Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Lazy Laos days

We finally crossed into Laos . Our first land border crossing on foot. The minibus dropped us off at the crossing, took our $45 and passports, handed them back 20 minutes later then we were told we could cross. So rucksacks on our backs, blistering heat at midday and we walk along a short dusty road through both barriers into Laos. We both looked as guilty as when you go through the 'nothing to declare' at the airport, have no idea why! There is nothing the other side, just a bus hoping to fill up before he leaves, so we wait half an hour for twenty more people and head to the ferry. Three minutes in to the journey there's a loud explosion from the back of the bus and smoke and fumes. A guy runs to the front shitting himself because he thinks we've gone over an unexploded the middle of the road that runs from the border to the ferry! The driver casually gets out and has a look round the bus, just a blown tyre. Upon a suggestion he do something about it he says 'only five minutes more. I need to come back, pick up more'. This followed by horn blowing to encourage everyone back on the bus quickly. Great to know that his next fares are more important that our safety.

The ferry is little more than a dug out canoe with an outboard motor and a very low roof. We're on along with our bags and after 10 minutes travelling through beautiful green waters past little island oasis of tropical trees we arrive at Don Det. It's one of the so called Four Thousand Islands of Southern Laos. During the dry season this area of the Mekong has literally thousands of tiny sandbanks and islands covered in vegetation. Only a few are inhabited because during the rainy season they are lost to the swell of the mighty Mekong. Don Det is 7kms around the island which is basically split into two sides, the sunset side and a sunrise side. The sunset side is busier and attracts the younger stoner crowd who party, well, until the curfew time of 11pm. The sunrise side is quieter and has less choice of bungalows but we have decided its worth the 2kms walk and its cooler this side of the island. Our bungalows on stilts at Mr Tho's are basic. A bed but get this, with a sprung mattress, a fan, a toilet and a sort of shower and the all important two hammocks on the verandah that looks out over the river. This is an expensive one at just over £6 a night. There are no roads on the islands so bicycles are the order of the day. Anyone that knows me will know that's not good. First day I fall off getting stuck in a deep dry rut on the path. Nothing to do with the three large Beer Laos that we'd just had I'm sure!

The power is on all night and so is our fan so we are cool enough to sleep, that is we should be able to sleep. But do you know how loud millions of frogs can sound? They make the most incredibly annoying noise. This sleep disturbance is closely followed by what I thought was a stalker. I can hear someone creeping around next to and under our bungalow. I thought they were drunk as they crash into one of the stilts. But when I look out the window all I can see is a caramel coloured cow looking for something to eat! And the the icing on the cake, Chris' all time favourite creature, the cockerel. Now I always believed they started at sunrise but these buggers start at 3 in the morning. And virtually every household has at least one, why? So ear plugs tonight.

weird shit:
Caterpillars that you can see at night because they have head lights. No kidding, their heads are like little lanterns.

A little skinny stray tabby cat wiht half a tail that followed us home from a restaurant the first night. She followed at a discreet distance and when we stopped, she stopped then ran a bit to catch up.Tthe second night she was actually fighting with the cat of the restaurant we were in (a different one) and she followed us home again. At a distance but let us stroke her. Then the weird bit, third night we walked half way round the island to a restaurant and on the way back she appeared behind us again. Escorting us home. Don't know how we'll feel if she appears again tonight?!

Expensive shit:
Snickers bar straight from the fridge......£1.25 but absolutely lush. First choccie bar in a long while!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Cambodia .... Tick

Almost the last journey we take in Cambodia, from Kampong Cham to  Stung Treng. We knew it would be quite a long one, told 5 hours but that is never the real time. We’ve now been on the bus for 6 hours and still a long way to go and I’m getting fidgety and a bit grumpy. Then I started thinking….it’s supposed to be about the journey. And this journey has highlighted that Cambodia is actually still a third world country that is trying desperately to be something else.

