Thursday, August 19, 2010
Chruoy Changva Naval Base
This base is located on the far side of the Chruoy Changva peninsula, on the Mekong River. There is a signpost for the turn off to it just a few kilometers past the bridge from the city, but I wouldn’t imagine that any civilian could just roll up there. It was an important installation during the wars of the 1980s and 90s. One has to keep in mind that much of the interior of the country floods for a large part of the year and there isn’t any other way to access many parts of the country during the rainy season other than by boat. While the Khmer Rouge and other allied factions didn’t have anything like a navy, they did often attack floating villages along the waterways, and there were some significant massacres of ethnic Vietnamese living in floating villages and boats in these areas right up till the mid-90s.
The base has obviously lost its importance since peace returned to the country, and the boats seem to have fallen into disrepair. Although you probably wouldn’t be welcome visiting by road, you can easily approach the site on any of the tourist boats that ply their trade along the riverside of Phnom Penh. There are two larger Russian ships which date back to the Cold War period when huge amounts of Soviet hardware arrived in the country via Vietnam, in an effort to fight the Khmer Rouge and their allies who were backed by China, ASEAN and the west at that time. They are quite impressive in a way, with their huge Star Wars storm trooper helmet-style turrets and smooth lines. On closer inspection the guns on them don’t actually look so powerful, just large caliber machine guns or small cannons, but they were probably big enough to scare off many land based attacks off back then.
What I find more interesting in a way are the smaller craft nearby. Home-made armored pontoons with welded cupolas jutting out of them, bristling with anti-tank guns and 50 mm machine guns, they don’t portray superpower backing so much as do-it-yourself tenacity in the face of international sanctions and pressure on an at that time much-criticized and maligned regime. Nowadays these Russian boats are rusting and waiting for the scrap man, but the pontoons look ready for action.