find a restaurant still open, well actually he was just closing, but the manager took pity on us and stayed open a bit longer. On his recommendation we bought a bowl of rice each and two bowls of soup Chinoise (Chinese soup) between us. A bowl of soup Chinoise was a meal all by itself, consisting of generous helpings of noodles, vegetables and chicken in clear broth. The bill came to just 10 riels between us, but none of us had any Cambodian money yet, so had to pay in Lao kip. The manager was not too pleased with that, but he still gave us some more food free because we were his last customers of the day and it would only be thrown out when he closed.
It was now well after 1am and we had to find somewhere to sleep. We found a Wat but it was deserted, so we just kipped down and went to sleep. The next morning I was woken up by the sound of a large group of children singing a song about Cambodia. Nobody seemed to be bothered by the four foreigners sleeping on one corner of the Wat, so we just packed up and left as quietly as we had come.
We had another bowl of soup Chinoise each in the same restaurant and the manager was prepared to accept payment in kip again. We then went managed to find somewhere to change money and at last we had some Cambodian riels. The next stop was the immigration office to take our pieces of paper and get them exchanged for a passport stamp. (See footnote 2 for further comment on Stung Treng)
The next place we wanted to get to was Kratie, but we found that all the busses leave early in the morning. We had also missed the boat, so the only option was to get a taxi. The taxi fare was 80 riels and we all piled in to the one car. At Kratie when we came to pay we offered the driver a US dollar and told him it was worth 80 riels, which he readily believed. We then tried getting the boat to Phnom Penh, but the next boat wasn't until the morning.
There was a Cambodian boy also enquiring about boat times and he spoke English. He said he was going to spend the night in a Wat and he took us along to meet the monk who was in charge. He said that because we were foreigners we would need to get permission from the chief of police beforehand. He had no objection and as long as the police chief said yes, it was OK by him. We all went to the police station, but the chief had already gone home. The policeman on duty gave us his address and we all walked about a mile to his house, where we were welcomed in and given tea and biscuits while he copied down all the details from our passports. He gave us a note for the monk and we then left to go for a meal.
We had enjoyed last night's meal and so we decided to have the same thing again tonight. The Cambodian guy joined us, but he was really baffled when we ordered a bowl of rice each, but only two soups. He kept questioning us because he didn't understand what we were trying to do. Once the meal was over we went back to the Wat.
When I woke up the next morning our Cambodian friend had gone. We thought he had left us, but he returned soon after with some fried bananas for us all. We left our luggage in the Wat and went to have a look around Kratie and to make sure of the boat time. We were starting to get addicted to the soup Chinoise and we all had a bowl before going back to collect our luggage.
We got to the pier head in good time for the boat, but the police stopped us from boarding. They took us into the office and made us all fill out a form before they would let us get on the boat. We eventually made it on board the ferry just ten minutes before it sailed. The river ferries were quite large and for the next 18 hours we just sat on the boat and watched Cambodia pass by. We passed many small villages, and stopped now and again to let passengers get on and off. At one stop the bank was steep and the passengers had to climb many steps to get to the top. We watched as all the freight was hauled up from the boat on rails that had been set into the embankment for the purpose, the all the freight that was to be loaded was slid down into the hold. I couldn't help but wonder what would happen to a particularly heavy item if they let it go near the top of the bank. I reckon it would slide down and punch quite a large hole in the ship.
When it got dark we found a bit of deck to spread out our sleeping bags and go to sleep. The boat carried on through the night and at one stop at 3.30 am a policeman came on and woke us all up to check our passports. Louis was sound asleep and when the policeman shook him to wake him up he lashed out and gave the policeman a hell of a thump. We all looked on horrified as the policeman took out what seemed to be a bayonet and started prodding Louis with it to wake him up. I had to call out to Louis not to sit up suddenly in case he did just that and sat up into the bayonet. The policeman took our passports away for some reason and Titch followed him to make sure he brought them back.