Some of the stuff that’s made me realise this; the bus has families of four sharing 2 seats because  they  can only afford to buy 2 seats. My air conditioning (which is in reality an airvent that lets in the dusty fumey air from outside) is just a hole and the previous occupant obviously didn’t want the full blast so shoved the curtain in it. We make so many unscheduled stops to collect and drop off people as well as motorbikes and hessian sacks full of grain, rice, potatoes. There is no room for these, as there isn’t for our rucksacks, so they’re all laid out in the aisles. One of the stops is on the side of the road next to a shrubby area where, yep you guessed it, everyone gets off the bus, runs into the undergrowth and pees. I could not believe that so many people could disappear so quickly into half a dozen bushes.

Most of the journey is on National Highway 7. Sounds pretty grand and you’d probably expect something like the A1. Not here,  about 30% of the journey is on unmade roads that the driver seems to continue to take at the highest speed his overloaded bus can take. We’re bumped and thrown  around while he sounds his horn at anything that gets in the way. In his way is everything from small children, motorbikes, lorries to, of course, oxen pulling carts. The unmade road is lined with Khmer style houses on stilts, some selling fruit and beer. Every house has dogs with puppies and the women with as many babies as the dogs. The washing out draped across a fence and strung between the shrubs. The red dust from the traffic on the unmade roads covers them and the banana trees and bushes making the fresh green that does show look even more vibrant. There are swathes of scrub land that they don’t seem to know what to do with so they set fire to them leaving black parched earth. On the very edge of the ‘road’ is a continuous layer of rubbish, mostly plastic bags but also odd shoes. And finally, we have been on the bus so long now that my insect repellent has worn of and the mosquitos are closing in!

We still get smiles and waves when they see a white face so that makes all of this less frustrating and a bit more real.


Friday, 22 February 2013

Templed Out!

Arrived in Siem Reap to our first problem with a hotel. They took our booking for 3 nights and when we turned up we were given fresh fruit juice and lovely ice cold towels so it was quite promising. Then to be told they didn't have any rooms for our first night so would we stay at another place for the night which was really grotty. So we had to then trek around but found a lovely little place called the Cashew Nut.

Siem Reap is actually not a bad town. It is obviously here because of Angkor Wat but it has a river running through it; a few temples to look at; a bug market that wouldn't let us photograph the fried snakes, crickets, cockroaches and frogs; a road called 'Pub Street' which is a bit like the Khao San Road in Bangkok, full of restaurants and foot massage places and finally the obligatory night market.

Being as money conscious as we are, or tight some may say, we heard that you could buy a one day ticket to visit the main Wats at 4.30pm the day before and use it that afternoon. So off we went to queue at the ticket booths, have our picture taken and handed over our $20 for the ticket. There was so many people doing the same thing it was like a roman chariot race as we all pulled away from the booths in our tuk tuks heckling with each other. We wanted to see the big one so headed for Angkor Wat to see it at sunset along with the 1000's of others who thought the same thing! But there were more people leaving at that time of day than arriving so it was actually quieter than we had hoped for. It's difficult to describe but was definitely a 'wow' moment as we walked up the causeway made of gigantic slabs of rock crossing the moat that surrounds this monumental temple. You can easily imagine how imposing it would have been back in the 12th century when it was built without the aid of us modern day machinery. We got half way across and got chatting to a lovely white haired Indian man who was resting on the wall and I'm not sure how it happened but we finally got to try some of the infamous betel nut from India. He opened up a little tube and shook these suspicious looking lumps of dark resin into his hand. I let Chris try it first, there's a surprise. And after he hadn't screwed his face up in horror I had a go, it tasted ok. Sweet and made you salivate a lot which I think is the point as you see men spitting all the time while chewing it.

