Sunday, December 2, 2012

Israel and Mainstream Media Bias

Recently the world's media focused once again on Israel and the Palestinians, and once again the debate over who's right and who's wrong got mainstream attention. Unfortunately much of the mainstream media was biased, as is the norm, essentially providing a pro-Israeli narrative when ever possible. Several years ago, before I took up an interest in this conflict and when my knowledge was much more limited, the only information I received on this issue was through such media outlets as the BBC and other daily tabloid newspapers. Through their distorted reporting I formed the opinion that the Israelis were the victims in all this, the target of unprovoked Arab aggression, with the Palestinians leading the terrorist fight to expel all Jews from the region. I couldn't really be blamed for my naive views at that time, how was I to know the reality of this decades old conflict without deviating from the mainstream media and digging a little deeper.

Of course there is biased reporting on the behalf of the Palestinian cause and both sides have committed terrible acts, but there are clear facts that show that one side is dominated and oppressed by the other. UN reports and repeated resolutions condemning Israeli violations of international law are one clear indicator of what's really happening on the ground. Human rights groups are another great source of information as they are less concerned with the political situation and focus solely on the human suffering whether Israeli or Palestinian. When looking to sources other than the mainstream media and when you take the standard British political stance with a pinch of salt, you soon become horrified and angry at not only the suffering that the Palestinians endure, but also at the way many Western governments and media conglomerates show bias towards, and therefore support for, Israeli abuses of international law. The reason why they show such unwavering support is also another interesting and disturbing topic, one which I won't go into now.

On a positive note looking forward, the British public seem to be following their European counterparts in starting to understand the reality of life for the Palestinian population under Israeli occupation and oppression. The reasons for this I can not easily explain, but I expect it has something to so with the way individual activists and organisations use ever-evolving social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as the increasing amount of alternative news and information websites, allowing the general public to access broader, diverse and more up-to-date news. Although the spread of information in this manner is not always accurate and verifiable, it allows alternative ideas to be spread, often igniting the interest of the receiver which then prompts them to delve further into the subject using more credible sources. People are no longer restricted to just a few news media outlets who provide propaganda for the political and business elite, they are now often exposed to a wide range of views that contradict the status quo which I think will only help to spread social equality throughout Israel, and indeed the world.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

MEP Ashley Fox Backs Apartheid Regime

I recently emailed MEP Ashley Fox regarding the vote on the EU-Israel Protocol on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA). The vote takes place on October 23rd 2012 and if implemented would essentially mean better trade conditions between the EU and Israel. I asked Ashley Fox to show support for Palestinian human rights by voting against this agreement.

Below is his response:

Thank you for your e-mail. Please allow me to be absolutely clear on what is happening.

The European Union is discussing a protocol to an already existing agreement between the EU and Israel. I believe that refusing consent to this Protocol would cause economic damage to both the EU and Israel at this time of international financial crisis. It would also affect the EU's ability to project positive political influence within Israel for promoting lasting peace in the region. I support EU trade agreements with both the Palestinian and Israeli Authorities and will continue to do so.

I believe than an eventual progression from the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords towards a two state solution will lead to final and comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on implementation of the Road Map with land for peace swaps. This would create a peaceful and sovereign Palestinian State, with Israel enjoying secure and recognised borders. Each country should enjoy normal relations and capacity for trade with its neighbours.

I support the PA led by President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad as the legitimate government of the Palestinians. Any sovereign future Palestinian state would have to be able to reign in terrorist groups such as Hamas, which has to date refused to uphold the Oslo Peace Accords.

The Association Agreement with Israel (signed in 1995 and in force from 2000) does not include either the occupied territories, or goods originating in these territories. Indeed, goods originating from the Israeli occupied territories are not entitled to preferential tariff treatment under Community law.

I believe that Palestine should be governed by the Palestinian people. I have sought assurances from the European Commission that any free trade agreement with Israel includes safeguards to prevent the economic exploitation of the West Bank and Gaza territories.