Soon after it started to get light and I went to have a wash. Always game for a laugh we started fooling around and soon had a small crowd around us. I played the flageolet and Mike handed around a hat, but nobody put anything into it. With the police checking us out in Kratie we had somehow got on board without paying our fare and nobody had come around to collect it. Needles to say when the boat docked at 6 o-clock and we got off quite sharply.
The only thing we had been able to get to eat on board was a few rolls that we bought from a hawker who came on board at one of the stops the previous evening. We were all starving and our first stop was for a soup Chinoise at a quayside restaurant. The road outside was very busy, mostly with cycles and yet another variation of the three-wheeled cycle rickshaws. These rickshaws are found all over the East and each country seems to have a slightly different variation in construction to the next. The Cambodia ones have the passenger sat behind the driver facing backwards, so you could see where you had been, rather that where you were going. In Cambodia they are called a "cyclo puss", a name which conjures up visions of a large cat on wheels.
The tourist office in Phnom Penh was extremely helpful and told us everything we wanted to know. They even recommended a Wat where we would be able to spend the night. We went straight to the Wat but found that there was some sort of Monk's convention on and the place was crowded. We were directed down the road to another Wat, but the head monk couldn't be found to ask permission to stay. We were allowed to leave our luggage there so we didn't have to carry it around with us all day.
The Indonesian Embassy was very near to the Wat and we went in to enquire about tourist visas. At first they said they didn't issue tourist visas, but we said that we had heard that they were going to start issuing them soon and asked when this would be. The official went away to enquire and came back a few minutes later to tell us that they have now started to issue them and handed us some forms to apply. We made our applications and were then told to come back the next day to get our passports stamped with the visas but when we explained that we might not be able to come back the next day, he said he told us to come back in the afternoon. The visa would normally cost US$5, but the rate of exchange that the Embassy applied was the official one, so the cost was only going to be 125 riels, which applying the black market exchange rate that we were working to the visas were only going to cost $2.
I went for a walk with Mike and we found another Wat and asked if we could sleep there, but once again the head man was out and nobody else could give us permission. We then went back to join Lou and Titch and while we were discussing what to do next a man approached us and started to speak English. He was obviously trying to practice his English and he asked us if we would join him for lunch, to which we all readily agreed. He then proceeded to lead us all around Phnom Penh, going from place to place. Goodness knows what he was looking for, but each time we thought he had found somewhere, he moved on again to somewhere else. We ended up in a very posh restaurant somewhere in the centre of the city.
I have to say, the meal was far more than I would have expected from him, so was the standard of the place he brought us to. The meal started with hors d'ouvres. The next dish was crab. Louis and I looked at each other because being Jewish, crab was on the list of things we were not supposed to eat and not only that, we hadn't the slightest idea of how to eat it. In the end rather than insult our host, we decided to give it a try and it wasn't too bad. By the time the next course arrived and we still hadn't been struck by lightning we felt a bit more relaxed. We had a main course followed by dessert and coffee and the bill came to 70 riels each, an absolute fortune for a Cambodian, but our host paid the bill. At one point just before the main course our host excused himself and disappeared for a while. We were all reluctant to start the main course in case he had done a runner, but he returned again after about 15 minutes.
After we had said our thank you and goodbye to our host, we went to pick up our visas, then spent the afternoon looking around Phnom Penh. The first stop was the Prince Norodom Sihanouk museum. We had thought that it was going to be an ordinary museum that the Prince had given his name to, but we were wrong. The museum was in fact all about the Crown Prince. Every exhibit in the museum was about him and his life. All his cast off clothes were on display, letters he had received from other heads of state, even his old school reports. At that time the people of Cambodia loved Noredom Sihanouk just as much as he loved himself and everybody used to wear a badge with his picture on it. He used to broadcast on the radio every day for hours on end and even formed a film company so he could make movies in which he was the star. He had recently organised the Phnom Penh "international" film festival in which most of the entries were Sihanouk's own films.
