I’m sitting on a plane remembering a Thailand / Cambodia trip in did with my dad a few year back.  My pop stays young by jumping out of airplanes with foreign militaries, earning foreign jump wings.  On this particular trip we were of to get our Thai Special Forces HALO jump wings and then head to Cambodia to do the same with their Special Forces units. This was my first time doing anything international other then my time in the military and I was looking forward to some adventure with my dad.

When we landed in Bangkok we jumped in a cab and made our way to the hotel which was about 45 minutes away.  We really didn’t know where we were going and we were pretty sure (not 100%) we gave the correct name to the cab driver.  In any case we made it to our destination and were happy to see some of the other guys from the International Airborne Tour.  We got briefed up on the week and then headed to bed.

The morning was my first Thai breakfast.  I was super hungry and loaded up my plate with what looked like a rice and egg stir-fry.  When I sat down with my dad he gave me a look, something to the effect of “good lunch with that”.  Needless to say I should have taken a small sample before piling it on. I regretted my first bite and every bite after, thus starting a week long food adventure I won’t soon forget.  I think every meal was a surprise with menu names not really communicating the reality of what the dish was. My American version of food names was obviously very different from theirs.  Pumpkin pie was more like mini pumpkin pancakes, fish soup was more like a whole fish in a blender, a sea bass was literally a deep fried sea bass, head, tail, and all.  We had several meals that made us laugh at each other for choosing it.   Good times thought the Thai food was better than the Cambodian food.

In Thailand we got to visit a tiger temple and hand out with tigers and monks. We also went to visit a few war memorials including “A Bridge To Far” and spent some time in Bangkok.  The C-130 we were going to jump from went down for maintenance so we didn’t have a chance to get the Thai jump wings. 

Cambodia was a very different experience from Thailand.  When we got off the plane it was very apparent that we were in a 3rd world country.  Little motor bikes everywhere, people selling gas out of plastic soda bottles, piles of clothing for sale on pallets, and piles of broken concrete and debris scattered around.  Regardless the state of their living conditions the locals all seemed very happy and for the most part, very welcoming.

The next day we went visit one of the famous re-education camps of the Khmer Rouge.  It was a school that they converted into a prison for people that didn’t support the communist ideology.  We walked through classrooms that were converted into prison cells of concrete blocks with metal beds and legs shackles still in place.  The vibe in the place was very chilling.  The playground was converted into a torcher area with water tanks to dunk people’s heads, something that they tied people up and hung people from, and razor wire everywhere.  There was another building that had more cells and what looked like classrooms and at the end was a room that had actual human skulls and bones on display.  After the tour there was a little flee market where people sold trinkets including old US dog tags and other items from the Vietnam War.  Knives, Zippo lighters, and shell casings.  The whole experience was pretty intense.     

What’s left of the “killing fields” after they dug up the mass graves

To contrast the prison camp we went to a palace that had hundreds of gold Buddha’s and other gold religious statues.  This place was only a very short distance from the prison camp and was a stark contrast to what was happening right down the road. 

The last stop on the tour was “The Killing Fields”.  This is the place that the Khmer Rouge killed millions of people that didn’t conform to their ideology.  The brought bus loads of people here, killed them, and threw the bodies in a pit.  As we walked around the area where they dug up the pits we could still see bone and clothing that is coming up from the ground as the rain washes away the dirt covering them.  There were dozens of pits in the area and it was very sad to see what humanity is capable of.  At the end of the tour there was a huge monument of real skulls that were dug up and then stacked on top of each other within the glass walls of a very tall structure. 

The next day was with the Cambodian Special forces was a great experience.  We did some training with their guys including rappelling, shooting AK-47s, and zip lining down a rope with nothing more than a rope looped over it. After training I had my first Cambodian iced coffee in a plastic bag with a straw sticking out. 

The following day was jump day.  We all assembled in the landing zone and geared up while we waited for a Russian helicopter to pick us up.  I was grateful I had my own gear after seeing what the Cambodians were jumping with. Water stained and sun faded pack trays with rusty and corroded metal hardware.  I can see why they were all so nervous.  I probably tripped them out when I showed up with my sport parachute, no helmet or altimeter, and barrowed goggles.  I have no idea how I forgot all that stuff when I left home but I did.  When I jumped I just kept my eye on my dads altimeter while in freefall and we were good to go. On one of the last jumps I had one of the Cambodian jumpmasters ask me where my helmet and altimeter were (through hand signals)  I signaled back that I was using my dads alti and that I had a hard head. He seemed OK with that answer. Most likely figured I was an idiot American.  On one of the jumps I was falling with my dad and noticed the sole of his boot was ripping off and flopping around in the wind. I literally laughed in freefall.  A couple other funny things on jump day were sitting on the fuel tank, no seatbelts, some civilian spectators sitting on the back door, and a very short static line anchor cable (about 3 ft). The last guys n the static line stick had just about every inch of their static line strung out past all the other jumpers.  Somehow the jumpmaster managed to keep it all straight and all of the jumpers made clean exits. 

When we finished up jump operations, we had a one of the locals come out with a cart full of sugar cane and a machine that squeezed the juice out of the stalks.  He sold us cane juice in a plastic bag with a straw out of it.  When we made it back to the training center we had a little ceremony where a 2 star general pined our Cambodian military freefall wings on our chest.

The night before we left Cambodia a couple of us explored some of the back streets and found a little shop where we picked up a couple drinks and bought some pop cycles for the local kids.  The family invited us to sit and talk for a while.  Very friendly group and the kids from all around wanted to come say hi to the Americans. 

All in all it was a great trip and time well spent with my dad.