Hello.  Well, I've returned from my trip, and due to the number of people
asking how it was, I've decided to write down a few random notes and
thoughts on the experience.
   My vacation this year consisted of: Cambodia, Thailand, Hong Kong, and a
day trip to Macau.  I was with my dad for the whole trip, and my sister and
brother-in-law for part of it.  Note that I'm typing this basically as I
write it, so please excuse any typos or mistakes. Also, realize that this is
only one person's impressions, so please take them for what they are.  
   For right now, I've decided to write only about Cambodia because many
more people have been to Thailand and Hong Kong than Cambodia, but if I can
find the time, I may write some notes on Thailand as well.  Until then, I do
just want to say that Thailand was a wonderful place to visit (especially at
Thai New Year's time!  *splash!*   *splash!*)  But for now, my observations
and thoughts on Cambodia (and why you shouldn't fly Cathay Pacific).

   This is a country which is something right up my alley: I love going to,
and exploring countries that are changing and that will never be the same

CAMBODIAN HISTORY (short, and more recent):
   Just a little history for those who may not know:
   Up until a few years ago when the UN came in, this was a country quite
unsafe to visit, but just since a few years ago, it has become more stable
politically, though still not 100% stable.  The UN came in a few years back
to supervise fair elections, and the way the government is now, there are
two prime ministers that share power: one who was from the old Communist
party, and one from another party.  I was told on more than one occasion
that the military supports the Communist prime minister, and many people are
still worried that the army might try a coup, and that if anything like this
did happen, the military's support would easily fall towards the old
Communist prime minister.  Prince Sihanouk retains his place as a
figurehead, much like British royalty.  He doesn't have any REAL power, but
here's there nonetheless.  Many people have very mixed feelings about him,
especially since he backed Pol Pot's muderous Khmer Rouge regime in the
1970s.  (In 1969, while Sihanouk was on a trip to France, General Lon Nol,
and Sihanouk's cousin Prince Sisowath Matak deposed Sihanouk as chief of
state.  Therefore, Sihanouk supported the Khmer Rouge guerilla movement to
overthrow Lon Nol).  The most horrific event in the country's history
happened between 1975-1979, when it's estimated that almost 1/3rd of the
country's population was summarily murdered by the Khmer Rouge after they
took countrol of the country.  Everyone was forced to leave the capital,
Phnom Penh, and go to the countryside.  What I didn't know until this trip
was that part of the the Khmer Rouge actually did stay in the capital, and
occupy it as a base.  But during these 4 years, millions of Cambodians were
murdered.  Anyone who was educated (teachers, students, professionals) were
immediately killed, as were countless others as well.  The preferred method
of killing, I found out, wasn't with the gun (though many people WERE shot)
because the K.R. wanted to save every bullet they could.  They'd slice
people with knives, be-head them, knock their heads against trees, and
anything else they could think of.  Then, in December 1978, the Vietnamese
invaded Cambodia and installed their own government.  Though it was a
foreign power now in charge again, many Cambodians still were glad the
Vietnamese came to overthrow Pol Pot's incredibly brutal regime.  Sihanouk
was taken to Beijing, where he stayed until 1991, when he returned to
Cambodia.  The Khmer Rouge is still a problem, especially along the
Cambodia-Thai border.  They don't have much power or popular support left,
but they still won't go away.  There's still fighting quite often in that
area.  After French occupation, and then America (Nixon) secretly bombing
the hell out of Cambodia during the Vietnam war, the Khmer Rouge killing off
1/3rd of the country's people, and then Vietnam invading and taking power,
the Cambodian people are sick of war and want to get on with life and
rebuilding their country and economy.  Something that will not be so easy to
do, as I'll explain later.  By the way, we saw Price Sihanouk.  The day we
were leaving Cambodia, he was returning from Beijing for cancer treatment. 
According to the paper the next day, treatment was a success, but if that's
true or not remains to be seen.  

CATHAY PACIFIC: Warning to those who want to fly them.

   Before I get into Cambodia, let me digress a bit and tell you about our
flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong.  We took Cathay Pacific, and if you
ever have to fly, I strongly suggest you DO NOT take them.  It's been a long
time since I was this disappointed with an airline.  Almost everything about
them was bad.  Here are just a few things: (1) Cathay's schedule forced us
to have to stay overnight in Hong Kong before continuing on to Bangkok
(where we were originally going to go before we added Cambodia).  Cathay
refused to put us up in a hotel for the layover that THEIR SCHEDULE caused,
even after writing them a letter.  Note that while an airline does not HAVE
to do this, it is the policy of most carriers to in fact give this service
to their customers.  KAL, SAS, and other carriers have treated us this way,
but Cathay seemed to have a "kiss-off" attitude -- actually, about most
things -- if their passengers aren't travelling 1st or business class. 