We then walked to the Royal Palace and on the way we had to walk across a large green parkland area. In the middle of the park there was a cremation taking place and we went over to have a look. The cremation was a grand affair and everybody seemed to be in a party spirit, which was the custom in Cambodia. The mourners invited us to join in and gave us all drinks. Everybody was taking turns at being photographed sitting beside the burning coffin. We even posed and had our own photographs taken.
We then went to see the Royal Palace. There was a guard standing outside the main gate and as we walked along the pavement he made us walk out into the road as we passed the gate. Nobody was allowed to walk past the gate on the pavement. Louis and I considered it a challenge and we both approached together from opposite directions. As the guard was chasing one of us off the pavement he couldn't stop the other from walking along the pavement past the gate. When he realised what we had done he became very angry and we decided to disappear quickly. We came across a group of monks who spoke English and we walked with them to the museum. This one was the real thing and included a tour of the Palace, but when we got there it was closed. We then all piled into a taxi to go to the Phnom, a monument that appears on all the Cambodian coins, notes and stamps. At the Phnom we took some photographs and walked around the park for a while before stopping for a rest. We had not really slept the night before and it was now starting to catch up on us, so we each lay down on a park bench and slept for about half an hour.
Mike was running low on film and on the way back to the Wat he went into a few shops, but with a roll of film costing almost 500 riels, he had second thoughts about buyingone.We also stopped at the Post Office and wrote a short letter home.
Back at the Wat the head man had returned, but when we asked if we could sleep there he said no. Mike and I then went out to find another Wat and on the way it poured with rain and we got soaked to the skin. The next Wat we came across the head man saw us soaked and dripping and must have taken pity on us and allowed us to stay. We went back to tell the others but by now Titch had gone missing so we left a message for him and the three of us went off to the other Wat, taking Titch's rucksack with us. The head man showed us to a room where we could sleep and we laid out our sleeping bags, and set up our nets ready for the night, but there was still no sign of Titch. Louis went back to the other Wat and found him. He hadn't seen our message and was wondering where we were.
By now it was getting late and we started to look for somewhere to have a meal. Wherever we looked was either far too expensive or was closed for the night. Eventually we found a place that would do the usual soup Chinoise and rice for us. How I made it back to the Wat I don't know, but I was so tired that at one point I sat down for a minute and fell asleep and the others had to wake me up again. If I had been on my own I would have probably slept all night. It was after midnight before we all got into bed and needless to say, we all slept like logs.
The next morning we were all awake bright and early. We said our goodbyes to Titch, who was heading off to Saigon overland and had to leave early to catch the bus to Svay Rieng, a town near to the Vietnam border. We also wished him good luck because we felt he needed all he could get. I had my doubts as to whether he would be allowed to enter Vietnam via the land border, but he was hell bent on trying it.
We left our bags at the Wat while we went to have breakfast. After eating we went back to the Royal Palace museum and tour, but the entrance fee was 50 riels each for foreigners, even though it was only 10 riels for Cambodians. We tried to talk them into letting us go in as Cambodians, but they wouldn't allow it, so we decided not to bother. This was partly because of the price and partly because we only had about 75 riels between the three of us and we all desperately needed to change some money.
Finding somebody in Phnom Penh to change money was not an easy task. Whenever we asked somebody where we could change money we kept being directed to a bank. The black market was not making itself easy to find. We persevered and eventually found somebody to change money and got 62 riels to a dollar, an improvement of 2 riels. Once we had changed money, Mike went to buy his roll of film. We had offered to lend him a roll of ours, but we were using Kodachrome transparency film and he wanted prints.
We waited at the Wat for Mike to come back and when he returned we all collected our bags and started walking to the bus station to catch a bus to Siem Reap. On the way, Louis fell over and nearly hurt himself badly when he landed awkwardly with his frame landing on top of him. We both had to lift the frame off him before he could get up.
