Cambodia slow update a request to update ...

Trip Start Nov 04, 2000
Trip End Nov 04, 2001

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Monday, April 2, 2001


Slow update. A request to update this came flooding in a few days ago (seems someone had nothing to do at work and was disappointed not to be able to waste 10 minutes reading this) and now I have some time I'll try and fill in the missing 5 days from last week. Or was it the week before? This is how it starts....

"Hey there, little dudes!"
Tourist bus from Bangkok's Khao San road to Ayranya Prathet - border town on Thailand side. Minibus driver gets us there in triple quick time. He was pretty funny, long hair earings and suitable "Very Mental" tshirt. Reminded me of school bus driver from the Simpsons and on one occassion actually did say "Party hardy = tardy". Listened to Guns N Roses on the 4 hour rollercoaster of death ride to the border. No one physically died.

Border formalities were over quickly with the usual practise of inventing charges for something I didn't understand. I paid up obviously. Not in the habit of arguing with Cambodian border guards. You have to show an 'International Vaccination' certificate to confirm that you don't have any diseases or something to bring into the country (surely a prerequisite). If you don't have one (as most people don't) you have to pay a dollar. They couldn't confirm whether if I got dengue fever in their country would they give me my dollar back? Tcha!

On the other side of the border, the 10 passengers from our minibus joined another 6 people to get out 4WD Delux MonsterTruck to the town of Siem Reap. Monster Truck = flat bed Nissan. So we all clambered in even though there was barely room. Some got into the cab (they'd paid more cash) and the rest of us cheapies perched ourselves on the iron frame around the flatbed and dumped our bags inside. This arrangement worked for the first 45 mins or so as the road from Poi Pet out into the country side was reasonably well maintained. However, things soon deteriourated at a pace and we found ourselves on the surface of Mars with only the Nissan's supsension and our own Glutius Maximi to protect our spines during the descents into metre deep pot-holes. For 7 hours. Fun isn't the word. At least it wasn't raining. It is now!now! And thunder and lightening too, but that was great as Cambodia is pretty flat so we could watch great branches of forked lightening cracking across the plains. Felt like I was in a particularly cheesy Wilbur Smith novel. We were having a strange kind of fun.

Anyway, after 5 hours in Cambodia things were moving swiftly if not smoothly. However, about an hour shy of Siem Reap we had to cross a bridge. But a large truck had tried to cross it the previous day and had mananged to snap it in half, and the truck had ended up at 45degrees with it's nose in the air and it's tail in the river. Doh! Slight detour required. Unfortunately our driver had not yet graduated from his Cadet status in the Cambodian Space Corps and chose the worst line thru the swampy farmer's field cum river of mud. Laden with a total of 17 people(!) and all their baggage, we obviously became stuck in the mud. In a river bed. In a rain storm. In the dark. Nice one, Cyril. We had to laugh at it though. So for 2 hours we pushed and pulled at this truck, all of us in bare feet up past our ankles in filth, laying planks under wheels, pulling on ropes, and pulling off leeches. Ugh. We were all starting to get sick of it and the novelty of our Cambodian adventure was waining. Coupled with the Carry-On style antics of spinning wheels + flying mud = Swamp Thing we'd kept our spirits up for long enough. In a last effort, spurred on more by frustration and anger at the rather inept efforts of our driver and co-driver to get moving ("uhhh let's try and lift the truck out of the mud". WHAT?!) we eventually pushed the truck onto a dry patch. Yaaay! Helped another local mob get their truck out of the mud too (with all the family still perched in the back - they didn't want to get their feet dirty, well why don't you just sit here all night then). Back on the road. And we were all filthy but glad to be moving. Arrived in Siem Reap at 11pm (after a 6am start!) and just crashed at the first hotel we came to - run by the local tourist mafia thus ensuring major hassle/minor satisfaction. Whatever, take all my money.

A few of us decided to hire a minibus and guide to visit the only site of tourist interest in Cambodia, the ruined city of Angkor, about 10mins away from Siem Reap. It worked out as cheap as going on motobikes and was the easy option after a hard previous day. Entry to Angkor is a hefty 20US a day, or 40US for 2 or 3 day pass. Took the 3 day pass - wasn't coming all this way just to go back the same road the next day!

