Ghosttown to ghosttown

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

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What I did

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Tuesday, April 3, 2012

It's 7pm and I have just moved guesthouse down to the beach, Otres Beach from up in the town centre… it was $6 there with promise of good wifi and free bicycle but the wifi was rubbish, the room hadn’t been cleaned and the bikes all had flat tires… so I hired a bike from this coo Italian guy who ran a bookshop about 1km away, he was about 65, white hair and beard and just a really nice guy. So I used the bike to go to the market and surrounding shops and managed to find everything I had on my list; a new small rucksack with waterproof cover $11 as ill need this for treks and any rainy days which I have been pretty lucky to avoid so far, some string tape to tape up my main rucksack which, if I didn’t already mention, has a whole in the side from a bus trip where it must have been next to something very hot which burnt a whole through my bag so its likely I will need a new one but I understand you can find a good one in Vietnam and Ho Chi Min City (HCMC) as they manufacture them there, an A5 pad, some factor 20 sun screen at $8 though!, some hand sanitiser as I think it will help prevent pic king up the odd stomach upsets I have had so far, a waterproof over coat which would fit over both bikes and would be for any treks or on a motorbike in the rain… hmmm what else…. A new lighter which I lost, some aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen and I think that’s it! But I am all kitted out now but the room I have now is right on the be ach, just a hut with mini light and too dark to sort the bag out now and plus I just got back from day on the beach and the bed was covered in mini ants as I left a mango on the bed… within minutes of removing it they had all dispersed but I sprayed my homemade mozzy spray (dettol and baby oil) which finished em off… I hope! They may get their revenge in the middle of the night… but anyway I am gonna switch to a dorm over the road tomorrow, same price but clean and off the ground so no ants! Plus I have chilled today, just me and loved it, just chatted to a few people but the place over the road is pretty cool and so gonna give a dorm a try for the first time.

So anyway, like Marty McFly I am gonna go back in time and try piece together again what I have not had chance to let you all know about just yet…

So (I seem to start a lot of sentences in this diary with ’so’)…so, me Steve and Dorothy managed to get the minivan to Stung Treng where we hoped to organize a boat trip on the Mekong river. WE had all been on the LP forum but were hearing about ridiculously high prices to hire boats out, in the hundreds… dollars that is, not boats…. By the way as I type this I have just realized, after a little pinching sensation under my shorts, that I put my shorts on off the bad BEFORE I discovered the ants…. OK, just got up, had a little wiggle and a shake, probably looked a bit of a madman and sat back down to continue but now ive got that paranoid thing going on whether I got em all or not! OK focus….

'So’ we arrive around 5pm and start walking around looking for guesthouses and after a while we walk past a westerner and I am walking about 10m behind but neither of the others stop and ask him about guesthouses – this is what I have found – neither really make the effort with other people too much; Steve is more of a self confidence issue I think so don’t mind but Dorothy is more of a ‘I can do it myself without any help’ but either way it always puts the oweness (is that the right word?) on me, which I do when on my own anyway, but gets annoying when we all cant agree and walk around for ages trying to find a mutually satisfying outcome… but anyway I ask him and he says he is staying about 1km away and offers to walk us there, even though he has just come from there; nice guy eh? We get there and a room is $6 with an extra bed in so we share at $2 each and I take the camping bed.

That night we have a look at the market which is a bit of a dirty place and we try eat in a café on the outside but when me and steve order Dororthy comes back from her interogationesque inspection of the area and says she’s not happy how the chicken is being kept and won’t order just as my and steve’s chicken and liver noodle soups arrive… So Steve leaves his chicken and liver but I, maybe more in protest of Dorothy just eat in and take Steve’s too just to say Fiz de Pute Dorothy! (which is a bad French swearword, well baddish) and you know what, next day no problems, A-OK but I did pick one tip up from her, actually lots about the weay she travels, and this was to use a serviette to wipe down any cups and cutlery before using which is a good idea because they clean them but not always so well and when you see how they clean the pots here (through no other choice though) its certainly not with fairy liquid or on a antibacterial cleaning sprayed surface either…

OK just to break off again, you know I keep saying weird things always seem to happen on this trip, well in the 15 minutes I have been typing this a few things already; without noticing til just now, earlier I used the loo in my room and shower and could hear voices quite close and realized I was next to the seating area of the place I am staying but only just now have I glanced to the side to see about a 1 metre stretch of water from my shower run under the tarpaulin wall to the table next to me?! So earlier whilst on the loo, someone really was literally 1m away, 2 cambodian kids I think… KO, the other things; I have just been bitten on the back of my arm by something and the swell has come up immediately, its about the size of a 50p coin already, and the last thing is this huge beetle/cockroach flying thing has been buzzing around the light above me for ages, its huge, almost the length of a little little finger and it just dive bombed and landed right on my hip, glaring up at me, so carefully I manoeuvre round and plant a strong forefinger flick and see it fly off and whack into a wooden support beam; it hasn’t got up since.