I believe that to effectively isolate Israel will only exacerbate the problems in the region. Trade allows the flow of goods and with them ideas. It allows us to influence Israel in ways that would not be possible if we stopped trading with them. Indeed, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso visited Palestine in July this year to show that support.

Israel has behaved appallingly in many ways, but not without provocation. The only way to change this behaviour is through trade and 'soft' influence. Forcing Israel into an isolated corner has not worked in the past and will not work in the future. I will continue to support free trade agreements, with proper safeguards, with both Palestine and Israel.

Yours sincerely,

Ashley Fox

Unsatisfied with his response which showed either a lack of compassion or a large amount of ignorance, I replied:

Dear Mr Fox

Thank you for replying to my email regarding the ACAA agreement. However, I feel I must reply in response to some of the points you have made as they are inaccurate.

1.) “refusing consent to this Protocol would cause economic damage to both the EU and Israel”.

Although refusing consent may cause some minor adverse effects to the economy of the EU, any negative consequences to the Israeli economy can only be a positive outcome, as this would highlight two important points: Firstly, that we are unwilling to improve trade conditions with an apartheid regime that consistently breaks international law through the abuse of human rights and the occupation of Palestinian land. Secondly, as trade with Europe and probably the world will be hampered, Israel's economy, and therefore it's people, will suffer as a consequence, possibly causing them pause for thought regrading their harmful policies.

2.)  “the EU's ability to project positive political influence within Israel”.

Israel currently enjoys brilliant trade relations with countries such as ourselves and the US. This has only helped to enable Israel to implement and maintain its system of oppression. If we improve Israel's trade prospects what kind of message would that really send? Can't you see that by doing this we will be condoning their despicable policies and actions?

3.)  “Any sovereign future Palestinian state would have to be able to reign in terrorist groups such as Hamas, which has to date refused to uphold the Oslo Peace Accords.”

Hamas have committed some abhorrent crimes, I would not question this. But so have Israel and on a much larger scale. Israel is a terrorist state; anyone who has an interest in this issue and is without bias, knows this. Assassinations, indiscriminate killings and sometimes the intended killing of civilians, torture, the demolition of civilian structures ( houses in particular), detention without trial (including children), these are all done systematically and on a regular basis by the state of Israel. Therefore, do you not agree that if Hamas has to be reigned in, so does Israel?

As far as upholding the Oslo Peace Accords, why are you not also referring to Israel's continued illegal settlement building, as well as the crimes just mentioned above?

4.)  “The Association Agreement with Israel does not include either the occupied territories , or goods originating in these territories.”

This may be true but many illegal Israeli settlement goods are sold throughout Britain, many through the big supermarket chains. Like I said, we already have good trade relations with Israel, and so far we have not used this as a lever to affect change. Why is this? You state that “to isolate Israel will only exacerbate the problems in the region”, but how much worse can it get for the Palestinians? Didn't boycotts and sanctions help to bring apartheid in South Africa to an end?

5.)  “Israel has behaved appallingly in many ways, but not without provocation.”

I think you would do better to turn this sentence around – Palestinians have behaved appallingly in many ways, but not without provocation. Israel is a prosperous country, many of the population have access to good healthcare, education and jobs. This is not true of Palestine, where the majority of the population live in poverty with very little hope for a better future. Even the most basic and essential supplies sent to them by the international community are often stopped from reaching them by the Israel. It is this lack of hope and desperation that sometimes leads Palestinians to commit horrific acts of violence.

Thank you for taking the time to read this email. I would very much appreciate a reply to the points I have set out. I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

I now await his response, fully aware that he will go ahead and vote yes to this agreement anyway. It will be interesting to see how he justifies voting yes when answering the questions I put to him.  