Luckily we had my sister's place to stay in, but it wasn't close to the
airport, and had to pay taxi to-and-from, and it really irked me that Cathay
would not offer this one simple service that most any OTHER carrier does,
especially since it was THEIR schedule that caused the layover.  Travellers
to Asian countries OTHER than Hong Kong should keep this in mind when
contemplating taking Cathay, and should probably take another carrier such
as KAL instead. (2) The food on-board was horrible.  It ranked even lower
than domestic US Air and Continental flights for quality, and what really
shocked me was how small the amount of food was for an international flight.
Singapore, JAL -- even Northwest on their Asia routes -- all have decent
portions and food much better in quality and quantity than a domestic U.S.
flight.  Not on Cathay.  If you fly Cathay, bring your own food aboard or
starve.  (3) The in-flight service was, at best adequate.  I am trying to be
fair here, and on the outbound LAX-HKG, there were some stewardesses who
tried their hardest and were very nice answering some questions, etc., but
on the whole (we took a few segments on Cathay) the inflight service was
hostile (to everyone onboard... I like to look around the plane and observe
things) and certainly well below that of other Asian carriers.  (4) Another
great Cathay incident occured on our LAX-HKG flight--a flight that's
SUPPOSED to take a very long 15hr 40mins.  However, Cathay, being cheap and
trying to save money, didn't fill the plane up with enough fuel, so after 14
hours, we hear an announcement that we'd be landing in Taiwan to pick up
more fuel.  We had to stay on the plane while we were in Taiwan for
re-fueling, making our total in-plane time for this flight a whopping 18
hours when it was all over.  Now, the LAX-HKG route is one of Cathay's major
routes.  But being cheap as they are and trying to save money (less fuel
equals a lighter plane to save fuel) turned our flight into an 18-hour one.
Lovely.  I guess my only consolation was seeing that the cabins on Cathay's
flights were 1/2 empty, even at the busy travel time we went on.  I'm really
trying to be as fair as I can here, but Cathay's service from the time of
reservation to the end of the trip was way, WAY below other carrier's
performance.  About the only plus I could find with them was their inflight
entertainment: very good.  On the screen, a computer map of where the plane
was in relation to cities, plus flight times, headwinds, temperatures, etc.
would flash between movies (though I'm told Delta does this now as well on
their Asian routes), and a nice touch was having BBC shortwave available for
in-flight listening.  But all in all, if you're contemplating a trip to
Asia, I STRONGLY suggest you avoid Cathay.  I'm not usually overly-critical
on airlines, and know their situation (always losing money, and having the
monumental task of keeping a planeload of passengers happy on long flights),
but all I can say is this: everything about Cathay, from their attitude to
the actual flight was SO below the standards of other carriers that I won't
consider them again for a long, LONG time.


   Our trip to Cambodia was a very interesting one.  We wanted to cross into
Cambodia from Thailand overland at the border, but were unable to, because
the area still has fighting between the KR and government troups.  Our main
objective was to see the famous ruins at Angkor Wat (near the town of Siem
Reap), but in order to do that, we (as well as anyone else) had to fly first
into Phnom Pehn (the capital) only to then take another flight to Siem Reap.
Ground travel is not recommended in most areas not only because of possible
fighting, but because of the many land mines around.  So that's what we
planned to do, but we had a little trouble with the flight.  We decided not
to go onto Bangkok from Hong Kong after all, but instead, to go to Cambodia
first, so before we left the States, we bought a ticket on the Cambodian
airline for Hong Kong -> Phnom Penh.  After getting about 3 hours of sleep
that night (after the extra-long Cathay flight) we were at Hong Kong's
airport bright and early the next morning, waiting for our flight to
Cambodia.  The problem was, not only was there no FLIGHT that day, but there
was no AIRLINE either.  Even though we bought this part of the ticket just 2
days before we left, the agent had looked up the wrong information
apparently.  From what I've been able to gather, there were originally two
airlines ("XE" and "VJ" are the airline codes), and just a few weeks
beforehand, they merged into one (basically, "VJ" took over all the routes).