OK, back to the story, so we inquire about boats only to find they want to charge about $45 for whole day up and down the Mekong; bargain, that’s $15 dollars each just 10 quid…"oh non, I will not pay this price – this is tourist price and they are taking advantage of us”.. yes Dorothy, it’s a frickin tourist price, you know why, cos we are not Cambodian’s, I can tell this, can’t you? And whether it’s a tourist price or not its great value, that’s setting off at sunset, travelling about a 200km round trip with a high chance of seeing Dolphins and a great stretch of the Mekong river… so in hind site me and Steve should have just paid the extra and split it two ways but we decide we will hire scooters out instead and drive up to the Dolphin area which itself turns out to be a great trip…

--- I think I am being eaten alive in this place---

 One thing I don’t know if I mentioned is that many things are hard to find in Cambodia, but the things you can find all over are things like food, shops selling tat clothing and sandals, rip-off bags like North face and Prada and cigarettes, which for all you smokers out there cost as low as 15p for the local brand (which Steve swore by called Ara) but even Marlborough’s only cost 35p. So next day when we go to look for both a scooter for the day and also a bicycle for the following day to do a shorter trip, we look for the ones listed in the lonely planet and ask for any more and of course, we cant find any, they are either simply not there or have a sign up saying they are closed;  this is sooooo typical of this place! Anyway, we stop at a café as me and Steve haven’t had out regular coffee fix today – I know I mentioned the coffee here, which is AMAZING, the best ever but I  don’t know if I mentioned that its actually made with roasted pigs fat too!? It’s strange but you can just smell it in the aroma but to be honest once you have tried one and become as addicted as Winnie the Pooh was to honey then you realize it could have roasted human fat in for you care, you’d still drink it!! Anyway, the owner comes up and he speaks perfect French, not overly unusual here as the French I think colonized this country many moons ago and there’s loads of leftover French influence here in the infrastructure still in place. So Dororthy finally has  use and he apparently offers to rent his own scooter out and call a friend for another as Steve needs one, and me and Dorothy can fit on the other which he does and, although now late morning, we finally get set and set off on the 150km round trip to Svay quite close to the Laos border and where you can hopefully see the Dolphins… on the way Dororthy wanted to stop at a local well womans weaving project which is a local initiative for women with no skills or prospects to come to the centre and learn the whole silk weaving process over about 3-5 months and we are given a great free tour and at the end are encouraged to buy something from the shop which none of us do as its $40 for even a scarf but obviously amazing quality and as genuine as you can get but still pricey and not needed so we just leave a  donation and head off… Dorothy takes over on the bike for the route to Svay but through no fault of her own we get lost very quickly and end up on a dirt road and we see some guys at the side of the road before a wooden bridge and ask if it’s OK to go ahead on to the  main road we see ahead, they say yes and so Dorothy and me go first and as we approach the bridge we see it’s a little worse for wear at the start and she asked me whether we should keep going and I say ‘yeahhhh, sure…..’ so we do and I kid you not, I am surprised we are still alive because as we pass the first few boards we see that the boards gaps get wider, like almost the width of the bikes tyres, and also there’s sections of the bridge that have big burnt holes in and where still intact look like they would snap under the pressure of a gnats fart so in panic Dorothy steps on the accelerator to make  sure we get over quickly and with enough speed to just dirt bike style, get over the obstacle and I don’t know how but somehow we do… and even though it was a majorly hair raising experience I was and still am now gutted I wasn’t driving for that bit! Anyway, Dororthy doesn’t take her foot off the pedal for atleast another 30 yards and by the time we stop and look back Steve has just started his crossing! I know he is going to make it but also know he is gonna shit himself and I just have one of those laughing fits as I know exactly what he will be going through! Anyway he makes it and we turn back to meet him at the bridge and as we do a local guy pulls up from the opposite way on his bike, gets off and slowly walks his bike over the bridge… of course he does, any sane person would! Unfortunately no footage of the event but I have photos of the bridge, the drop and a video of the guy who stops and walks his bike!

The rest of the journey is just main roads with little traffic but a good view of the countryside which, in parts, is very poor but has a real sense of community and relaxed, peaceful living, and as I am not driving I see a lot, take some pics and get the, now usual, "hello’s” and waves form locals, mainly young kids.

After struggling through about 10kn of bumpy dirt road and seeing some water buffalo’s lazing in mud (see video and photo’s – one pic I walked right up  to one buffalo’s about 2 ft away but he was so happy in the cold mud he didn’t even flinch!) we arrive at the beautiful small village of Svay and the next part of the trip was great; there was a small track we thought led to the Mekong for about 5km we drove down and I swear, you would think they had never had a westerner visit before, everyone loved us, it was  like being a Beatle all over again, all the kids would shout “Hello” with huge smiles and waves but here even all the adults and even the men would smile and wave too and again when I would say sua se dai they would go wild! Like “oh my god/Buddha, he said hello in Khmer!!” I can’t tell you how great it was, like usually if you pass a large group of mixed kids and adults sometimes just the kids will wave, sometimes say hello and wave and sometimes the adults would smile and even laugh but here if we stopped to talk or just drove past a group and waved or said hello the whole group went wild! On the route we had some more swing bridges to contend with but nothing like the original one and I have a couple of  video’s of this, the best of Steve wobbling across the first swing bridge… anyway, after a while we turn back as we realize its not the right route and find the right place only 500m down another route and when we get there I realize I have left my helmet on a bridge whilst taking a photo and when we go back its long gone but it was a crappy plastic thing and when we get back I replace it at a cost of $4!! Really though, you’d get more protection from spraying Sure deodorant on your head, well 24 hours more protection at least?!...