Monday, September 24, 2012

Film “Innocence of Muslims” Sparks Outrage Throughout the Islamic World

Anti-West protests throughout many Muslim countries this last week or so have had a slight end of the world feel about them. The extremely tacky and distasteful “Innocence of Muslims”, a short film that was clearly made with the intent to antagonise Muslims the world round, has had it's desired effect. Although it would be accurate to state that it was only a fraction of the worlds Muslims who were out there protesting, and a even smaller number who turned to violence, I still felt disappointed and concerned at the reaction, especially considering these were largely grown men. The people responsible for this video are clearly contemptible, but why they would want to offend so many people in this way is unclear at this point. But, however distasteful or offensive we might find this video, we must defend freedom of speech at all costs. To have something banned simply because we don't agree with it's tone or message would be to regress as a society, possibly the start of a very slippery slope that leads to a less civilised world.

As a big fan and regular viewer of animated sitcoms such as Family Guy and South Park, I've seen numerous episodes where they poke fun at characters from the Christian faith, namely God and Jesus. I'm aware of some discontent from some faith groups, particularly in the US, but these sitcoms largely go about their business with little hassle and serious threats to their lives are pretty rare. So why do Christians in the West largely ignore what could be seen as an attack on their faith? And why is the reaction so different throughout the Muslim world? I don't see religion as a progressive force in society in general, but in the West Christian views seemed to have mellowed and have accepted that people are free to criticise whenever they see fit. Many Christians, I imagine, laugh along to the same episodes as I do, seeing no conflict in laughing at parts of their faith while still holding that faith strong and close to them.

Maybe the intensity of the protests throughout the Arab world can be partly blamed on the conditions they find themselves living in, using their religion as an outlet for dissatisfaction relating to the lack of democracy, lack of freedom of speech, lack of education and jobs, and so forth. Whatever the reasons for the violence it can never be justified. If religion is to be taken seriously in the 21st century then scenes like this need to be avoided. People like me who have no faith are prepared to accept and even respect other people's faith, but not when it acts in such a destructive and violent manner.     

American Presidential Elections 2012 – The Lesser of Two Evils

As per usual, elections in the most powerful and influential country in the world has more to do with personality than policy. To become president you must be wholesome, an all American guy who's Christian faith is unshakable and the basis on which all decisions must be made whilst in office. Oh, and you need money, and lots of it. It's really all about voting for the lesser evil, that's all you can hope for. Obama gave the world hope for change, unfortunately he fell short on most issues, including on his promise to close Guantanamo Bay. To be fair he was always up against it, the US system of governance is set up in such a way that it's virtually impossible to change the way big business and certain powerful individuals and groups dominate, at the detriment not only to Americans but the world as a whole.

Obama may not have been the ray of hope we were looking for, but next to Mitt Romney and the destructive and uncaring policies of the Republican Party, he's heaven sent, here to save us from the devil himself. If the American public is crazy enough to vote Romney in, and judging by their track record it's a real possibility, the world will becomes that little bit more unstable. I truly believe this. You can add him to the list of moral-less trigger happy war lords such as Reagan, Bush Sr. and Bush Jnr. All dreadful people who have done dreadful things, without a hint of remorse for their total lack of respect for human life.

As the elections start to build steam, the mud slinging will intensify, each concentrating on the others personality flaws, with policy a secondary issue at best. If Americans decide to ignore this charade and concentrate purely on policy, a little scratching at the surface will reveal what most people with even a partial interest in world politics will know: that Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are there to serve their own interests, that of a small elite of extremely wealthy Americans who's only concern is in maintaining the status quo, with little or no concern in the well-being of their own people, and certainly not the well-being of other nations. Having said that, do the Democrats differ greatly in what they can offer Americans and the world? Well, in my opinion they do at least at times seem to show some humility to their own as well as to the world, but as I mentioned earlier, it's all about choosing the lesser of two evils. That's probably the kindest thing to be said of the Democratic Party.  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Earlier this year KINGFISHER AIRLINES decided to cancel my return flight to the UK, leaving me stranded in Thailand. (Granted, there are worse places you could be stranded). I was told that due to Kingfisher cancelling all flights from Thailand to the UK, they were unable to book me onto an alternative flight. STA Travel, the agency with whom I bought the ticket through, informed me I would receive a partial refund on the unused part of the ticket, but they could not tell me when this would be actioned. The only option open to me was to book myself onto another flight with a different airline, which is exactly what I did, costing me an extra £400 on top of the £600 plus I'd already spent on the original ticket.

