After three days of fairly hectic travelling about, I’ve made to to Siem Reap in Cambodia, close to the famous temples of Angkor Wat (which is the main thing I want to see in Cambodia). I’m generally enjoying things much more than in Thailand. I’m not saying that no-one is trying to scam me anymore, but at least everyone is more polite, almost apologetic, about it! A rough outline of the last few days follows… The trip from Trat to the border went well, and the border post itself was rather cool. From the checkpoints as the border neared, to the heaving international trade market just on the Thai side, to the expected scamming of an extra 100 Baht out of the Western tourists at Cambodian immigration, to the heaving masses on the Cambodian side of the border, who were largely waiting to pounce on tourists. Even just getting from the border to the nearest town (to catch the minibus to Phenom Penh) was fun - taking a motobike taxi (moto) with me half-falling off due to having 25kg on my back.
The minibus ride to Phenom Penh was long, from 9am to 6pm, and gave me a sore bottom, but the scenery was great. Lots of ‘idillic-but-I’m-glad-I-don’t-live-there-meself’ wooden houses up on stilts over rice fields stretching out under distant mountains. Very lush, almost lurid greens under the blue sky, with the red-rock road carving a scar across the countryside. It all looked very traditional and unsullied by modern times (well apart from the road!), until I realised these farms were probably set up under the Khmer Rouge. You’ve probably heard of the Khmer Rouge, or perhaps of the Communist party leader Pol Pot. During the seventies, they tried to force everyone out of the provincial capitals and turn them into peasants, working the land. Those that they did not believe could be moulded in this way, the ‘intellectuals’, the teachers, the writers, anyone ‘educated’, and their families, were exterminated. Just wearing glasses was enough to get you killed.
I kinda knew this stuff before I came out here, but had mostly forgotten it. Then, while travelling through, I remembered being told that there were few old people here. It really is true. I’ve barely seen anyone over the age of around 35 - I’ve seen a few old women, but no old men at all. Pol Pot killed them all.
The best part of the minibus trip was probably all the river crossings on distinctly Heath-Robinson ferries, with quite a few long pauses due to cars getting stuck in the muddy banks when trying to get off. Either that or the roads themselves, which were humerously bad in places. The first section out from the border looked like a big slice of floating Swiss cheese. Except it was bright red - the same shade as the Australian desert. Which was wierd because the soil was not that colour there. I hope they didn’t bring the aggregate all that way.
Anyways, got to Phenom Penh, and after another over-burdened moto ride I found myself at a rather pleasant lakeside guesthouse. Didn’t get to enjoy it for long, as I had to get off bed early to catch the boat up to here, but I think I’ll stay around there when I go back. The ride up today was great, as I was riding on the roof of the shpeedboat* and got great views all the way. The bits which I was not expecting were the change to smaller boats once we got close, which was all a bit wobbly, and the hundreds of floating houses along the river leading up to the ‘port’. I say ‘port’ because it was actually a few planks of wood tied together, resting between the front of the boat and the shore. Amongst the masses of people trying to help you (for USD of course!), I managed to find the right guesthouse tout, and eventually a long shower and some good food.
Tomorrow, I get up early (again!) to see Ankgor Wat at sunrise. Sounds like fun.
[[* In a Sean Connery accent please. Izzard fans should understand.]