Holliday in Cambodia
Trip Start Nov 01, 2006
39Trip End Mar 07, 2007
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Planning to leave Ban Lung, on the 30th of December, we discovered that the bus out of town was sold out until the 31st. Sold out, yes, this means it was a tourist bus, as no local bus has ever been sold out as long as there are a few square inches left in the aisle. Trouble was, no one seemed to know any information about local transport. How then, do the locals get around? Ryan, Julia and I decided to find out. We enlisted a helpful employee of the Tribal Guesthouse to write for us the Khmer words for Kratie, Stung Treng, and Phnom Penh. Then Julia, mustering all her formidable artistic powers, created signs on sheets of newspaper that we planned to hold up on the side of the road out of town. That's right, we decided to hitchhike towards to capitol, halfway across the country.
Lucky for us, within a few minutes of our arrival at a shady spot of the side of the road, a minivan stopped to pick us up. This isn't really hitchhiking though, as we had to had to agree on a fair amount to pay the drver for the trip. All we really did is stumble upon local transport (a guy with a minivan and a desire to make some money). The trip was fast, bumpy, and above all, dusty. The roads in this region are of the red-dirt variety and we were covered in it by the end of the day, (inside and out). We all felt a bit ill for the next day or two and decided in the future it would be a good idea to pick up some of those masks everyone here seems to wear over their nose and mouth when driving. All-in-all though, a very successful trip as we arrived in Kratie by mid-afternoon. We decided to stay there for the night and head on to the capitol in the morning. Our walk around town led us into countless conversations with local children, intent on practicing their English skills. They seemed to have some sort of tourist radar. It was another nice town that felt mostly undisturbed by tourism and we had a few too many fruit shakes at the food stalls by the river. (Lots of sweetened condensed milk in them). The next day, we took an actual bus six hours southwest to Phnom Penh.
I started off 2007 by visiting the National Museum, which I'd read about in a New York Times article not too long before leaving the US. You don't tend to expect much from a Cambodian museum, but this one was clearly made with care (and money). Lots and lots of sculpture from the 5th century through the present, mostly taken from temples to keep it safe from looters. It was all housed in a khmer style building with a courtyard in the middle complete with plants and fish ponds. A really serene place in a crazy city. I also visited the Royal Palace, which in addition to being the residence of the King, houses a life-sized solid gold Buddha covered with over 2000 diamonds and a floor made of thousands of silver tiles. I bet the Cambodian people would mind some of that wealth being used to give them decent health care, education, sanitation, etc.