The bus fare to Siem Reap was 100 riels each, a fare that we felt had been inflated because we were foreigners. We haggled with the driver and eventually he agreed to take the three of us for a total of 200 riels, which in my opinion was still too much. We later found that the other passengers were only paying 70 riels each for their fare, but they were Cambodians. Everybody else put their luggage on the roof where it sat on a large wooden rack, but was not tied down. Feeling that it was not too secure, we kept ours inside with us. This caused us to have an argument with one of the passengers, but we still insisted on keeping our luggage inside with us and eventually he gave up. The passenger we had argued with spoke excellent English and eventually we became very friendly and chatted for a lot of the journey.
The bus set off and we travelled for about an hour before coming to a stop in a long queue. The queue was for the ferry crossing across the Tonle Sap and we had to wait for four and a half hours before our bus eventually got onto the ferry. There was a new bridge almost built, but it wasn't quite finished yet and was not due to open for another few weeks. By the time we were across it was dark and much to our disappointment, we couldn't see anything of the countryside. The bus eventually stopped at Kompong Thom, a town on the North shore of the Tonle Sap (Great lake). We had a half hour stop in Kompong Thom and took the opportunity to have a meal of - what else but soup Chinoise. In the bus station restaurant we met a Catholic Priest who was also travelling to Siem Reap on another bus. We sat together while eating our meals and discussed travelling in Cambodia. When the bus continued its journey it was less than half full, the other passengers had got off in Kompong Thom, including our English speaking friend. Because there was now plenty of room in the bus, we were all able to stretch out and have a sleep.
We eventually arrived in Siem Reap at exactly midnight and the place was almost deserted. Louis went into the bus station café to ask if there was a Wat nearby where we could sleep. There was a man sitting having a drink and he invited us all to join him. He bought us all a drink, then he invited us to come and stay at his home. He lived a bit outside the town so after we had finished our drinks he called a couple of cyclo puss's and we all piled in and went to his house. His name was Meas-Sarithi and he was a waiter at the Auberge Royal, a first class hotel situated opposite the entrance to the main temple of Angkor Wat. His house was quite near to the hotel and had the luxury of a relatively modern bathroom where we were able to take a bath before going to sleep.
It was fortunate that the house had a bathroom because Mike was up for half the night with diarrhoea. By the morning he had stopped running but he wasn't feeling at his best. Meas-Sarithi offered to lend us some bicycles to tour the area, but Mike didn't feel up to cycling around and said that he would rather go on foot. Although Louis and I would have loved to take up his offer we decided it would be unfair to leave him behind. So bright and early we all set off on foot to walk around Angkor Wat. That was a big mistake, because we didn't realise how well spaced the temples were. Although the total area of Angkor Wat is more than 500 square kilometres, the area where the most important buildings are was still in excess of 150 square kilometres and riding bicycles we could only expect to see a small portion of it. On foot we were going to see even less.
After what seemed hours of walking we eventually came across our first Angkor ruin, the Bayon. It had been built during the 11th and 12th centuries and used to be the centre of the great city of Angkor Thom, which had a population of hundreds of thousands. The only people here now were the occasional tourists and their guides. The city had originally been surrounded by 16 kilometres of wall. The Bayon itself consists of a mass of 49 square towers, carved on each of its 4 sides with the face of a god. Mike said "good grief, 200 smiling gods". Maybe we were not at our best, having walked all the way in the hot sun, but the past glory of the ruins were lost on us and they just seemed like a load of lumps of rock. Agreed, the lumps were many years old, having been built by the Khmers a long time ago. Even so it didn't do an awful lot for us at the time, which in view of the size, carving detail and complexity of the place, was probably an unfair judgement.
