Trip Start Jul 20, 2007
43Trip End Ongoing
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Laos spoiled us. Entering Cambodia we had none of the enthusiasm that normally accompanies arriving in a new country, we wanted to turn back. For 150km the scenery was bland. Fires raged throughout as slash and burn tactics were being employed to plant cash crops like Palm oil and teak. I looked at the chocolate chip cookies I was eating: ingredients - palm oil. They tasted good. Give me biscuits over bio-diversity any day. Our first stop in Kratie was dull and irritating. There was a handful of young locals who spoke English and would approach you anywhere - on the street, in bars/restaurants, come to your hotel room - offering to do everything for you. "You want bicycle, bicycle expensive, I get you bicycle cheap price. I get you bus ticket, you not speak Cambodian, I get for you." They seemed more desperate than when Delboy Trotter tried to sell motorcycle helmets with attachable turbans too Sikhs. The main attraction was the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins who live in the Mekong river. We hired a boat but spotting them was like living in a Where's Wally sketch (I was going to call it Where's Willy until Kerry told me that that attention seeking mammal signed to Disney was actually a whale.) In the murky gray waters of the Mekong you have to watch out for some murky gray coloured dolphins who emerge for a split second every 4minutes. Painfully tedious. Where's the nearest Sea World?
Kratie was a bad start but Phnom Penh more than made up for it. Initially we were shit scared - walking the streets of this city at night is a scary experience. Beggars, street kids and other curious locals stare at you intently and judging by the haphazardness of the traffic we were lucky to survive 3days without losing a limb. On the bus from Kratie the woman sat in front of us picked up her young child and pointed at us. The child then stared for 5hours. At first we ignored it. Then I tried pulling some scary faces but that seemed to encourage him. He was burning holes in my eyes. Time for some old school tactics - for 4hours I looked straight into his eyes without flinching whenever he looked up. He resorted to peering through the gap between the seats but I was unrelenting and eventually even his mother couldn't convince him to look our way. Harsh but in the circumstances I thought it was fair.
Anyway Phnom Penh. We cruised around the city for a day in a tuctuc - much safer than walking - and got to know what makes the city tick: dogs in bowls waiting to be cooked, massages off blind people, amazing restaurants run by street kids, chilled out hippy bars on back streets, more staring, monkeys roaming around temples, spiders and cockroaches for lunch, and two harrowing places from Pol Pots regime of auto-genocide. In 1975 Pol Pot took control of the country after a bloody revolution. He ruled for 3years and 8months in which time he managed to kill - executed and through starvation - 1.7million of his own people. Over 30% of the population - its the equivalent of Gorden Brown killing off everyone within a 100mile radius of London (debate with yourself whether this would be a good or a bad thing.) Just outside Phnom Penh is a killing fields site which for 4 years was a mass grave to some of the hundreds of thousands who were executed for being intellectual, or wealthy, or disobedient, or not a stoic revolutionary supporter, ex-military, or a relative of anyone who fell into these categories. At the site you can still see bones and clothes sticking through the dirt. The memorial is made from the thousands of skulls excavated from the area - many of young children. In the city is S21 - a prison used to torture and murder other prisoners. Touring this former high school is enough to bring tears to your eyes. As well as murdering half the country Pol Pot is also famous for abolishing money, education, doctors and religion. Just in case anyone thinks he was slacking, after he was forced from power his army retreated and covered their steps by planting land mines all over the land rendering it dangerous and useless. What a twat.
In Phnom Penh, for the first time since we had been away I started to feel a little home sick. Drizzle came down from the skies and as I stood outside getting wet I thought of home and how much like English rain. To overcome my feelings I went and ate bangers and mash, followed by apple crumble with custard and 3 live games of premiership football washed down with 12pints of lager. Your never that far from home. Sitting on a child's plastic school in the isle of a bus we reluctantly carried on our journey south. There's so much going on in Phnom Penh we could have stayed for weeks.
There is no people to avoid this entry. I was going to write about the McBeardio's but it can wait till next time because I'm worried about returning to our guest house and finding 5 Jesus like creatures sat outside our room.