Camb-Okinawa: darkness and light in Asia

22 May

s21 museum“Does the genocide museum have a dress code?”

It’s not a phrase I’ve ever typed into Google, certainly not on holiday, but it was necessary research a couple of weekends ago in Phnom Penh. Cambodia isn’t really like any other SE Asian country I’ve ever visited but it doesn’t take long to realise that a sombre trip to the Killing Fields and the notorious S21 prison are essential, if harrowing, stops.

I’m not going to prattle on like a sententious twump about why they’re important, you can figure that out for yourself. But reading a forced confession of some poor sod from my old school in NE England whose life was abruptly terminated at the hands of the Khymer Rouge does rather focus the mind. Reading all about the horrors of the ’70s and the turbulence that followed for decades afterwards, it seems churlish to complain about the food (pretty terrible) or the horrific sex tourism (the Heart of Darkness club is aptly named) in Cambodia. That didn’t stop me, of course.

I didn’t make it out to the Angkor Wat wonderland but the highlights for me were the smiley, smiley locals – you’ll never meet more polite hustlers in your life* – the dirt cheap beer, and the other worldliness of a city which was almost entirely depopulated during the late ’70s.

As lovely as Cambodia was, however, it was eventually time to pack away the Gary Glitter costume and head somewhere slightly closerkaraoke to home, culturally at least: Okinawa. Now there are two types of people in this world: those who see a five day forecast of torrential storms and brave it to the beach anyway, like IDIOTS, and those who decide to cut their losses and spend their entire weekend eating and drinking. So it was we discovered that the delights of Okinawan nightlife are even more delightful perhaps than Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto.

Naha is more chilled, more friendly and more accessible for the gaijin tourist than virtually any place in Japan proper I’ve been. That’s probably down to the fact it isn’t really Japan at all but part of the ancient kingdom of Ryukyu – the locals don’t much look like Japanese and they’ve a different dialect and even separate languages, although the two distinct cultures seem to have found a pretty sweet balance on these sub-tropical islands.


Cue lots of counter-stool-beer-izakaya action; plenty of chopstick competence-related comments; complementary shots of local firewater awamori; and the odd lock-in listening to the owner’s Led Zeppelin collection. Food = as good as you’d expect from Japan; beer = ditto; random events = cracking; brothels = surprisingly un-hidden; amusing Engrish signage = in abundance.

All in all an excellent quick-stop weekend destination from HK, especially thanks to Abenomics and the weak, weak yen.  The only dud was Black Harlem, a bar chocked full of over 10,000 vinyl records playing the most beautiful soul music but with the most miserable customer/bar staff combo known to man. In an irony which did not escape us as we exited post haste after one drink, it simply had no soul.

(*99% of the time anyway. My mate did have her flip flops nicked outside the Killing Fields museum. Who does that??)

One Response to “Camb-Okinawa: darkness and light in Asia”


  1. A Noodle abroad: Thailand versus Cambodia | Death Noodle - January 7, 2014

    […] did you spend your New Year holidays? For me it was a return to Thailand and Cambodia on a whirlwind six day trip. It was a tale of two countries which bloody hate each other but have a […]

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