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We travel to learn about other customs and cultures, so that we come back changed by the places we have seen and the people we have met. But to truly understand another country, we have to be willing to share not just that country's joyous past, but also the tragedies that have changed lives and changed history. Cambodia is such a place, and this is such a story.

On the way to our ship, the AmaLotus, we met our new guide. He introduced himself as Buntha. Here is his story.

Buntha was born in 1974 in Phnom Penh. He grew up in a traditional home until he was seven. After that life was never the same for him. It was at that point that the Pol Pot regime had reached the height of its power in Cambodia. It was also the point at which Buntha was kidnapped by the Pol Pot forces. He was not alone.

At the age of ten Buntha was handed an AK47 and told that he needed to practice his shooting skills. His targets were those who were running through the fields in an attempt to escape the brutality. He was just a boy and he said to his commander, "No, I cannot shoot those people". His commander looked at him and said "Okay, then give me your gun and run and I will use you as a target instead". He looked up and said "Okay" and began shooting. His life was changed forever. He was given a new name, Kim, and remained in the army until the country was liberated.

After the war he returned to Phnom Penh, still a child, and settled on the banks of the Phnom Penh without family or anyone to care for him. He searched every day hoping to find his parents. One day someone shouted to him and called him Buntha. He said his name was Kim. The man said to him that his name was Buntha and that he was his cousin. It was not until the man showed Buntha a picture of him as a child that he believed him. His cousin took him in. At one point they returned to his childhood home. His home no longer had a roof or doors or windows. It had been burned to the ground. He never found his parents.

When he went to get his passport he was asked for his birthdate. He did not know his birthday. So he made up a date, January 7, 1977. He made himself six years younger so that he would be able to go to school. Had he told them 1971 he would have been forced to go to trade school and would not have had the opportunity to learn English or have a basic education. He joined a monastery for a year to cleanse his soul of the acts that he was forced to commit during the war and to release the bad memories that played such an important part of his life.

Buntha continues to look for his parents even though he believes that they most likely died in the killing fields. Each evening on the television for thirty minutes faces are shown on the screen. Faces of parents looking for children and children looking for parents. On local busses people continue to share stories with each other of how they escaped the killing fields. The government is now beginning to test the bones found in the killing fields to match DNA to survivors in an effort to offer at least some closure. Bhutan is now forty. He has a wife and two children and works hard to support them. And, while he can never escape his own past, he tries every day to build a future for his new family in memory of the family he lost.


Our day started early as we visited Holy Mountain and Wat Notor Temple. The day we visited happened to be a national holiday and the temple and the surrounding complex was filled with people offering rice and other food to the Buddhist monks. By offering food they believe that they are feeding the souls of their departed relatives which in turn provides them with good karma. In addition to the temple there are many statues of Buddha in a variety of positions including the sleeping Buddha. The complex was very near one of the 388 killing fields found in Cambodia after the end of the Pol Pot regime. A Stupa was erected there memorializing the souls of those found in that killing field.

Kampong Cham Village In the afternoon we visited a village in the province of Kampong Cham. We toured the village to get an idea of how rural Cambodians spend their daily lives and how they work together to make a living as a community. One family allowed us into their home to see how they lived. The home consisted of a living room and a smaller storage room. Traditionally the homes are built on stilts with the living quarters upstairs. The animals and kitchen are both located on the ground floor. They construct the homes this way due to the potential for flooding during the rainy season.

We visited a home where they wove silk cloth and made utensils out of bamboo. Another family made sugar from palm trees. One of the families raised pigs and almost all families owned at least one or two heads of cattle or water buffalo. The more cattle they have the more prosperous they are. Most villages do not have electricity as they simply cannot afford it. The goal is to have electricity in all homes by 2015. There was one television that was powered by a car battery which was recharged each month. Meals are cooked each day on a wood fire.

Buddah Blessing Ceremony We returned to the ship and enjoyed lunch as we sailed to Angkor Ban. The village of Angkor Ban was a short walk from the ship. Here we were treated to a Buddha blessing ceremony in the Khmer Pagoda. After taking off our shoes we entered the pagoda to watch the ceremony. It is important to remember that shoulders and knees must be covered to enter an active temple of pagoda. In the town were many boys training to become monks. Boys start training to become monks at the age of nine or ten. It is considered a rite of passage and once they achieve monkhood they are considered to be men.

Village Boat Race After the Buddha blessing we went to the river to watch a village boat race. The town was crowded with spectators lining the banks of the river to see the races. We were lucky as the boat races only happen on holidays. The boats hold about twenty people all rowing for the big win!


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