It's now over 6 months later and I am yet to receive either a partial refund or a reimbursement for the cost of the extra ticket. Irritated is putting it mildly, these are not the most affluent of times, I want my money!

Every time I contact STA Travel to enquire about my refund I am simply told that they have not yet received it, so therefore they are unable to pass it on. When I contacted Kingfisher I was informed that all correspondence must go through the broker with whom I purchased the ticket with – STA Travel. See the pattern?!!!

I'm getting the distinct feeling I may never receive any recompense, but maybe I've just become too cynical? Kingfisher are clearly out of line here, I wonder if this is a common complaint with this particular airline, or am I just unlucky? Or maybe this is endemic to the airline industry as a whole?
I can't help but feel that STA Travel are less than sympathetic and wonder if they could be doing more for my cause? Although, I only have positive things to say about STA regarding my previous dealings and transactions with them.

I've now registered a complaint with the Civil Aviation Authority, the only option left to me as far as I can fathom. I'll keep you posted with any updates. If anyone has any advice or experience concerning this or similar airline issues, please comment below.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Thailand: My Top Ten

Compiling a list of what I considered to be my top ten Thailand destinations was not as straight forward a task as I had originally assumed. There seemed to be two main factors which when I considered the list would cause me to alter the ranking of some of the destinations: One being my mood i.e., was I looking for total peace and quiet with good snorkelling nearby, or was I feeling more inclined to go mountain trekking or sightseeing. Two, how long was I planning on staying in one particular destination, e.g., if I had decided I wanted to settle somewhere for a couple of months or so, I would probably avoid somewhere with poor internet access and few eating options. So with the list as it stands, I have tried to factor in the two variables just mentioned, and I have created what I think is a fairly accurate top ten.

10 - Koh Tao

Koh Tao is a small island located in the Gulf of Thailand, roughly 70km east of the mainland between Chumphon and Suratthani. Turtle Island, as Koh Tao is sometimes referred to, lives up to its reputation for great diving and vibrant night-life. Nice beaches, clear water and reasonably priced accommodation is certainly another factor that helps attracts the crowds. On Sairee Beach, the most popular beach on the island, there are plenty of bars and restaurants, regular beach parties with their customary fire shows, and a community of dive instructors who seem to have a passion for their chosen vocation, as well as for alcohol. One small complaint would be in regards to sun bathing, which wasn't always easy due to what seemed like a constant high tide, leaving only a short stretch of sand in places. The beautiful Koh Nangyuan, which consists of three very small islands connected by a single stretch of white sand, is a short boat trip away, and I would highly recommend spending some time there. Diving, which seems to be the main pulls to the island, is highly rated and everyone I spoke to seemed more than satisfied with their experience, with sightings of Whale Sharks commonplace. With only two visits under by belt, and one of those being a day trip from Koh Phangan, I only have limited experience of Koh Tao, but it still makes it into my top ten.  

9 - Koh Chang

There are in fact two Koh Changs in Thailand; the one I am referring to here lies off the south-east coast and is the second largest island, Phuket being the first. With it's chilled vibe, nice beaches, jungle like interior, and small but lively party scene, tropical Koh Chang has to be included in my top ten. Exploring the island by motorbike is easy enough and allows you go from beach to beach, taking in it's various stages of tourism, from the very laid back to the extremely commercial. Activities on offer include: diving, snorkelling, kayaking, hiking and elephant trekking, as well as trips to the surrounding islands. For me the mix was good, half my time there was spent relaxing and partying, the other half spent riding elephants and just generally exploring my surroundings. As on Koh Tao my experience of this island is limited, but what I did see I liked and I hope to go back.