--big bugs keep falling on my head—

We find the river and ask about a boat to see the Dolphins but it’s a 2 hour trip and we have to get the bikes back in 3 hours so its just too long but apparently the Dolphins don’t appear at that time, even tho the boat guy says they will so we set off back and I drive though the journey again is just about getting back, but one interesting thing is the gasoline here, its sold by locals from drums and sold in ˝ litre water bottles at $1/litre usually but we find somewhere that’s got an actual mini filling device and Dorothy took a video which I got off her and have hopefully uploaded too (because of the internet connections here its tough even to get online, harder to upload images and almost impossible to upload a video but will upload what I can and save the rest for when I get a better connection).

We get back in time to take a quick one hour sunset drive in the opposite direction down the Mekong and get some great pics and again banter with the locals from our bikes but on return, as there is little to do and no bars in Stung treng which really is a ghost town really, we decide to eat and then go back and play cards. One of the best and few things Dorothy gave me was a demonstration of how to play the national Cambodian card game someone had shown her, a bit like crash but better and whenever we play in public we get loads of Khmer attention and the only time when locals will actually approach you and peer over shoulders to check your hand on what your gonna play – the LOVE this game and play it everywhere and it always brings a laugh when we get the cards out and play, partly cos we know it and partly because actually we probably don’t know it and play it really badly! This time we eat first but at a street stall but as we eat we see something unfortunately common around Cambodia which is kids sniffing gas or glue and one boy of about 9 comes up asking for money or our wattle bottles which they collect and get nominal fee’s for recycling, but even though he is obviously high by his glazed eyes, and starts getting aggressive, I just felt gutted for him having no life or future at that age and probably for his whole life…and after getting no where asking for money he starts leaning in to Steve and tries sitting on his knee to which Steve says NO,NO, NO and calmly brushing him away, and whereas I don’t know if it was just the boy innocently trying to make Steve feel sorry for him it was very possible he was offering himself to Steve for money – apparently child sex abuse is very bad here and there is a major crackdown on tourist pedophiles coming here and taking advantage of there being this poverty and kids unfortunately being offered to these people and everywhere there are posters and billboards saying “no to child sex abuse” with call numbers and also stories of Cambodian courts now handing out massive sentences to foreign pedophiles now being court… but after Steve’s rejection to whatever it was, the boy got pretty vicious and upset, no doubt as he was high and stunk of gasoline, and just picked up Steve water bottle and threw it over the road and at this point the girl who owned the  food stand came over raising her voice but also keeping her distance but the kid was a law to himself but after a while just wandered off… very sad indeed but I am glad I am seeing ‘the real cambodia’ and what is actually happening here, its part of the reason for this whole trip is to see for myself what these places are like and not just go by the media or lonely Planet and whereas I obviously don’t want these things happening or to see them, they are happening and probably much more than ill see as even though though I try to stay off the tourist trail I still don’t see the mass majority of Cambodia and the main non touristy areas.

So anyway, subdued we go back ,play cards and crash and since we can’t find bicycles for the next day we decide we will take the bus to Siem Reap, the 2nd biggest city here and where we will find, see and marvel at the amazing temples of Angkor….
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Carrie on

Love the pic of you on the mekong at night, very atmospheric. Sounds like Dotty Dorothy is sending you and Steve a bit dotty haha - but at least she got you over the death-trap bridge. By the way ........ re you taking the lead - it's spelt as 'onus' - not a good scrabble word, but good character builing for you to take the initiative. Watch those ants in the pants, any mere morsel of food will attract a whole army of them ...... be warned!

Haven't seen a single good food photo ..... just hoping the plate of dead wasps and insects wasn't one of your menus haha!

love and miss you ooooooooooooooooodles xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Like the buffalo pics as well, how near to them were you.

Delly on

I agree with Mum, and Lee, these pics are amazing!!! Before long you'll not even flinch at a bug/insect divebombing you :)

I must say though, of all the scary looking bridges, food etc THE MOST scary looking thing by far are Steve's feet eeuukkk!!! He has big fat wonky minging toes, totally grossed me out haha! Cant wait to read next updates... onto them now :) Love and miss you xxx ps I also appreiated the Marty reference, although many others won't haha! xx

Ashleigh on

WOW! What a brilliant read...I have sooooo much to catch up on and have done nothing but read your blog all night with several cups of tea. The coffee (even if you say its nice) sound AWFUL! And fried spiders and crickets?!?! Have you tried these??

The picture of the sunset looks beautiful.

Will keep reading regularly.

Hope you continue to have an amazing time and take care.


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