Cambodia and the fantastic Mr Nick
Trip Start Jul 07, 2008
65Trip End Jun 20, 2009
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Having done our research it was evident that we would need our wits about us. Cambodia is a very poor country and therefore any way of earning a buck (or swindling a buck) is fair game. In order to steer clear of the first swindle we had made the bold effort to get ourselves over the border without pre-arranged assistance. It turns out any tour agency arranging your trip into Cambodia will find underhand ways of helping you part with your money. One favoured tactic is to drive so slowly that you end up having to stay in a guesthouse overnight in which the tout gets commission and the guesthouse charges extortionate room rates. After disembarking the ferry we found a shared taxi to Trat with the locals. At Trat we avoided the persistent calls from the private hire cabs to get a well priced mini bus from the station to the border. Now the real fun begins. It officially costs $20 to get your visa. However immigration officers have to make their share of profit. This became more acceptable to appreciate when we discovered that such jobs can only be obtained if you can afford to buy them. An immigration officer will have to buy his job from another corrupt official for the princely sum of $3000. Each level of the ladder goes up in price according to level of influence and potential for gain. Needless to say my visa cost $24. That's a profit of $4 for 2 minutes work, not bad considering that's double the average daily income of Cambodians. Then there's the fees for the bag carriers, the fees for the guys who are the middle men between you and immigration and any other service that is as pointless as can be considered to be a service. This can be quite disconcerting when your worldly possessions in your back pack are going in one direction, your passport in the other direction and you're stood in the blazing sun in no mans land between borders. Thankfully we were in the company of an eccentric American named Chin who was doing his umpteen border crossing and talked us through the routine. Yes we could have stood our ground and refused to pay extras but that would have meant an uneasy several hours getting no where fast arguing the toss with guys with guns. As it happened we paid an extra $10 dollars for what I like to call the express service. Next a not so quick taxi to the town of Koh Kong about 3 miles away, as of course we had to stop at the drivers home/ shop in order that we purchase a drink before continuing to our actual destination. That's the beauty of Cambodia, if there's a way of making money then by hook or by crook they will make it.
Koh Kong is a small border town that exists to tempt Thais to come and gamble. We rocked up at Otto's where we had read some great recommendations especially concerning the food. As we sat down for our first meal it was crystal clear Cambodia was different, very different. Otto himself was a slightly insane rotund German who specialized in good bread. We were later told by ex pats that he used to be a bit of a special mercenary on the side, oh Cambodia you have to love it.
Heading out into town that afternoon (town being one road and his dog) we stumbled across Fat Sam's, yes it was run by Sam and yes he was fat. Its very odd meeting displaced ex pats that have set up some bizarre business in the back of beyond. Sam was welsh and we soon had him revelling about rugby and close harmony singing. It was during this revelry that fate through us a curve ball and up popped Mr Nick.
There are all sorts of people in life, people you will always, remember, people you want to forget, people that make you cry with laughter and people that just make you cry. Mr Nick is all of the above. The best of storytellers, unbridled enthusiasm and yet totally crazy to boot. This would be our guide for the next 4 days. Mr Nick was a Londoner born into a criminal underworld and a far from savoury gangster family. He had made the decision to leave England at an early age in order to avoid the obvious pitfalls of the Al Capone way of life. Now residing in some dirt track town he and his partner Coralai acted as guides for jungle trekking with dirt bikes and jeeps. Brilliant, lets go into the Cardamom mountains (jungle) and taste real Cambodia with this rounded individual. To be fair Mr Nick was priceless. A little disorganised but priceless. My favourite of his yarns included 'Darren Gough stole my passport' and dirt biking on tanks in Sri Lanka to be told to get lost as "we are trying to have war!"
We set off on our jungle trek 2 hours late due to Mr Nick's hangover. We were accompanied by a lovely Austrian couple, Franz and Daniella, and a local Khmer Savoan, all fitting in an old Vietnam war American Willey's jeep. The itinerary was to go some 30km into the jungle to a spectacular waterfall where we would set up camp with hammocks and enjoy a fire and food in the undergrowth. Several miles into the wilderness the stories of tigers and other undesirables began to be bounded about. When I tentatively asked about the possibility of snakes I was greeted by raucous laughter. This is the jungle after all. The waterfall did not disappoint. It was immense and swimming under its cascading flow will be a memory I will never forget. Nearly getting caught in one of its currents is best not embellished. The highlight of the trip though was the local family that lived near by. They were amazing. They took it upon themselves to set up our camp, make our fire and guard us at night from anything that might be lurking out there. They were fun and inquisitive and when word got round the area that crazy foreigners had come to stay it wasn't long before the numbers grew. For people that had so little they were exceptionally happy. Then again they did live somewhere that was as close to paradise as I've seen.
So we braved a nights sleep in the jungle. Its amazing how the need to go to the toilet in the middle of the night completely vanishes when the fire goes out. The next day following the obligatory morning waterfall shower we set off back to Koh Kong. Next stop the capital Phnom Pehn and what was this, our guide the crazy Mr Nick was up for coming, he had a date with a party where all the best men of Cambodia would meet in a night that promised to be fuelled with fun and raucous laughter, little did we know it would take us to the very art of darkness!!!