8 - Ayutthaya

I seemed to fall a little in love with Ayutthaya within a very short time, surpassing my expectations, which probably weren't that high due to the lack of recommendations from other travellers. Ancient temples and ruins which are scattered throughout the city are the main draw for tourists. In my opinion these are some of the best temples and historical sights in Thailand, and being only an hour or so from Bangkok a day trip is possible. Having said that, it's worth staying at least 2 or 3 days to explore the temples and the city in general, and to absorb the laid-back and slightly spiritual atmosphere. There's a fair range of accommodation, nice and inexpensive food can be found in the markets, and bicycles, which are a great way of seeing the city, can be rented for next to nothing. There's not too much in terms of a night-life but there are a few bars that attract tourists, ex-pats and locals alike and where a good night can be had. Thai-style clubs or discotheques can also be found and in my experience are often a lot of fun.  

7 - Koh Samet

If you're flying into Bangkok but are looking to avoid the capital's hectic and humid streets, preferring instead a much more chilled island lifestyle, then Koh Samet is a good option. It's about 2 to 4 hours minibus ride from Bangkok to Ban Phe Pier (very much depending on traffic and stops), then approximately a 30min ferry ride from the pier to the island itself, which when considering the distances to other islands in the south of Thailand, makes Koh Samet fairly convenient and stress free. Finding really cheap food and accommodation isn't always easy but the amazing white sand, lazy chilled days (there are some options for the more energetic and adventurous), and lively night-life are a good mix. On the weekend it's a good place to meet young party-loving Thais as many of them seem to flock to the island to escape Bangkok. But be warned, this makes finding accommodation a lot harder so either pre-book or arrive before Friday when this shouldn't be an issue.  

6 - Isaan

Whilst Isaan has only made it in at number 6, the more time I spend in the north east region of Thailand the more appealing it becomes. Therefore, I think it would be safe to assume that if I were to spend further time there, Isaan would steadily claw it's way up the list. The people, with their often laid back, helpful and friendly demeanour, is probably one of the most endearing features of this largely rural region. This more traditional side of Thailand, sometimes referred to as “the real Thailand”, is peaceful yet vibrant. Usually much cheaper when compared to other parts of Thailand, your money goes a lot further in regards to every day living costs. Accommodation, food (which is generally delicious), drink and transport, for the most part, are all inexpensive. Another feature that I noticed and loved was the importance of their local parks. Although very quiet throughout the day, by late afternoon they fill considerably with locals coming together, partly to exercise, partly to socialise. Walking, jogging, football, Sepak Takraw (a sport played throughout South-East Asia which is similar to volleyball, but differs by using a rattan ball and only permitting players to strike the ball with either their feet, knees, chest or head) and basketball are all activities that are commonplace to Isaan parks. It's a side of Thailand that many tourists don't see and that's a shame, but it's easy to understand why many people don't consider it, I guess, with it's lack of beaches and tourist friendly resorts.  

5 - Railey

Railey, a beautiful little place with its stand-out feature being it's limestone cliffs, can be found in the southern province of Krabi. Although attached to the mainland it projects an island persona due to the fact that it can only be reached by boat. Rock climbing the aforementioned limestone cliffs is a popular pastime and well worth the effort, half and full-day climbs are readily available. All levels of experience are catered for. The quality beaches and clear blue ocean, along with the jagged cliffs, help to create the effect of serenity, which can sometimes be broken when beaches are slightly crowded during peak times. Day and night the whole place has a nice community feel to it, even the monkeys seem fairly amiable. And there's plenty of reggae, a lot of it decent, which is always a big bonus for me.  

