|The tour guide for our Mekong Delta trip conned us all crossing the border into Cambodia. He told us that he would get us our visas for Cambodia for $22 each while we had lunch, or we could do it ourselves but would have to go 10km with all our bags and get back before the boat left – it wouldn’t wait. Once we had our passports back, we went 30 seconds down the river and got to Cambodian immigration where the first thing we saw was where we could’ve bought our visas for $20! It’s not much, but there were over 20 people and he makes $2 on each person EVERY DAY! I think that puts him on about 500 times the national average wage. After that things went our way, when we were taken all the way to Phnom Penh on the fast boat having only paid for the slow boat, $10 less than everyone else there – bonus.
New Year’s Eve in Phnom Penh was a washout in more ways than one. There was torrential rain lasting from about 7pm to the next year. So, not able to go anywhere we ended up hanging out in a restaurant drinking with an Aussie and two Germans. Then my flip flop broke (it was flop who went again, flip seems to have more backbone), which amused the locals as I walked by with only one shoe.
While in Phnom Penh we visited the killing fields and the S21 prison, both really sad and important things from Cambodia’s recent past when the Khmer Rouge murdered 2 million people over the course of 4 years. While this is pretty staggering number anyway it becomes much more so when you consider that at the time Cambodia’s population was only 8 million! All this happened only about 30 years ago and yet it was something that until I was there I knew absolutely nothing about.
From the capital we headed to Siem Reap on a very overbooked bus - the driver had to bribe one of the locals to give up his seat for the tourist who’d paid more (us). Siem Reap is a fun town with one street called Pub Street and another aptly named Bar Street! The main reason for visiting Siem Reap (unless you need to go to one of the two decent hospitals in Cambodia) is to see the temples of Angkor. We set off to Angkor Wat on our bicycles expecting something amazing but were a little disappointed (we went back the following day in the evening and were very impressed…we think it was mainly due to not being able to see it that well because of the sun).
We spent 3 days looking around the temples of Angkor but didn’t come close to seeing them all as there’s so many. One of the more impressive was Ta Prohm where there are trees growing out of the roofs of the ruins and huge roots everywhere, they used the site for filming in Lara Croft Tomb Raider (maybe there’s a reason to watch that film again after all) and also in one of the Indiana Jones films, I think.
We took an amazing boat ride from Siem Reap to Battambang where we were passing by tiny fishing villages and floating houses for about 9 hours. We saw a couple of people moving house, literally, dragging their floating house, fishing contraption (which looked like catapults) and other things behind a motor boat. The sun was relentless and after 7 hours we had to abandon our excellent vantage point on the roof for the relative comfort of sitting undercover next to the engine inhaling fumes.
Not realising early on in Cambodia that to get just about anywhere means a trip through Phnom Penh, we eventually passed through 3 or 4 times. This time we were on our way to the beach at Sihanoukville. An afternoon on the beach was followed by a few leisurely drinks and just when we were about to head to bed at a respectable hour we bumped into a couple we’d met on our way into Cambodia……more drinks……15 pence beers at the best happy hour ever…..then after a few hours dancing and several Mekong Buckets we were walking home and it was 4am.
The next morning reminded us that we’re not as young as we used to be. Struggled to the beach where even a fry didn’t help my situation – I was that bad. Decided to keep a low profile that night and then get away before we saw them again and had a repeat performance like the sensible grown-ups we are.
We were aiming for the jungle in the North East so, naturally, we had to pass through Phnom Penh before embarking on 3 days of travel. You only seem to be able to travel in the mornings here so once you arrive somewhere you have to wait until the following day to take the next leg of the journey. Along the way we passed loads of little rural villages and truck packed to the rafters with all sorts, then a layer of people on that for good measure. Loads of animals walking around in the roads meant a lot of horn-blowing, braking and occasional last minute swerves.
A disturbed night as Lisa kept waking me up because there was a mouse running around the room and trying to get into our food bag – I just moaned at her for waking me up. Next day we packed 19 into a 14 seater minibus and finally made our destination, Ban Lung. A dusty little town with not much there, but that kind of made it cool. It just seemed so cut off. We found out that the trip we were going to do didn’t seem like it was going to be that good – we worked this out when the guy who was booking it said “It’s not going to be really good”. So after 3 days on buses we got a few more and headed for the border and Laos.