Anyway, I've digressed, back to the temple ruins. Angkor Wat was as the pictures every one has seen, the three famous domes with the lakes in front. As you walk through the main entrance and smell the incense burning and catch glimpses of the orange robes of a monk you get a sense of something else. Even though there are lots of people there is still a feeling of calm. We talked in hushed tones and felt a reverence for the surroundings. But for both of us the show stealer was the next morning.

We got up and left at 5am to climb to Phnom Bakeng to see the sunrise. It was such a relieve to be about before the heat of the day had taken hold and we went up by torchlight to arrive at the ruin just before the sky started to light up with the soft pinks and oranges of sunrise. There were mercifully few people so we managed to get some great pictures and could enjoy the peace of the morning. The big surprise though was Angkor Thom. Our trusty tuk tuk driver took us to the south gate which had the most fabulous row of sentries on either side. Their faces all different ranging from the serene to the down right grumpy and in a better condition that the other gates. It was about 7.30 when we first saw the Bayon ruin in the centre of Angkor Thom and the light from the rising sun really made the best of this one. It has five giant towers each with a face on every side. You can get in and around these ruins and up close to everything. Again, we seemed to be lucky with the crowds and only a few coach loads of Japanese were sharing this with us. After a short break for some breakfast we wandered round some deserted ruins still in Angkor Thom and I hate to admit it but you get a bit blasé around them.

Next stop was the Tomb Raider ruins, Ta Prohm. Made famous by Lara Croft being chased by the baddies around these. At this point it was about 11am and the crowds were building and the temperature rising so this better be good. It was. Ta Prohm is one the few temple ruins that they have not completely restored and have left some of the jungle that was growing around it. The trees seeming to grow from the roofs of the temples and roots that clamber either side of walls and a hue of green over the carved stones. This makes Ta Prohm feel much more exciting and you can almost imagine the feeling of discovering such vast splendid places of worship.

The pictures tell this one more than the words. We were impressed and would recommend a visit and call us heathens but unfortunately it didn't blow us away as we thought it might. Enjoy the pictures though.
Cheap shit.
Brand new honda Rambo 100cc motorbike in Cambodia $600Haircut, wet shave,nasal, ear and eyebrow trimming, cold towel and cup of orange $4 Foot massage $1
Weird shit
The untouchables dubbed into Khmer with English subtitles on a bus.
The Cambodians are always picking lice from one another's hair. The woman on the seat in front of me is doing it now! I am scratching my head like a maniac. As well as my mosquito bites.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Batman da da da da da da da da da

Batdambong is a dusty, sleepy place with a drying river running through it. There are a few nice restaurants but that is about it. It is dusty because there has been no rain since October and everyone is always setting fire to stuff after sweeping it into piles. Having said that our guesthouse was very good and included aircon, a big comfy bed, ensuite, breakfast and daily fruit bowl for $17. We used the free bikes to toodle around a bit one day and the next hired a tuk tuk to take us to ‘The Bamboo Train’. Found on a stretch of rail tracks the ‘Train’ consists of a bamboo platform, a small engine and two axels. Travellers sit on the platform and whizz along at about 30kph on the worse for wear tracks, clicking, clacking, serving and jumping along until a similar ‘train’ comes the other way. Right of way is given to the larger group. It wasn’t that comfortable, views weren’t great and it all felt a little dangerous but definitely worth doing.

The Bamboo Train
The day continued with visits to a couple of temples, driving through the dry countryside, the killing cave where Khmer Rouge fighters threw prisoners to their death and in which is now found a reclining Budha and, as a symbol of remembrance of those three or four terrible years, a small glass sided shrine filled with skulls and bones from many bodies.