Occasionally we would come across hawkers travelling around on bicycles selling a variety of souvenirs as well as drinks at inflated prices. At one point a group of hawkers had stopped to try to sell us various things. We bought a melon from one of them and borrowed a sword from another to cut the melon up with. Three ladies stopped selling paintings of the various Angkor ruins and rubbings from the main Angkor Wat temple. We haggled with them for almost an hour before we eventually bought some rubbings. One of these rubbings I later had framed and it is still hanging on the wall in my house to this day.
One thing we just could not find was somewhere to eat. There were no souvenir stalls at any of the ruins, just the mobile hawkers, and although they had plenty of drinks, none of them had any food to sell. At Ta Kéo we came across a group of school children who were all very excited to try out their English and French conversation on us. We asked them directions and if they knew where we could find somewhere to eat and they all gave us some of their water and bread. We spent about half an hour with them as they looked around one of the ruins.
By 2 o-clock we were all exhausted. We found a nice shady spot just off the road and decided to stop for a rest. Before long we had all dozed off and slept for a good hour or maybe more. Feeling a little refreshed from our afternoon nap we decided to take a short cut through Ta Prohm to cut off a corner. This was certainly a lot more interesting. Angkor Wat had been abandoned in 1432 and as the jungle reclaimed it, it had been all but forgotten until it was "re-discovered" again, overgrown and covered with foliage, by a French naturalist at the end of the 19th century. Most of the other ruins have been partially restored, but Ta Prohm has been left just as it was found. It was just as well we had tried to take the short cut, if we had just walked past it on the road the full wonder of the place wouldn't have been realised. Through the windows and gateways wind the massive roots and branches of giant trees. The forest has grown through the buildings, and vines plunge down the walls like curtains. The paths are very uneven from the roots growing under them and it was hard going, but it was fascinating to see.
When we came out onto the main road again we were fortunate to find a taxi coming along. We tried to haggle with the driver about the fare, but he wouldn't budge and we had to pay the high price he originally asked. There were very few empty taxis around and in that heat he certainly knew it was a seller's market.
The taxi dropped us at the back entrance of the Angkor Wat temple. The temple is surrounded by a water filled moat and we crossed the causeway into the back door and walked through to the other side. The ruins there were really good, decorated with elaborate stone carvings that were still visible. The front of the Angkor Wat had a beautiful bas-relief frieze, which is almost half a mile long. It was really worth photographing, except that the sun was shining full on it at that time and I felt that the detail would be lost. We decided to come back near to the sunset when the shadows would be longer and the bas-relief would stand out more. Being the main attraction of Angkor Wat, there were food and souvenir stalls outside, so we where finally able to have something to eat. We then went into the Auberge Royal to enjoy a drink in the air-conditioned bar where Meas-Sarithy works. As soon as we came through the door he saw us and showed us to a table where we all just sank into the comfortable armchairs, while he gave us each an icy cold towel to cool ourselves down.
Just before the sun set, we left the Auberge Royal to go back to take the photograph of the frieze. We then walked back to the house and by the time we got there Meas-Sarithy was already there waiting for us. He had prepared a delicious meal of fish, meat and rice and once we had all showered and changed we sat down to enjoy it and to talk about our day. I was so exhausted that before long I had to excuse myself and go to bed early, but the other chatted until quite late on.
Monday 20th January 1969
Although we still had one day left on our visas, we decided that we had seen enough of Angkor Wat and nothing would be achieved by going to see even more of the temples. After breakfast we packed our bags and said goodbye to Meas-Sarithy. He had arranged for two cyclopusses to take us into Siem Reap bus station. As we were paying the cyclopus drivers at the end of the journey we heard a familiar voice calling out to us. It was the American who had the hotel room next door to us in Vientianne. He was standing on the balcony of his hotel, which looked out over the bus station. As we were talking to him an American woman came out of the room and joined him on the balcony. She was his wife who we had not met in Vientianne. He introduced us to her as "the cabaret act from Laos".
