Battambang to Phnom Phen and everything in between

Trip Start Aug 21, 2004
Trip End Mar 03, 2005

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Saturday, October 9, 2004

So many PeOple!

I have a good reason. I swear. I know it's been 6 days since I last wrote, but I really haven't had time. "How is that possible?" you might ask.(considering that I'm on "holiday") It's not my fault, it's everyone elses. All those wonderful people I've met in the last 10 days. Telling me stories, filling me with beer, dancing with me, kissing me... just the best of the best. So to break from my pattern of typically abnormal entries, I feature a collection of short stories.

My time in Siem Riep was so rewarding, that I HAD to see more of Cambodia, but preferably somewhere not touristic. Emily, Stacey and I took a 5 hour boat ride from Siem Riep to Battambang. After a few hours travelling through a large lake, we maneuvered through small intricate water ways. We passed by tiny "villages" whose houses were built on large floating bamboo platforms. Emily and I sat on the top deck for a while chatting away, roasting in the sun and waving to all the kids that we saw along the way. An old Khmer man sat next to me as I was reading and tried to communicate. My phrase book was of no help. I handed him a pen and he wrote something in French. My lovely Welsh friend (Emily) has been living in Paris for the last 3 years so I woke her up and introduced her to our new friend. Apparently his French was rusty, so she had a hard time understanding him. (Though he was quite clear when he told her to marry me!) When we finally arrived in Battambang, we were accosted by a mob of touts from 3 different hotels, but finally settled on the Royal Hotel. Battambang was a breath of fresh air. It hasn't really developed into a tourist destination. (Only since 1998 have foreigners even visited) It was such a relief to walk down the street without someone trying to sell us something, or take us somewhere. A guy on a motorbike stopped us within our first 5 minutes walking. I was prepared for my usual "no thank you, just walking", but he was just really excited to talk to foreigners. He told us that he studied at an International school and invited us to come and speak to the class the next day. Unfortunately, I'd already stayed in Cambodia longer than planned, and knew that if I kept on adding more and more nights I'd simply never make it to Vietnam. At the market, I saw my first assortment of roasted & BBQ critters. Roasted snake, roasted quail, BBQ cricket and coackroach, etc. We settled for some yummy rice-flour doughnuts instead.
The next day Stacey took the early bus to Phnom Phen, and Emily & I set out at 9:30am. We were the only westerners on the bus (which was great) but were subjected to poorly dubbed Kung-Fu movies and VCD Kareoke (which was bad). In fact, Khmer music just plain sucks. We passed the time away listening to Curtis Mayfield, Mum and various others and joked around too. When we finally got to Phnom Phen, we got a moto to the (dumpy) guesthouse where I subsequently crashed. At this point, I had caught this wonderful cold that made it all the way from China, and my Asthma kicked in like nobody's business. (Don't worry Mom, I'm better now) I didn't really do too much sight seeing, but spent 3 nights socializing, drinking beer, coughing and not sleeping a lot. I did visit the Tol Sleun (S21) prison (formerly a high school) which was used by the Khmer Rouge to torture and interrogate. Of the 8000+ people who passed through, only seven survived. Lots of the rooms are still intact, and blood stains were still visible in some places. I've seen my share of holocaust exhibits, but have never passed through anything like this. (I've yet to visit Auschwitz or Dachau). I wiped back tears as I walked through the rooms of photographs. On one side the "victims"; Khmer professionals, government officials, doctors, anyone considered to be an intellectual. On the other side the "torturers"; Khmer citizens too, yet horribly warped and brainwashed. (Mainly 10-15 yr. olds) What blows my mind is that this happened not even 30 years ago! It's happening now in places like Darfur as well. If any of this interests you further, E-mail me and I'll send you a "must-read" list about Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge.

Friday night 12am. We hit an infamous bar called "heart of darkness". (J. Conrad) The place is packed with a refreshingly diverse crowd. The whores are definitely in the majority, followed by the backpackers, locals and a handful of expats. We dance to CHEESY music, but it gets better as the night progresses. Emily introduces me to some gay Cambodian boy she met the night before, and next thing you know, we're dancing together. (We ALL know that gay boys dance so well...I needed some challenge!) So I'm dancing with this guy, some other gay boys and the friends I came with. (Marc, Mark, Tim, Evelyne, Emily) I'm having a blast!
I leave the room for a breather and I have said boy in tow. His friend follows behind us, and looks me up & down rather sternly. He tells me in his broken-lisping English "You're not Gay". (Yeah, it's pretty obvious) I tell him "no, but I like to dance!". I think I broke his friend's little heart. Oh well!

Sitting on the deck at the guesthouse, an extremely attractive Khmer girl approaches me and sits down. She hands me a flyer and tells me about some party at a new place that I should check out. I say OK. Then I think she's flirting with me, but I can't really tell. She looks at my earring, and before I can protest, pulls it out and sticks it in her own ear. Yuck! Then she tells me how she doesn't like boys, just girls. She explains how she has a foreign girlfriend. She likes women because her breasts are too small. Doesn't make sense. Later that night I see her and another girl sitting with some backpackers at a bar. They chat for a while, disappear for 20 min. and then come back. Hmmm? Guess who I run into at the Heart of Darkness? Guess what her hands run into when she sees me? Finally, the next day she simply grabs me by the arm and tries to pull me into a guesthouse. It's nuts I tell you; the craziest part is that she is so gorgeous that no man in his right mind would turn her down except for the fact that she is a prostitute.

Mark (Irish) Tim (English) and I decide to ride bicycles to the killing fields outside of Phnom Phen. Everyone tells us we're nuts, and that the rode is too bad. We shrug it off and begin out adventure. It's HOT. We ride in city traffic. People are smiling and waving at us and trying to talk at us. Want a great way to meet people in Cambodia? Ride a bike in the middle of city traffic? Want to have attention comparable to your favorite Hollywood starlet? Do said ride shirtless. The Khmer men rarely take off their shirts, so I guess we were a novelty item in that sense. We're white. They're dark skinned like Indians or Sri Lankans. I think the jist of our attention was "look at the crazy white foreigners riding bikes!" But everyone was smiling and waving at us...It was great. Some guy even tried to shake Mark's hand in moving traffic. The road was bad, but I think it would've been HARDER on a motorbike or car. (At least on bicycle you can easily get around things

So alas, I leave Cambodia behind me. People told me not to go there. Others warned me about land mines. I was told that I would be received in a most inhospitable manner. Wrong, Wrong Wrong . The friendliest people I've ever met are the Khmer people. So the lesson is:
everyone gets something else from their journey. everyone has a different agenda. take what people say with a grain of salt (and a shot of Tequila).
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