Grafitti on Catcus leaves at temple

Finally we went to the Bat Cave. All that is visible is the large cave entrance on the rock face but at 6.00pm every evening hundreds of thousands of bats stream out for 45 minutes and then snake their way across the skyline before eventually dissipating and flying their separate ways. It was a truly amazing sight to see them issuing forth in such vast numbers and the swirling shapes that they formed in the evening sky.
Weird Shit:
Wedding breakfasts are celebrated to the accompaniment of music that is blared out so loud that the sound is distorted. The guests sit beneath gazebo arrangements often covering half the road where space is tight and stare at one another because talking is virtually impossible. The thinking behind this practice is so the ancestors will find the celebration and everyone from miles around know it’s a first wedding because of the noise…second marriages are much quitter and mourning events quieter still.

Funny Shit:
Rachel walked from the squat toilet to the entrance of the bus service stop with her skirt stuck in the back of her knickers

On Valentines Day we got wished 'Happy Valentines Day' by each one of the staff in a supermarket – including the manager who ran up to me especially to do so before opening the door for us to leave

Interesting Shit:
Rachel broke her tooth on a spring roll and had to go to a dentist. The place was pretty clean and she was seen straight away to get a temporary filling. The dentist spoke only a little English so we couldn’t wait to see what would happen when she said she would need Rachel to “Open wide so I can put some Semen in” …As usual Rachel duly obliged.
Sliced mango dipped in a paste of finely chopped chilli, garlic, sugar and salt

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Dust and Beer

Sihanoukville - a sprawling seaside town in the south of Cambodia is affectionately called ‘Snookie’ by its residents  This seems wholly appropriate as it is full of prostitutes, old duffers looking for cheap oriental bj’s and guest houses supplying the beds in which to receive them. There are restaurants, minimarts and the other assorted attractions you would expect but Victory Hill (the area we had to stay in for a couple of days) was definitely dominated by short skirted, skinny as you like, pouty lipped little things fawning over gross, middle age, sweaty men with straining dicks and fat wallets. I know this sounds very ‘Guardian Reader’ but the westerners (whether in search of sex or not) all seemed very common here. A multi lingual melting pot of extensive blueing tattoos, fags, swearing, red skin, beer belly’s and poor hygiene. We had to spend a couple of days here because we couldn’t get out. The highlights being Rachel and I cruising up and down the street looking at the girls and a pleasant meal in a restaurant that gave out free condoms with a 58 yr old Swiss Guy called Peter and his 30 yr old Thai ‘girlfriend’  called Pim who we had met on the island.
Getting to our next destination was a bit of an adventure. A bus ride to a little village on the side of the ‘highway’ where we were supposed to be able to catch a boat. This didn’t exist so got two moto-taxi’s to take us 20km along bumpy, dusty, red dirt roads running through woodland and sugar cane fields meet the river where we got a motorised, rickety floating platform balanced on two canoes across to our destination of Chi Phat. This is a village that is sponsored by a community program to protect the animals and environment of Cambodia through eco tourism. The program arranges homestays and guesthouses and trekking or equipment hire through people in the village and thus ensures employment and instills a sense of care in the residents for their surroundings that were being stripped of woodland for timber and the animals that they previously hunted.
The village has one dusty road, a few dusty shops, one restaurant and shabby, stilted houses set in small plots of dirt. Cows, chickens, dogs etc roam freely amidst everything and snort, bark, moo, cluck and meow all day and most of the night. Every bike, scuffing child (of which there are many) or car (of which there are few) raises more dust so everything within 20 metres of the road is vaguely red (including the locals).
Detached property with partial fencing