The visit round the temples was fine and semi-informative when we could understand our guide, but he was decent enough sort and quite chatty. Obviously we went to the main temple - Angkor Wat. Any one interested in the site can visit for the full rundown - there's too much information on it for me to cover here. Anyway, I thought the temples were kind of interesting in a "they look just like The Jungle Book, don't they" way. The main temple is impressive on scale alone, and surrounded by a wide moat it looks very imposing. Inside there were some fantastic carvings etc, you know the drill. At this point I realised I was no longer interested in temples. I'd seen too many in the last 5 months and am not sure what could have excited me then. The dry, well-document, over-photographed structures didn't do anything for me. Someone had told me they rivalled the Pyramids in terms of the feeling you get when you see them. If I'd seen them before the Pyramids, or even the Taj Mahal, maybe I would have been thrille, but now I'm just tired of them. They didn't even have a visitor centre! But there were more interesting things to do in Siem Reap and surrounding countryside.

The next day we hired some scooters and drivers and visited some outlying temples, but the less said about that experience and the lazy greedy drivers the better. They came from tourist mafia hotel, natch.

On the third day we hired our own scooters (not from the hotel) and drove ourselves (there were 7 of us) to some small villages around Siem Reap. That was much more interesting, just wandering down dusty tracks with raised huts on either side with families drying fish caught in the small river running by. The huts were surrounded by palm trees, and boar and dogs were tethered to many of the trees. Lots of small children would run about, confusingly waving and shouting "Goodbye" through their smiles. A couple of girls in our gang spoke French - they were from France ysee, and they spoke with some older village people which was great. Duex Coca S'il vous plait etc. But anyway, it was great to get away from boring buildings and see real live natives. I couldn't decide if it was a bad thing to go into these villages. In retrospect it probably is, but at the time I was (selfishly) enjoying myself and we didn't seem to be doing any harm - of all the people we met, only one growled at us. But now I think of all the children who will wonder who we are and where we come from and what's going on outside their wee village confines. After a few hours in David Livingstone mode, we scooted off to the lake to see the infamous "Floating Village! tm"

Hired a bateau (boat) for a few hours and puttered around the lake. Visited the floating village, which doesn't really float bus is built on stilts. S'ok. Boat driver stopped at usual tourist-fleecing houseboat thing, selling authentic Cambodian handicrafts. The houseboat had a mini zoo on board, with boa constrictors (doped up), rabbits (doped up) and a lemur. That was a bit weird. There were monkey-things running around on the floor and would run of until they got to the edge of the boat and realise that they were trapped, and they'd mournfully turn away - and bolt for the other side of the boat, and find they were trapped on that side too. Was a bit tragic so didn't hang about too long. Back to boat and got the driver to position boatie suitably so we could all get our required quota of "sunset over the lake (floating village foreground)". Back to dry land and into Phil Daniels mode on my wee Yamaha. Toot toot!

Amongst other places to visit in Siem Reap are the Museum of Minefields and the headquarters of the Halo Trust, the mine-clearing organisation. We couldn't find the museum - the owner isn't allowed to advertise it because the authorities are upset by some of the information, and have confiscated a lot of his material. It's quite a politcally turbulent and corrupt country so the proprietor is taking some risks keeping it open. It's apparently pretty gruesome and upsetting. Myself and one of the girls visited the Halo Trust, but unfortunately the main person there was off on a mine clearing expedition so we didn't get much information there, but we spoke to a local who had just signed up to do mine clearing which was an interesting 30 minutes. He showed us some literature on how to avoid getting blown up, the kinds of injuries sustained by particular models of mine and techniques for clearing mines. It was very interesting and the chap was eager to inform. There are apparently 4 million live mines still in existence in Cambodia. Even when you visit Angkor you are advised not to stray to far from the paths if you need to pee as there may be some mines in the bushes. It's pretty hardcore. There were some photographs also taken while on a clearing mission, and I've never seen such destruction of the human body as I saw on a little board stuck on the wall of his office.


Decision time was looming. Was I going to go to Phnon Phen then down to the coast then back to Thailand via boat? Or just go back on the flatbed to the border. I took the lazy option and just got back in the truck. Cambodia is pretty expensive for the tourist as all the prices are in dollars. 2 dollars for dinner, half dollar for water etc. Transport via boat across the lake and down the river to PP was 25US and the cost of staying in the city, transport to the coast etc was too much to consider. I took the truck back to Thailand. Seemed to stop every 30 mins to pay off some local sheriff and some farmers for letting us drive thru their fields.

In general, Cambodia was hard work for me. Tiring travelling, always having to bargain for everything, very expensive. However, I had a great time. Adventure was never far away and after the relative ease of Thailand it was most welcome. I'd go again, but would hope to stay a few months to get to know it better instead of just firing in and out to see the tourist tat. That's not really why I came away and now I'm just doing that. Need a total change of scenery to spark my interest in foreign countries again. Australia looms on the horizon.

Next Stop - Koh Chang island for some r&r.
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