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“[Moscow.] Early on the Sunday morning I set several alarms and sweated my way around the cryptic, but fantastically decorated Metro system. Much of the efficient, extensive and splendid underground network was bloodily constructed with forced labour, as was much of the roads, railways and infrastructure in Siberia. By deciphering the weird Cyrillic signage and pestering the occasional babushka, I managed to emerge in the correct train station, ready to board a sleeper train for 4 whole days…
Loaded with my two huge cursed backpacks and a ton of vegetarian food, I entered my 4-bed cabin to find I was sharing with what turned out to be a group of consistently drunk, but cool, Latvians and a friendly Russian chap whose English consisted of ‘I love you’, ‘bagel store’ and ‘London’. He was either demonstrating the limits of his vocabularyor was particularly keen on expressing his affection for a British-based bread retailer.
The Tiger Temple, or Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua, is a Buddhist temple in Kanchanaburi province, Thailand – it is said to be a sanctuary for several tame tigers, which apparently walk around freely every day and can be petted by tourists.
Since visiting the Tiger Temple in 2006, a 2-year investigation by ‘Care for the Wild International’ revealed disturbing evidence of animal abuse and illegal trafficking at the Tiger Temple. Click here for the report.
“The Temple’s popularity is based around claims that its tigers were rescued from poachers and move freely and peacefully amongst the temple’s monks, who are actively engaged in conservation work. But this utopian façade hides a sinister reality of unbridled violence and illegal trafficking of tigers between Thailand and Laos.” – CWIs Chief Executive Dr Barbara Maas.
In the capital of capitalism, is it possible to sell a ‘nothing’? During the 2006 New Year holidays I joined Phil and friends at the beach on Lamma, Hong Kong’s nearest outlying island. It was to become not only the greatest day trip ever spontaneously conceived but testament to the dumb crap that can occur when a group of young guys join forces. They said it couldn’t be done, but that day – as an experiment in ‘anti-real estate’ – we built and sold a hole. We also put a Buddhist monk in it, albeit briefly.
Upon arrival, and worried that building a sandcastle could damage our masculinity, we began digging a giant hole to emphasise our heterosexuality and perhaps trap a few small animals. We invested in a HK$25 bucket and spade and dug down to chest height in just under two hours.
Our first buyer was ‘Kevin’ who agreed a price of 20 cents – we wrote out a contract. He joyfully took photos in and around the hole with his friends blissfully unaware that he had been conned. Since we hadn’t furnished Kevin with a copy of the paperwork we were able to sell the hole again, half an hour later, to a frighteningly excited ‘Gary’. Gary agreed a price of 50 cents and proceeded to fit no less than 4 of his friends in the said cavity. We calculated a net loss of HK$24.30
Cambodia has two rail lines, both originating in Phnom Penh, totalling about 612 kilometres of single, one-meter-gauge track. Today, due to the lack of funds to maintain the tracks and rolling stock, the trains have ceased to run. However, in 2006, I was lucky enough to ride on one of the last Cambodian trains heading north to Battambang on Saturdays and returning to Phnom Penh on Sundays.
Running at less than 20km an hour, the journey (around 4 hours by road), took up to 17 hours. Pulled by a 1994 Czech yard-engine, “sleeper class” consisted of a hammock and the tracks were clearly visible through the crumbling wooden flooring. The train rocked, often alarmingly, from side to side but the beautiful countryside passing by made up for it. Foreigners paid double, but tickets still cost next to nothing. During the journey, the train became a village market, and if the hustle and bustle became too much, one could escape to the roof. Just be careful to duck when a power line comes along!
“Visitors to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, are able to visit the Killing Fields and the S-21 Genocide Museum, based in the school which the Khmer Rouge used for torture, detention, interrogation and murder. People held there were usually intellectuals – teachers, doctors, anyone – even those who wore glasses – all apparently posed a threat to the ‘revolution’. As the Vietnam War spilled over the border, the Khmer Rouge seized control in 1975 – declaring it ‘Year Zero’, they banned money, suspended the mail, closed the country down and killed 1-2 million people, a quarter of the population. Those who survived were worked to the bone in labour camps, underfed and diseased, often starved to death. As per Orwell’s ‘1984’, they brainwashed children who grew up to be amongst the most brutal members of the regime. One of the reasons that the infrastructure remains so bad today is that the middle class was wiped out between ’75 and ’79, until Vietnam invaded and occupied the country for 8 more years. It is this latter reason that many Cambodians still dislike their neighbours – it was a bittersweet ‘liberation’.