Our host is SoKah who shows us to our room. The bed is a raised wooden platform with a blanket and reed mat to serve as a mattress. The sheets are clean, the bare wooden walls are dust free and worn gapped floor is swept. The windows (picky types might refer to them as large holes in the walls) look out on the yard and the small veranda. It is small, the walls don’t reach the ceiling but it is what it is and we are thrilled. Later, in the main room –an empty space of 20ft by 10ft we sit in the middle of the floor and we eat (or rather I eat) a meal  of rice and what can only be described as scrambled chicken – Bits of bones, scraps of meat, heart, skin and lungs. Rachel’s face fell on sight of it so once again, pictorially this time, I conveyed she didn’t eat meat. Consequently she ate rice and I ate god knows what.
Homestay sounds lovely but in fact is pretty hard. The toilet is in the yard and is on a platform surrounded by reed walls and standing 4ft above ground so everything from the chest up is visible and fart noises echo out for all to hear. The shower is a jug and water barrel, the toilet flush is the same jug but different barrel.
The toilet
Electricity is a fleeting joy from 5pm till 10.30pm but appliances in the village are few and far between so there is no ac and no fans and its 38 degrees in the day and 28 degrees in the middle of the night and the bloody animals will not stop their noise. But, and here’s the thing, homestays get you involved with the community and this one was filled with open hearted, generous, people who live in an inclusive and enviable society where doors are left not only unlocked, but open. Consequently much of our time is spent in the local bar just trying to converse with the locals over beer and food that they either share with us or we buy to share with them. Rachel and I just smile the whole time because this is the essence of travelling. The mountains and seas and lakes and temples and waterfalls are nothing without this.
Whats that Queen song again?
When we do drag ourselves outside of the bar we hire pushbikes and go to the waterfall and rapids further up river. Unfortunately its dry season so the waterfall resembles a dripping tap and the rapids a mill pond. Even so we join the locals and following local style jump in with our clothes on and splash around in the bath temperature water for a while then eat some food shared with us by a local. We cannot get over the continued patronage us two lowly travellers receive wherever we go. On the way back my front wheel jams and I fly over the handlebars into the dirt – luckily more drama than pain.
Swimming in the river
I have done it!!!! I have finally managed to get Rachel in a canoe. After an initial sweary period she relaxes and only uses the F word once every few minutes (basically if I shift weight and the canoe moves a little). We paddle down a wide, still river. Jungle on either side and only the sounds of gibbons and birds to disturb the peace. There is virtually no current and the sun reflects off the water so we are both drenched with sweat and so pull up on a sand bank and cool down with some water and just enjoy the quiet, the green and the wide blue sky. The trip back was no more difficult and Rachel seemed to relax into the experience and didn’t swear once all the way back (there is hope for her yet).
Horrible shit: A lorry transporting pigs except that there were tyres, boxes and all sorts of stuff on the lorry so the pigs were laying on top of one another, balancing on boxes and or standing on two legs. Horrible.

Weird shit: A Cambodian tuk tuk is a bit like an open topped stage coach that has had the front wheels removed and replaced with a motorbike. They are quite ornate and are everywhere. Whilst waiting for our bus, back on the highway, one pulled up which was driven by an American guy wearing a storm trooper helmet and pyjama bottoms. In the back a couple more yanks and a Khmer guy. To begin with thought the driver was letting the yank have a go but discovered that the yanks had bought the Tuk Tuk and were travelling around Cambodia on it. We both agreed that the guy we spoke to was uber cool. Very funny, personable, full of confidence and had a great looking tattoo of a gun looking like it was tucked in his pants – “Hell man, they see three yanks and a khmer rollin’ along on that baby and they think we’s like, shit, three niggers on a horse! Listen dudes I can like keep chewin’ the grass all day but we got fly. Good luck with the bus y’all, later!”.

Strange shit: Most Cambodian poor women wear pyjamas all day instead of normal clothes. Rachel thinks its like a Cambodian version of the Essex velour jumpsuit but brighter.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Crabs, Hammocks and Golden Sands


Next stop Kep. A little sliver of sandy beach on the south coast of Cambodia.  Starts with a four hours bus ride which was a new experience. Theres’s a tv screen at the front of the bus which flickers to life as we pull away with images of a Cambodian couple singing to one another. But better than a just a Cambodian love song, the words appear at the bottom of the screen for Karaoke. What have we done, no wonder the ticket was so cheap. We were saved from too much of this as after about half an hour a film comes on. All in Khmer so we have no idea of the story but the whole of the bus are in fits of laughter which is infectious. I am chuckling at them laughing and when I watch some of the movie to see what is so funny it’s like a ‘Carry On’ film so you don’t need to know what they’re saying. Its proper schoolboy humour and slapstick from the 70s which certainly helped while away the hours.