But our ticket had "XE" on it.  Not only was there no such airline as "XE"
anymore, but "VJ" ("Royal Air Cambodge"), didn't fly from Hong Kong ->
Cambodia on that day.  We found out that the only way to get there on that
day was to take Thai Airways (Hong Kong-Bangkok, then Bangkok-Phnom Penh). 
We had 25 mins to buy the ticket (at $400 each, ONE WAY) and take the
flight.  Everything worked out ok, but that Thai flight was very expensive,
and right now, we're in the process of getting a refund for the ticket we
couldn't use.  If we had known there was no "XE" flight, we could have
bought the Thai ticket in the US and it wouldn't have cost half as much as
at the airport that morning.
   But finally we arrived in Cambodia, and our trip began.  At the airport
are pictures of Prince Sihanouk and his wife (they're everywhere in the
country).  We flew immediately to Siem Reap (the town next to the Angkor Wat
ruins).  The ruins at Angkor Wat (and Angkor Thom next door) are absolutely
incredible.  It's both amazing and sad that a civilization that once
produced such things has been devistated over recent years.  There's not
much I can say about this place in words, except I've seen the pyramids in
Egypt, and I was more impressed with these ruins than Egypt or any other
place I've been.  Even more amazing is the condition of the ruins:
considering that the entire country was devistated by war, the ruins were
left intact.  I asked someone if the KR occupied the area of the ruins, and
was told yes, but they left the ruins alone.  They didn't care about them,
but they didn't destroy them.  The carvings in the walls at Angkor Thom are
just incredible.  They stretch on and stretch on, and everywhere are carved
stories in pictures -- in perfect condition -- detailing life 800 years ago.
Over the years, some of the artifacts have been stolen, and some looted (the
K.R. took gold and other valuables, for instance, and many statues and ruins
have been stolen over the years by people and "dealers"), but the vast
majority of ruins remain.  Over the past few years, there has been an effort
to get the Angkor Wat area in shape.  Led mostly by the French, they are
excavating, putting everything in its place, clearing land mines, etc.  We
saw them hard at work on one site, restoring it to its original beauty. 
Some of the more important pieces have been taken out of the ruins and held
inside a building (Conservation d'Ankor) to prevent their theft. 
Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed inside to view them (it's more a
storage area than an open museum).  We went there and asked anyway, but were
turned away.  Theft is still a problem, because these ruins are quite
valuable, and there will always be those who wish to take them.  At one
site, signs are posted in English that the area is mined and booby-trapped
each and every night, and no one is allowed from dusk to dawn.  We were told
this is because they want to keep the ruins as-is, but don't have the
manpower to patrol the area (some of these areas are quite large).  I cannot
recommend this place highly enough.  The whole area is filled with beautiful
ruins (though that's a bad term, because many of the sites are in excellent
condition) from the 9th to 12th century, all right there in front of you. 
You're able to touch and walk around them.  This had to be the high point of
the trip.
   After spending time in Siem Reap (Angkor Wat area) we spent some time in
Phnom Penh (the capital).  Much different than the countryside, it's the
center of everything in Cambodia.  People from the countryside flock into
the city everyday trying to find a better life, but there aren't that many
jobs to go around.
   Random notes on Cambodia: Only the cities of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap
have electricity.  The rest of the country (ie, the countryside) has no
electricity, and uses gas lamps, unless some rich person or building has its
own generator.  Many businesses and buildings DO have their own generators,
even in Phnom Penh where there is electrcity -- because it often goes out. 
It's not uncommon to have power only 3 days a week, so the hotels and
businesses that must have power have their own generators.  Often, they'll
turn the power off during the day (the hotel we stayed at in Siem Reap did
this.  The power was off until around dinnertime).  There is very little
infrastructure in Cambodia -- and in Phnom Penh as well.  For instance,
there are no payphones, even in the capital city.  There's no infrastructure
for phones.  So an Australian company came in a few years ago and set up
Cambodia's first mobile phone network.  It's quite a strange sight seeing
people and businessmen everywhere in Phnom Penh carrying around their little
cellular phones, but you can't let that mislead you.  It's not a status
symbol like it can be in the States: they're using them because that's the
only way to get at a phone!  The only payphones to be found in the country
are at the airport (for overseas calling only) and they were put there by
the Australian company.  (Telephone cards that can be used at these rare,
airport-only, overseas-only payphones are sold at the airport.  Though I
don't know where they're made, they're EXACTLY like Japan's NTT phone
cards).  One thing to note is that maybe only 5% of the population can even
afford a phone, or a TV.  The vast majority of Cambodians are poor -- VERY
poor.  Speaking of infrastructure, one thing that struck me when flying into
Cambodia (after flying over Thailand) was how DRY everything was.  It looked
like a desert.  From the plane, you could see the little squares showing the
many farms and rice fields, but everything was dirt-brown.  (April is the hot
and dry season).  This is because unlike Thailand, Cambodia has no irrigation
system.  They can plant and harvest rice in the rainy season, but when it's
hot and dry, the fields go to waste (in Thailand, for example, we saw many
fields green with rice even though it was the dry, hot season).
