Art deco to dust and gecko

Trip Start Feb 28, 2012
Trip End Nov 22, 2012

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prak dara

Flag of Cambodia  , Khêtt Rôtânôkiri,
Friday, March 30, 2012

Its 8pm on Friday 6th April, I am back at the guesthouse and trying to copy images back from a backup disc to my laptop which have all disappeared – must be this rubbish PC! Just finished the second of three days at The Major Temples here and wow, what a day today, well both days but ill get to that but first to where I left off which is quite some time ago as internet access and connectivity here is really bad so far but here goes anyway….

Well I left it with me going North East to Ban Lung in the Rakaniri Province which, because I missed my bus, my new mate Steve joined me on and we've travelled on ever since actually…. But after a 12 hour bus journey from hell on a reasonably comfy bus, but one which stopped every 2 minutes for food breaks, toilet stops, pickups, to change a flat tyre and then which drove at about 2mph for the last 100km as they were still building the roads to that part of the country, or sometimes rebuilding too but the roads were either just dirt tracks or had huge crater wholes all over but either way he drove slow the whole way….

We chatted to a Canadian girl on the bus who worked in Ban Lung and told us that she would get us a tuk tuk driver (yes they have them here too!) to take us to a cheap but good hotel and on arrival we went with 2 motorbike drivers, one of which spoke good English and who we used throughout our time there, so they took us to a hotel which was 6 dollars a night but a room with two beds so we decided to share and split the bill so just $3 each (2 quid) just to crash as it was late and had been a long day… thing is we didn’t know each other and I have always just had my own room so it seemed strange and I think for him too but all was good though my last thought before sleep was the scene from planes, trains and automobiles where they share a room and wake up and say:

SM: "Why are you kissing my ear?"

JC: “Why are you holding my hand”

SM: “Where’s your other hand?”

JC: “Between 2 pillows…”

SM: “Those aren’t pillows!!!!”

But if you haven’t seen the film that probably didn’t sound funny at all but if you haven’t seen the film then maybe you’ve never lived…!!(?)

Anyway I work up (pillows and hands in all the right places) and we spend a few days in Frontier Land…! Its like the wild west here in the main square, really busy and really sandy and windy but its bigger than expected but also much less touristy than expected but the locals are fascinated in us, especially Steve as he is covered in tattoos and Asians love tattoos we have found and its led to some very funny meetings and conversations; people just walk up to him and either say they like them, point at them with a big smile or even come up and touch him directly but in an admiring and envious way – I don’t think he’s ever experienced such attention to them and think he’s getting to like the attention now too!

So on the first day we decide to hire bicycles, and they are the usual, the ones used on the set of Mary Poppins; single speed, rusty as hell, women’s bike with front basket and an absolute embarrassment to ride so naturally I love it and we head out on the 6km trip to the Volcanic Crater lake that’s near by to see it and hopefully have a swim. ON route we see a western girl walking on her own and stop to see if she wants a pillion which she does as she is going to the lake too but walking. She turns out to be called Dorothy,30 from Toulouse in France and she is walking to the lake… now to date I know more about Dorothy and realize now that the reason she walked was primarily because she is a dedicated backpacker; she haggles on all prices, won’t pay over the bare minimum and has a system of living and travlling that she always follows and rarely strays off… so the fact she was walking to the lake now makes sense. The lake is OK, and after walking the perimeter we get to the main part and there are maybe 100 Cambodian people there; groups of friends and family mainly and from the main jetty lots of youngsters jumping in, mainly wearing life jackets bizarrely but, very much like Thai people, having a whale of a time in the water and screaming laughing so when I convince Steve not only to go for a swim but to also go from the jetty we obviously attract just about everyones attention and when I jump off the top stair I get a great cheer but when Steve, who don’t forgot is maybe 18-20 stone and is covered in tattoos, jumps in you can imagine the cheer he gets…! Now most of you know I can’t swim too great, maybe 14 continuous lengths is my personal best but I get the urge to swim to a buoy in the centre of the lake so we go and I make it there and back but only just! Chuffed would have been an understatement….

We get back and go to this big music event where one of Cambodia’s biggest singers is singing plus other acts and everyone from town and elsewhere is going and when we arrive it really is in full swing, a large area with large main stage and packed with people including families with babies and young groups of friends, maybe 5000 people at any one time. We barely see any other westerners all night, I saw 4 in total and we talked to them all but I have never experienced attention like it, you would think we were movie stars attending their festival; reactions ranged from people walking past with big smiles right through to people running up from know where and grabbing our hand to shake it and being as excited as if they’d won the lottery and just discovered the meaning of life all in one split second…. And if we said hello to anyone, well blow me down side ways they went mental and there were several moments that night I felt like one of the Beatles…! But the big difference in Cambodia is that there are lots of people who speak some English, some none at all but more do than Thailand, especially young people and one young lad told us that learning English is the big thing now as it means getting good jobs to support their families like being a guide or working in tourism somehow because there is no doubt its much poorer than Thailand here, or the parts of Thailand I saw anyway.

Whereas there are many differences here, and some hard to describe, the core values and Buddhist way of life seems the same but as this country is only just really going in to its tourism boom, pretty much all of Thailand has seen it, especially the south but the quieter north west coast of Thailand I did, and probably the north west too which I didn’t do, are closer to Cambodia.