4 - Koh Kradan

Koh Kradan is the most beautiful of the Trang Islands and possibly the most beautiful of all Thailand's islands. Put simply Koh Kradan is stunning! Lying in the Andaman Sea south-west of Phuket and about 40 minutes from Trang on the mainland, this little gem remains largely underdeveloped with limited structures, no roads and no motor vehicles (except for boats ferrying people back and forth). It has all the usual criteria that makes up your typical island paradise: thick inner jungle, gorgeous white sand and clear turquoise waters. But what helps to make it even more appealing is the amazing coral reef that surrounds the island. Only a short swim away it is almost certainly the best snorkelling I have encountered in Thailand, and you don't need to pay any tour company for the privilege. Eating options are a little limited and as far as I could tell there was no party scene to speak of, but then if you are looking for that then maybe Koh Phi Phi is more your bag – Koh Kradan is all about tranquillity.  

3 - Chiang Mai

The ancient and historic city of Chiang Mai is certainly North Thailand's biggest tourist draw. Although a large city with some congestion problems, it's relatively chilled and stress free when compared to the likes of Bangkok. It's where the old meets the new, traditional meets modernity, which is all part of the appeal for me. Hours can be spent exploring the city, which is easily navigated and never a chore. Chiang Mai is famous for it's temples, and rightly so, but there's so much more to see and do. There's a wide range of accommodation, restaurants, bars (including some good live music venues), shops and markets; all tastes and budgets are catered for. Other things to see and do within the city itself include: Muay Thai, traditional Thai dance, museums, massage, cookery and yoga. There's an extensive range of outdoor activities which include mountain biking, rafting and jungle trekking, most of which take place outside of the city where Chiang Mai's beautiful mountains, lakes and countryside are located. A modern city with strong links to it's traditional past, Chiang Mai has a style all of it's own, which makes it an attractive alternative to many of Thailand's beach destinations.

2 - Koh Phangan

Probably best known for it's hedonistic night-life and Full Moon Parties, Koh Phangan doesn't disappoint. Having said that it's the island's more relaxed beaches on the east and west coasts that I find more appealing. There the days are peaceful and lazy, made up of sunbathing and snorkelling. But, a party is never far away, and if you really want to go at it then taxis run to Haad Rin (the busiest and most commercial area of Phangan, and home of the Full Moon Party) from nearly anywhere on the island. Hiring a motorbike is the best and cheapest way to explore, and gives you the freedom to really get to know Koh Phangan and what it has to offer. Good vibe, good people (for the most part), and although it gets flooded with tourists at times you can still find that partly secluded tropical island paradise that we all crave from time to time; you just have to look for it.

1 - Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta, my personal favourite for a number of years now, sits in the Andaman Sea just south-east of Phi Phi. It's not as pretty as Kradan, and it doesn't have the night-life of Phangan, but to me Lanta is well rounded with a near perfect balance. The busiest beach is rarely what you'd call busy, but if you want total seclusion you just hop on a motorbike and continue down the west coast where deserted beaches can still be found. The night-life on the face of it seems practically non-existent, but scratch the surface a little and you soon realise there's always a party going on, somewhere. Certain bars host live bands, sometimes local musicians, sometimes international bands. The food is decent and cheap and the people are friendly and helpful. The mix on Lanta is good, you can socialise or find solitude; have a lazy day by the sea or explore the island; eat pizza or local cuisine: have a quiet, relaxing drink to the soundtrack of reggae or down cocktails and shots as the DJ pumps out faster, more repetitive music. Will this balance be disrupted as tourism grows and development expands? Possibly, but for now all is good, so make the most of it while it lasts.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Sombre Day In Phnom Penh: Part Two

Please see  - A sombre Day In Phnom Penh: Part One

We navigated our way through the traffic and before too long had reached the city outskirts where houses and shops made way for trees and rice paddies. The Killing Fields are situated about 17km south of the city and it felt good to be getting a little rural. After driving for roughly 35 minutes or so, we pulled up outside Choeung EK and again I entered while my taxi man patiently waited for me outside.

