King Norodom’s Capital

NEXT MORNING, I saw General des Essars, who was in command of French troops in Cambodia. Like all the official personalities I visited in the country, he seemed to be enjoying life, and he gave the impression of being no more than faintly amused by the preposterous difficulties of the military task. A London newspaper had been interested to know ... Read More »

Into Cambodia 4

Valas could find no one among the opium smokers who wanted to buy the car, but there was at least news of the disbanded ballet. The girls had gone to work in the Lap ton dancing places. Breaking away from Madame Shum’s sombre haven, we therefore got into the car and plunged back again into the vast, brazen clamour of ... Read More »

Into Cambodia 3

The situation looked even less promising when Valas arrived on the evening plane and we went down to the cercle together. The first piece of news that greeted him was that a business friend had been shot dead, two miles from the town’s centre, and a few minutes later we were drinking with a man who had been captured by ... Read More »

Into Cambodia 2

Spurred on by thoughts of what the French call isolated acts of piracy we reached Phnom Penh, the capital, early the same afternoon. It is approached through unimposing suburbs: several miles of shacks among the trees, most of them reeling slightly on their supporting posts. There are a few pagodas, insubstantial looking and tawdry with gilt, which contrived to remind ... Read More »

Into Cambodia

THE LAND ROVER bounded westwards over the road to Cambodia. It was the only road of any length in the country open to unescorted, daytime traffic, although it had been closed for a fortnight before the day we left, ‘owing to damage caused by the weather’. We plunged through a bland and smiling landscape, animated by doll-like Vietnamese figures, and ... Read More »

Cholon and Cochin-China 8

Vietnamese cooking, like most aspects of Vietnamese culture, has been strongly influenced by the Chinese. By comparison it is provincial, lacking the range and the formidable ingenuity of the Pekinese and Cantonese cuisines. But there are a few specialities which have been evolved with a great deal of dietetic insight. The best known of these is Chà Gió, with which ... Read More »

Cholon and Cochin-China 7

A ferry nearby provided a racket for yet another petty regional boss. There he stood by the shore in his uniform of a lieutenant in the Bao-Dai army and bright yellow boots, prepared, for a concussion (most descrip¬tive word), to grant priority to any vehicle not wishing to take its turn in the queue. If no concussion was forthcoming you ... Read More »

Cholon and Cochin-China 6

Than Phu, the exemplary village, was followed by the ideal French post. It had been the work of a sergent-chef who, like the Commandant, would shortly be returning, demobilised, to France, where it was obvious that they would both spend the rest of their days in a Kiplingesque nostalgia for Indo-China. And yet, much as the colonies had become his ... Read More »

Cholon and Cochin-China 5

And this was the state to which the Jesuit Borri’s ‘near heaven’ had come. That night we dined in the officers’ mess at Tanan. On the previous night one of the hand-grenades, which I succeeded always in just missing, had come in through the window and wounded an officer. This time the Commandant had posted sentries so that we should ... Read More »

Cholon and Cochin-China 4

There were four days to spare before the car went to Cambodia and I filled in this time by going on one of the more-or-less standard excur¬sions round the re-conquered part of Cochin-China arranged for foreign correspondents by the French army. These trips could be quite exciting if one ran into action, and this made the French a little chary ... Read More »