Visas and Elephants

Trip Start Sep 30, 2005
Trip End Sep 01, 2006

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Sunday, February 5, 2006

Hi everyone, hope you are all well.

Although the plan was to already be in Vietnam by now, due to Chinese New Year and not being able to get a visa, Danny and I have stayed in Cambodia for an extra week. Don't really mind as Cambodia has been great. While finding this out in the tour place we spied a poster for 'Nature Lodge' a guest house in Mondulkiri (East Cambodia) with cheap bungalows, elephant trekking, meditation and swimming. So great was the poster we booked a bus trip on the spot. As we don't seem to be having much luck with buses, it was no surprise when it only managed 30 minutes on the road before spluterring to a stop. Two hours and a new battery later we head off again. This time the bus lasted 10 minutes before giving up and we had to head back to Phnom Pehn. Up at 5:30 the next day to try again and noticing it's the same bus as before now with twice as many people we don't hold much hope! But after a hot, sweaty and bumpy 9 hour journey sharing the broken seat between us we arrive. Then a motorbike taxi each with backpacks on our backs struggling not to fall off backwards we get to what can only be described as a work in progress. The guest house is run by an Israili woman and Khmer man and is very much under construction. While we stayed there the tables and chairs were built, lights put in (v green hydro-electricity via river dam at the bottom of garden) and squrty things in the toilets added. Check out pics (of furniture not toilets). Although not finished the place was really beautiful and we slept in a tent up an enormous tree house (childhood dream).
Unfortunately no meditation or yoga yet as the hut is yet to be built, still the guy who will be running the classes was a lovely Korean guy affectionately referred to by the owners as Viet-cong. Although said in jest there are in fact a huge number of Vietnamese living in the area. He is also setting up a gallery called 'kiss on the hill of wind' a great name and the literal translation for Mondulkiri.
Over the next couple of days we went swimming in the river pool at the bottom of the garden (freezing and full of frogs), explored the local area which reminded me of Aussie bush as there are so many gum trees and we went elephant trekking. The trekking was so much fun and to be so close to such beautiful huge animals was great, especially when I helped give her a bath in the river! As the elephant usually works in the village for her it was a day off with lots of grazing stops (or that's what we told ourselves). Being on the elephant although rocky was much more comfy than the camel. We sort of relaxed into this bopping groove soon referred to as 'doing the elephant dance'. The only time we felt a little wary was when we were going up and down the steep hills. Danny was convinced he was going to fall out or lean so far to the side that the whole seat was going to flip under the elephants belly! I'm sure it was just so he could take up more space though. We stopped for lunch at this waterfall but unfortunately the woman who we were with was trekking for two days and not one and went a different way from us taking our baguettes with her. After lunch of one boiled egg our guide signals that we are going for a 2 hour trek. So off we go winding through the jungle, after about 10 minutes we get to another river where he stops and stands for a while. After 10 minutes we're still standing there looking bemused at each other. After a while longer Danny asks "are you lost"? to which he nods. I think the guide took this to mean we want to go back as he promptly turned around and headed back to the waterfall where he then lay down and fell asleep! Still more time to swim.
Another early start the next day (so much easier when it's warm and you don't have to drive to work) and the bus back to Phnom Pehn, thankfully no problems and no loud karaoke from the on board tv which seems to be so popular here.
So back in Phnom Pehn again and we checked out the notorious 'Heart of Darkness' bar which is supposed to be the hardest bar in Cambodia. Not much darkness since Lonely Planet got a hold of it and is now just a trendy nightspot for khmer and backpackers but dancing was fun.

On to Vietnam tomorrow (bus willing) and it always feels strange heading into a new country with new currency (another one to calculate with), rules, fears and vibe. Really looking forward to it but also sad to leave Cambodia as have had an amazing time. As with the Asia health section of the guide book reading it before can terrify you. According to the book Ho Chi Minh city has the worst pickpockets in Vietnam and they are so good they could snatch your underwear without you noticing! It also says to be aware of little kids selling stuff on the street, drive by motorbikes snatching bags as well as sunglasses and to not take moto's at night because you might get mugged - great Ho Chi Minh here we come!

The best guide book quote from Cambodia we found is under dangers and annoyances "Should you be held at gunpoint, raise the hands in the air, as to go for your pockets is to reach for a weapon in the mind of the assailant" !!! I just have this image of someone being held up, being told to lie down on the ground or hand over their wallet and them holding their hands up saying sorry Lonely Planet told me to hold my hands up!

Both of us are valiantly fighting off colds but looking forward to what Ho Chi Minh has to offer,
Missing you all, Kate & Danny :)

ps. our tally so far is 2 broken down buses, 4 flat tyres, 7 pairs of flip flops (AKA thongs) and 4 pairs of sunglasses, and it's only been 4 months!
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