The aptly named Killing Fields was the site where many of the Khmer Rouge's victims were buried. Originally an orchard covered by trees, the site was converted into a mass grave. Or many mass graves to be precise. Some prisoners were killed before arrival, like many of those who were interrogated, tortured and exterminated at the S21 facility. Others were trucked in alive where they were either shot dead into the already dug ditches, or as in some cases, were buried alive. After paying the entrance fee, I continued to walk straight ahead where I was met with a memorial to the dead; a Buddhist stupa which contained shelf upon shelf of skulls, as well as some of the clothing belonging to the victims. Many of the skulls displayed showed clear signs of trauma in the form of fractures and holes, which was the result of blows to the head by either riffle butts or other tools that were to hand such as cart axles and hoes.

From there I walked from one former grave to another, each detailing how many bodies were exhumed. One stated “mass grave of 450 victims”, another, “mass grave of 166 victims without heads”. I walked a little further to find a grave that had contained 100 bodies, woman and children, the majority of whom were naked. Quite often, once the bodies were exhumed, the rain would later bring up to the surface the victims decaying clothing. Sombre is putting it lightly, the emotions you feel whilst walking around Choeung Ek are quite intense, especially as the body count rises. I came across a tree which I was informed was used to beat children against. The cruelty was ceaseless and seemed to know no limits.

Towards the back of the orchard lies a nature reserve, of sorts, offering a serene and peaceful distraction from the almost constant horrors that you're confronted with when visiting Choeung Ek. The trees, plants, a large pond and wildlife, were all welcomed as I walked the path around this happy diversion. The back of the reserve looked out over rice fields, and further behind that, a river. I slowly made my way round and back towards the beginning of the site, where before leaving I took in the museum and was further educated about methods, numbers and the characters involved in the facilitating of such heinous crimes. The museum marked the end of the tour. The journey back to Phnom Penh was pleasant, particularly at the point where we pulled over to take in the sun setting over rice fields and wooden stilted houses. A nice end to an emotional day.

Looking back on the day, it's not easy to find words to describe how I felt about visiting these two museums, or tourist attractions, or historical sites, or whatever you choose to call them . An interrogation centre where thousands were tortured and killed, and a large field which is essentially a mass grave; to say it was fun would be incorrect as well as being a little distasteful. It was at times uncomfortable, upsetting, dark and a little depressing, but overall I came away feeling immensely glad I had gone, and I would recommend it to anyone. Horrific events such as this and the Holocaust, which of course was on an even bigger scale, should be remembered, and by visiting places like this it allows you to, on some level, and to a small degree, understand the suffering that others endured; to try and imagine yourself naked and chained to that metal bed whilst being tortured, or being lined up in front of what will be your grave, waiting to be shot. By remembering such atrocities and how much of an ordeal it must have been for the people experiencing it, we reduce the chances, or at least help to limit, any future repeats of this behaviour. Or that is the hope anyway. The psychology aspect of it fascinates me; what drives people to do such horrible things? Luckily in most cases, it appears to be only a few sick individuals in positions of power who coerce others to perform such terrible acts, usually through fear and intimidation. Or maybe I'm being a little naive in thinking that, maybe more people than I care to imagine believed in what they were doing. Or, even worse, they took pleasure in their twisted acts. Either way, the psychology aspect interests me and I intend to read up on the subject.

I did come away with some positivity and hope, which some may find surprising. The Cambodian people were in my experience, lovely people! And talking to other travellers only confirmed this, as in general they found Cambodians to be friendly, amiable and often helpful people, who always threw a smile their way. This, I think, says a lot about the human spirit. They have as a nation endured so much, and still do, but yet life hasn't beaten them, not even close. There will always be cruel and sadistic people who want to do harm to others, and it seems you never have too look far to find them. But equally, you can find acts of compassion and kindness everywhere you go; you just have to believe that the latter is ubiquitous while the former is less so, because to believe the opposite is to have given up all hope!