   You don't see many gas stations in Cambodia... instead, you see little
stands by the roads (like lemonaide stands) where people sell gasoline in
1-litre SevenUp and Coke bottles by the roadside.  (Just a friendly warning:
that's not soda in the bottles, it's petrol).  The roads in Cambodia are
quite bad.  They've tried to improve them around some areas, but they're
still pretty bad and often unpaved.  Outside Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, the
roads are almost all unpaved.  The streets of Phnom Penh are paved though,
and in pretty decent condition.
   The currency of Cambodia is the riel.  As we were in the country, they
were in the process of introducing new notes (different pictures, designs,
etc).  However, the currency everyone actually USES is the US dollar -- and
not just tourists.  Everything is dollar-driven (something the government
has frequently tried to stop, but to no avail).  The rate in April 1995
was about 2500 riel for one dollar.  But everything is done in dollars, and
if someone wants to pay in riel, the riel equivalent is figured out.  It's
amazing to see some of the money in Cambodia: remember that in the U.S., the
average life of a $1 bill is 18 months (after which, it is in such bad
condition that it is taken in for shredding).  In Cambodia, the US dollar
bills are ragged, old, brown, worn, and look as if they're well overdue to
be called in (but of course, they won't be).  There's no black market
either, like there was for RMB in China in 1988 (before FEC was abolished). 
It's just a simple fact of life.  When we were at the airport, we were told
not to even bother changing money.  I wanted to anyway, but was told "maybe
$5 or $10 worth?  No more than that -- for both of you".  I wound up
changing $20 (using a little, and keeping the rest as souvenirs).
   There are many ethnic Chinese in Cambodia, and all over Cambodia (and
Thailand also, though not quite as obvious), it seemed that many (a very big
percentage) businesses were run by Cambodian Chinese.  The hotels we
stayed at in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap were Chinese-run.  Looking at the
windows of shops and signs, a good portion were run by Cambodian Chinese,
and you could often hear Chinese pop songs blaring from people's cheap
boom-boxes, and every once in a while, you'd hear people speaking Chinese on
the street.
   Because of the fact that less than 20 years ago, anyone with an education
was killed, there's an extreme shortage of educated and skilled workers in
the country.  Things are always going wrong because the people operating the
machines (whether the power plant or a telephone line) aren't really skilled
in doing it.  But even still, I was surprised at the hustle and bustle of
Phnom Penh, and the people who did speak English. (Note: statistically, very
VERY few people speak English in Cambodia, but among those who did, I was
surprised at how fluent they were, especially since those I spoke to said
they had never left Cambodia).  Many of the older folk speak and understand
French (from the time when the French occupied the country) but the language
of choice today is English.  Though of course, students don't learn it if
they're out in the countryside.  I was very curious about schooling, and was
told it follows the French system of education, but as can be expected, a
great number of children (especially in the countryside) don't attend school
because their family needs them in the fields or for work.  Among those that
do however, for younger students, they are divided up into two groups, and
are taught for a half a day (one group in the mornings, and the other in the
afternoons).  Each month this is switched so the group that was taught in
the morning one month will be taught in the afternoon the next.
   The country is poor (especially outside of the capital)... it is VERY
poor.  The people are thin, and work is constant.  Most people in the
countryside are farmers.  Often, parents don't bother to dress very young
children (maybe up to age 2).  The livestock you see wandering around
(mostly cows and chickens) are also bone-thin.  Probably because of this,
eating at a restaurant is quite different.  In America, when you order
chicken, you get the meat.  In Cambodia, anyplace we went and ordered
chicken, it's served as basically a bit of meat around the bones.  So every
bite you take, you basically eat the meat around the bone, and spit out the
bone.  One thing I could never figure out was how people identified whose
animals were whose.  The cows could be easy (with markings of some sort) but
there were chickens wandering around everywhere, and I always wondered how
people could tell which chickens belonged to whom.
