7 August 2008.
I hope you’re all well. I’m in Cambodia and I know it’s been raining plenty back home, but the rainy season has seriously hit here and it’s WET!!. I think this must have been one of my brighter ideas coming here in the rainy season….very well done on my part. At least it is hot, being summer, so now when I get drenched my glasses steam up as well which is really fun and I’m sure a sight to see… a drowned rat walking into poles. Very sexy!
Up until now I haven’t felt the need to visit any reflexologists as I’m in good health so no gutter stories this time. But I might feel a bit of flu coming on being wet all the time.
I arrived Cambodia in good spirits and the first thing I do is go visit the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh. A real mood swinger that is. Pol Pot killed between 2 -3 million of his own people and there are Killing Fields and Caves dotted all around the country. The “fields” are definitely worth seeing and it does have quite a drastic affect on your mood. The thing that I struggle to deal with is that this kind of genocide continues to happen all the time….a funny bunch we are, us humans. As if I wasn’t depressed enough, I decided to go to the infamous S21 prison in the centre of Phnom Penh. It was an old school that was transformed into a prison where all counter revolutionaries were tortured and if survived then sent to the Killing Fields, nit much of an incentive that?
Of the 20 000 that were sent to the prison only 7 survived. There is more information and visuals at S21than at the Killing Fields and if I felt depressed after a visit to the “fields” I now felt about as happy as you do on a Tuesday after a rave party. But still they are a must to see.
I must just say that if I lived in a country where the leader changed his name to Pol Pot or something similar, I would definitely start exploring some immigration options.
Really feeling up for a party I downed a cuppla cups of coffee sweetened with condense milk and Iexplored my way through the National Museum which is a definite.
While I was in Phnom Penh trouble broke out at a temple in the north on the border with Thailand. Not to bore you with the details but briefly, the temple was granted to Cambodia by the world court in 1952, but the main tourist access is from Thailand. UNESCO just named it a World Heritage Site and the Thai Prime Minister agreed to this and signed some documents. Thais living in the area got pissed off and started to protest so both countries sent up troops.
So fantasising about a Pulitzer Prize winning story and maybe a medal, I changed my plans and headed to Siem Riep (which I was going to go to at the end of my trip) Once in Siem Riep I organised a taxi to take me the 4 hours to get to the town nearby the temple.
I meet the taxi driver and I’m happy to see that the car is a modern Toyota Camry. He bitches about the size of my rug sack but I explain that I need to have a bit of cover
( a hiding place) when the shooting, bombs and grenades start going off. I need a bit of protection while taking my award winning shots, I tell him He doesn’t understand a word but agrees anyway and puts it in the trunk.
Just over an hour later I notice that there are now 7 people standing around this taxi waiting to get in. So we all hop in, the driver, two in the front and 5 of us in the back.
We pull off and drive a few metres when he stops, openly bribes a policeman (Hey you gotta do what you gotta do these days, I hear it’s the norm with politicians at home) opens his door to pick up another passenger who shares his seat with him.
I now know why he was pissed off with my rug sack. It was probably taking up the space for two extra paying passengers who could fit in the trunk.
I hopped out bringing to an end what was going to be the start of an illustrious journalism career which never left the parking lot.
So I went to the Angkor temples instead, and was very happy that I did. They’re great! The temples are something that I found I really appreciated in retrospect. While you’re there, there is a lot to take in and marvel at. I walked up a small hill in very humid conditions and watched the sun setting near Angkor with about 30 000 other sweating tourists. Now that was fun! A deodorant kiosk would be a deg=finite winner.
Siem Riep is definitely a tourist town. Everything is geared towards the many tourists visiting the temples. In the town there is a “Bar” street where all the restaurants and bars are. There are Irish bars, Italian restaurants and Khmer restaurants but the vibe of the place is such that it could be anywhere in the world. There is great market where the prize of getting something cheap definitely needs good negotiating skills, but the things are cheap. Siem Riep is good, only for a short while and more expensive than most of Cambodia,.
I headed south to a town called Battambang. On first sight it looks like a city that has had the life kicked out of her. The roads are dusty and crumbling, the once well maintained shop fronts and buildings have passed their prime, but once you start exploring the backstreets and alleyways that are lined with Front shops, French merchant house, corner street kitchens, and the odd aging French house that is glamorously holding on for dear life, the feel changes completely. Early morning and the brightly cladded Monks are out collecting “Alms” where the town folk come out and give money and food to the monks for the day. The children play in the streets, hopefully on their way to school. Dogs amble past horse drawn carts manned by merchants who busy themselves unloading their bags of coal. Life doesn’t seem too stressful in this underperforming town. Here the bakeries sell such perfectly tasting Baguettes and Pastries, that for a moment you feel like you’re in a rustic French country town. This fantasy shatters when a scooter carrying four, loudly blows its horn while driving on the wrong side of the road, leaving you wishing that you never given up your nappies.
I wondered into an establishments called “Smokin Pot” and you can only imagine my disappointment when it turned out to be a Khmer cooking school. But hey… when in Rome eat something. So I signed up to do a half day cooking course. I mean what better way to impress a women than to cook and serve her skewered cat, or dog and mushroom pie. I mean, that would definitely get her going. Four hours later, cook book in hand, my culinary skills definitely up a notch and not a cooked pet in site I walked out of there planning my first home coming dinner. Lucky for all of you I’m a vegetarian. Just like everywhere else in the world we learnt how to cook chicken, pork and fish, with rice.
In Battambang there is the Bamboo Train, which is a really great way to travel. The “train” consists of a set of wheels, a bamboo floor and a little motor. Everything fits together and when someone wants to go from one village to the next, the locals at the station assemble one, you hop on with a local, and off you go. They reach speeds of about 60 km’s per hour and they run both ways on one line. If two of these carts, that can take about ten people, are heading towards each other than they stop, hopefully, the drivers decide which one is the lighter of the two and dismantle that one. So the secret is to definitely go on the train with a bunch of Americans.
While in Battambang I bumped into a girl (Steff) from Queenstown SA. It was great to speak to another Seff African and we hung out for a few days. Another girl Caz , from Ireland, joined us and we hired scooters and along with our guide “Soon” we rode about 36km’s which took about an hour and a half, to Kamping Poy, a manmade lake. Another one of Pol Pots schemes that ended up killing thousands of Khmer’s.
The funny thing about travelling is how we change the way we speak when speaking to non english speaking locals.
I was asking our guide “Soon” if he was ready to come along, only to say “You come too Soon?”
Steff and Caz, once they got up from the floor laughing, definitely eyed me suspiciously and treated me differently throughout the excursion. My fantasy of a possible north south couch rugby game, ended there an then.
While we were at the lake we spent the day just chilling on a covered deck overlooking the lake and practicing all I’d learnt about “Smokin Pot” Lying there in my hammock feeling like Huck Finn, I witnessed a storm the likes I’d never seen. At one stage there was a grey sheet of water and we could only see a few metres in front of us.
When we eventually left, the trip home took longer as the once muddy roads were now even muddier and at one stage we had to pull over as we were caught in another deluge. But hey….that’s the beauty of travelling in the rainy season. If I get sick it just gives me an excuse to visit my new found type of healer.
So that’s it from me for a while. I hope you’re all very well and getting through winter. In this kind of wet weather where large parts of the day are spent indoors, I’ve decide to go back on the “spiritual” path which is lots of vodka and whiskey each day to help with the damp depression and it does seem to be helping. Highly recommended.
Chat later and keep on writing.