Dorothy advertedly or inadvertadly made it clear we were 'a convenience’ to her, that travelling with someone was safer with her (though she was happy to share a room with 2 complete strangers, and guys too?!!) and looking back she may have initially joined us because on that day she told us she was in Ban Lung to do a 7 day trek but it was too expensive to do it alone and she was looking for someone to do it. I was actually interested after she told me what it involved but Steve’s feet were a mess from blisters and poor quality sandals and being a size 13 foot! He couldn’t find anywhere that did that size here – no shit Steve….  But we went to the market to have a look and it was worth it just to see market vendors faces when he asked and pointed to his feet..!

So with the trek now not on we told Dorothy we were going to travel over to near the Laos border and try and boat down the Mekong river as much as possible but as it’s the dry season here, we didn’t know which parts of the river were accessible by boat right now so we decided to get a bus to Stung Treng, about 200km south of the border and find out there and so we asked if she wanted to come and she agreed. So next day we try to get a bus but the weather is bad and there are no big buses so we go to the market to try get a minivan. To help you understand the travel options here, for local trips its either a motorbike where you never get a helmet but bomb around town fearing for your life but which is cheaper than any other transport, a tuk tuk which as in Thailand is a motorbike with a carriage which is safer, slower but sometimes a little more expensive, then there are 2 kinds of taxi, shared and private, private like at home and shared being like the Sangthaew in Thailand being a kind of truck or pickup truck just crammed with people and goods and then there are buses which are privately run and the cheapest here is called Soroya and finally minivans which are like people carriers really but always crammed with people and way too much produce but they are hit and miss, sometimes your lucky, sometimes you aint and today we were somewhere in between..!

The rain meant that drivers didn’t want to do the journey because the roads are so bad, and mainly just dirt tracks so we had to wait until about 1pm because there were no minivans taking the risk but a local woman who spoke good English spoke with us and called someone who was going to pick us up. On arrival, we were seated on the back seat which always seems the way for backpackers for some reason but they always treat you really well and there was a big family on the bus and one woman on the back seat moved to the next row just so we had a little more room and crammed herself with her family, partly also so she was';t stuck with us on the backseat but there were 3 seats for us but with all our bags too; 3 large packs and 3 small ruck sacks and bearing in mind there is little room and I struggle being cramped, poor Steve was like a sardine..! I think Dorothy took a pic of us trying to sleep so ill see and upload it… but after approx 6 hours we made it to Stung Treng.

Before moving on I have to also add that we found some amazing food here in the form of dumplings..! About the size of your clasped hand, they are a dough outer with a mix usually of pork, egg and veg in, steamed over a charcoal fire… really good with some chilli sauce but alas, this turned out to be only the 2nd best food so far in Cambodia when we got to Siem Reap…! The suspense must be killing you..!

Uploading the photos now and if i remember anything i left out from this trip ill add it later.... and 'Ping'... there is could i forget.... our friends and John C Nah...!

Near the end of the music festival we had a wander round as everyone was leaving and came across a group sat in a circle drinking Angkor beer and two of them were a German couple called Maurice and Lota who explained they had been sat with these Cambodian guys drinking free beer from the Angkor Beer stand behind for quite a while but that none of them spoke a word of English but who were all pretty merry so we sat down, naturally as it was free beer! and spent about two hours having the best laugh i've had in ages somehow communicating and taking pictures and all in very high spirits (or beers in this case)... one very funny bit was that one guy managed to tell us his friends name was John C Nah and Steve told me that this was also the name of a famous wrestler in the US and this Cambodian friend was laughing so hard as he spoke to us it was infectious; he was saying Jon C Nah and then doing a weigh lifters bicep curl type pose and then saying John C Nah again and kind of curling over like a real weakling, implying his mate had the same name but was physically the complete opposite but he repeated it about 10-12 times and it just got funnier every time with everyone laughing and me and Steve crying laughing..... one of those times you have to be there but i have some pics and you'll see everyone having a great time.... i think we had about 10 free beers too which no doubt helped!!
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Delly on

Oh Lee, I loved reading that! My fave bit are the quotes from Planes, Trains... as you wrote them I was also quoting knowing the next lines haha! Hope Steve left you with more than his big soaked undies in the bathroom sink for a facecloth hahahah! I NEED TO KNOW... what is numero uno for your fave foody experience?? Dumplings sound yum, but wanna know what's in 1st place? Im so proud of you for the epic swim to the buoy, I know what you're like at swimming so you were super brave swimming out like that, bet you felt amazing when you got back to dry land :) And that jump into the water looks fab... I would have so joined you to do that had I been there with you :)

Steve seems lovely - I'm glad you're travelling on and off with him. 2 Phalange's together causing mayhem :)

I found it hilarious too that despite being at the other side of the world, you still managed to put a bet on (and even remember!!) the Grand National haha! You can take the boy outta the Fax but... you know the rest :)

Great to see you enjoying every moment to the max, keep it up and stay safe and happy as I know you will. I also can't wait to hear about the New Year celebrations which I know have only just come to a head, more drama to write up :) It's amazing to get these updates from you and we all feel like we're experiencing these fab times with you from a distance, I actually feel like I'm there at times as you're writing draws me in :)

Well over and out for now, love you loads bro big hug and kiss HUG MWAHHHHHHHH xxxxxx

Carrie on

Hey sonshine - loved the blog, very entertaining, how funny you met someone called Dorothy as you travel the cambodian yellow brick road! Are you scarecrow, lion or tinman haha. Well done on the swimming, a challenge for you I know. Regarding the transport, I guess you will never complain about my driving again. Love n Hugs galore xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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