   While 95% of the population in Cambodia are extremely poor, there are a
SMALL percentage of upper-class (I hesitate to say upper-class, but compared
to the rest of the population, that's what they are).  Upon arriving in Siem
Reap, we stumbled upon a brand-new looking house that was built in a western
fashion (ie, concrete, 2-story).  There was a ceremony going on inside with
lots of monks.  We found out it was the ceremony to bless the new house. 
Everyone was happy, and we were invited to come inside, which was very
gracious.  It was a beautiful house, and one very rare of its type in
Cambodia (it even had a "swimming pool" -- not a built-in cement one, but a
large tub you can fill and turn into a pool -- like out of Sears catalog). 
Most Cambodian houses are built from trees (wood, and leaves for the roof),
and are built on stilts.  You must walk up stairs to get to the house
(typically one-story).  The reason for having the house built above ground
on stilts is so when it's hot, the children and animals can play and rest in
shade under the house.  I suppose it also helps against flooding too. 
   A country as poor as Cambodia has many worries on its mind... and the
environment is certainly not one of them.  To be perfectly fair, I can
understand how the average person feels: who gives a shit about the
environment when you're worried if you'll have enough to eat that night? 
But at the same time, as an American, I felt a twang of sadness at the way
Cambodians treated their land.  Garbage is tossed anywhere and everywhere,
and the river around Phnom Penh has such a smell, we couldn't stand walking
alongside it for more than a few minutes.  To be honest, this is a situation
that occurs over much of Asia (China was especially bad -- and don't even
THINK about swimming in Taiwan's rivers, or Hong Kong's harbor), and it's
something that will have to be addressed in upcoming years, as the world's
industrialized countries try to bring down pollution, while the
eager-to-industrialize 3rd world produces more and more of it everyday.
   Almost every day you read in the newspaper that more people were killed
or injured by land mines.  This is one of the major problems with Cambodia
today.  The problem is, they're all over the place, and no one knows exactly
where.  Even while in Thailand, I'd pick up a paper and read that 6 more
people were killed by land mines today in Cambodia.  Cambodia has more land
mines than any other country.  It's a terrible situation, and one that will
take YEARS to defuse (after all, even 50 years after WWII, every once in a
while on the news, you hear of children finding unexploded shells somewhere
in Europe).  There is a de-mining effort going on now (led by the French)
and when the UN was there, there were units from other countries as well,
like Australia, but there is so much to do.  And while the French de-mining
unit is busy working on areas near Angkor Wat (as they are now), it will
take years to de-mine the country -- and I doubt it will ever be fully
de-mined.  Not to mention that the Khmer Rouge are still active in the
Cambodia-Thai border areas, and may continue to plant more mines as well.
Walking in Cambodia, especially away from the city, you see people with an
arm missing, or a leg gone.  It's not a pretty sight.  Once I asked someone
how the Cambodian people felt about the U.S., considering the way we bombed
the hell out of their country and played with their governments... I don't
know if he was being nice to a visitor or not, but the person answered me
this way: that there's no ill-will towards the U.S., that people understand
that it was war, and that with all that has happened to Cambodia, from the
French to the U.S. to the Khmer Rouge to the Vietnamese, people just want to
get on with the future and leave war behind.  That won't be easy to do
though.  There is very little infrastructure in the country, and skilled
labor is hard to find.  But Cambodia definitely seems to be moving ahead in
development (and while I'm happy for the country in regards to this, it's
also one of the reasons I wanted to see it now -- before Phnom Penh becomes
another Bangkok).  Trade has come, and if you have the money (95% of the
country doesn't) to buy a Casio or Citizen watch, you can.  I even spotted a
computer store where if you had the means, you could buy an Acer computer.
The U.S. now has an embassy in Phnom Penh again, just 2 or 3 years old (the
building that housed the old U.S. embassy from the 1970s is now the
Cambodian Fisheries Dept.), and people want to get on with their lives.  An
interesting split that I noticed was that there were still plenty of people
outside the cities, apparently happy to stay and work there, while those who
had flocked or grown up in Phnom Penh seemed eager to embrace trade and
mobile phones.  Hopefully, after so many years of war, Cambodia can find
itself and emerge back onto the world stage.  It's a great country, and a
very interesting place to visit, especially at this point in the country's
history.  I highly recommend a trip there!

   One interesting side-note I forgot to mention was some of the
product names seen in Cambodia: 
*a Fan with the brand name "Airy"
*a handi-wipe with the brand name "Freshy"
*a lamp in our Siem Riap hotel with the brand name "Brighty"
*a calculator (seen in the Siem Reap post office) with the name "Trusty"