At the bus station a taxi driver who offered to take us to the border for the same price as the bus fare approached us. We checked up and found that the bus fare was 80 riels each. The taxi was 240 reils and so we decided to take him up on his offer, mainly because he offered to take us right to the border, while if we caught the bus we would have to walk the last part. We put all our bags on the roof of the Peugeot estate car (all Cambodian taxis seem to be Peugeot estates) then got in ready to go, but the driver demanded payment before we moved off. Suspecting a con trick we didn't want to pay in advance, so the driver called over a policeman. The policeman didn't speak any English and we couldn't understand his French, so he went over to the tourist office and came back with one of the men who worked behind the counter there. He explained that in the past a number of backpackers had gone across the border without paying for the taxi, so now they all demand payment up front. It wasn't a con trick because the driver was a licensed taxi and if he did trick us he would certainly lose his valuable licence. So we were persuaded to pay him in advance and the smiling policeman and the tourist officer waved us off. The American and his wife watched the whole episode from their balcony with great enjoyment and as the taxi moved off we could hear him calling out "You Aussie guys causing trouble again?" He must have thought we were Australian.
If we thought we were going to travel in comfort, we had another think coming. The taxi stopped at a taxi rank just around the corner where he piled in another seven paying passengers. No wonder he could compete with the bus on fares. Including the driver there were now eleven of us in a car designed to carry seven passengers, plus a roof piled high with luggage. The first stop on the journey was a town called Sisophon, 106 kilometres away. As the taxi came into Sisophon the driver stopped and spoke to somebody at the side of the road. The next thing, this person got in and sat between the driver and his door, which was how we arrived at the taxi station at Sisophon. From there the driver transferred us to another taxi for the 30 odd kilometre driver over unsealed roads to the border. When we arrived at the police checkpoint the driver started to unload our luggage, but we insisted that he waited for us to clear the immigration formalities, which was just as well because from the checkpoint to the border was another couple of kilometres. At the border proper we had to take our passports into a building to be checked. We then got back into the taxi for a short drive of a hundred yards to a turning circle where he dropped us off at the start of what looked like a short path over a footbridge. At the end of the bridge was a wooden gate that looked just like a garden gate, with a name on it saying "Thailand". We opened the gate and let ourselves in.
Footnote 1. About Cambodia in the 1970's:
While writing up the diary of events for Cambodia I couldn't help but feel a sense of tragic loss following the events folowing the coup by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge and the genocide that followed. It was their policy to turn Cambodia back to year zero, to condemn all foreign influence and to isolate themselves from the outside world.
In re-writing this diary I have up to now enjoyed the memories that have been revived. Although I still have happy memories of my travels in Cambodia, they are tinged with sadness at the thoughts of the events of the mid 1970's and of the probable fate of the many people we met and talked with as well as those who offered us hospitality during our brief visit. I even found myself waking up at night thinking about it, something that hasn't happened when writing about the other countries. It is more than likely that many if not all of the people we dealt with who spoke to us in English or French would have been considered intellectuals and would have fallen victim to that regime's wholesale killings.
I would like to think that some of them escaped.
Footnote 2. About Stung Treng:
I would see Stung Treng again a little over two years later in March 1971, but this time from the comfort of the passenger cabin on board a BOAC jet, flying at 35,000 feet on a scheduled service between Bangkok and Hong Kong. It was a clear and cloudless day with almost unlimited visibility. Stung Treng was easy to spot, not just because of the distinctive landmark of the junction of two great rivers, but also because by that time the Indochina war had spread into Cambodia and on that day Stung Treng was well and truly ablaze. A large column of smoke rose from the burning town and ascended high into the stratosphere, As the plane flew past I looked upwards in shock and disbelief that a column of smoke could rise so high without dispersing. Feeling upset at seeing a place I had recently visited being razed to the ground, I pointed it out to the Scottish lady who was sitting next to me. She leaned across and looked out of the window, said "oh dear!" then carried on reading her book. (back)