We arrive in Kep, a quaint seaside village which has a reputation for the crab market. We head straight there and are not disappointed. It’s a Sunday and people have come from as far away as Phnom Penh (4 hours) to buy the seafood. There’s a covered area in front of the jetty with about 20 women selling their catches of the day. Prawns the size of Chris’ hand, crabs from small enough to get one mouthful up to enough to feed a family of four, colourful lobsters and squid of any size and quantity you could possibly want. The smell is not unpleasant as it’s so fresh and it’s over powered by the smoke and  smell of wood burning in the clay ovens next to the fresh fish. We looked confused so a kind young man explained how it works. You pick exactly what seafood you want, buy that then you take it over to one of the ovens and they cook it for you. Simple as that, the freshest tastiest most simple seafood you can have. There are other stalls outside selling rice, drinks, banana leaf plates and sweet waffles. We sat with the locals munching our slipper lobster picked up with our fingers  and swigging our beer. Exactly what we wanted.
Crab sales fresh from the sea

The next day we checked out the local market behind our hotel and went along the coast where we stopped and spent a lazy couple of hours swinging in hammocks, drinking lime soda and listening to the sea. Followed by more seafood, prawns and rice served to us in our arbour. All along the shore line there are arbours with hammocks  hanging and then every couple of hundred yards a shack selling drink and seafood. So you pick your spot and order from the closest one. After enough lying around we thought we should see a bit of the National Park so headed up on our bike.  We managed about an hour on the Jungle Trail but it all of a sudden got very steep and slippery and I had crap shoes on (my excuse, I was hot and had a full belly!) so we headed back down to watch the sunset from our hotel roof….with the obligatory rum and coke.
Rachel in the Jungle

The following morning was an early start for a two and a half hour bus journey to Sihanoukville. A busy coastal resort popular with the young backpackers and we weren’t sure that we actually wanted to stop there so Chris called around and we found a bungalow on the beach on an island. The journey to Koh Rong Island is made via a converted  32 ft fishing boat. Conversion means a couple of wooden benches along the sides, a wooden canopy and the fishing nets removed. Our luggage was slung in the middle along the provisions that were being taken out to the island at the same time. There’s a single Canadian guy, a Swiss/Thai couple and two chinese women also on the boat. The boat chugged along past little green islands through shipping lanes and after about 3 hours Sihanoukville was a dot on the horizon and we were in the bluest/greenist sea approaching a white sandy bay about 2 miles long with a dozen beach bungalows at one end. We were all excited hoping it was our destination and it was. That fooled you!
Fishing boat on Koh Rong jetty 

The boat docks next to a dilapidated jetty and half a dozen kids are smiling and waving and shouting hellos. We climb off rather inelegantly and are pointed to bungalow number 3. Its on stilts and has an enticing looking hammock on the veranda. Inside there are 2 beds with mosquito nets and a room stuck on the back which is the bathroom. It has a tin roof, cold water shower, a toilet, a tub of water and bucket (for flushing) and a small mirror. Not exactly luxury but perfect in its rusticity.

Over to Chris the following morning….

There are times, places or events in our lives which cause us all to suddenly connect with the now in such a strong and profound way that it shakes us to the core. Colours, sounds, smells, feelings all working  at 110% and the joyous electricity of a good life pulses through our veins. I am there now, at this moment, in Cambodia. My colours are blue skies and turquoise sea, green jungle and a bleached white beach shack; My sounds are breaking waves: My smells are of the open sea mingled with sun heated wood; My feelings are of contentment, hope and overwhelming feeling of love for the woman at my side. My life, or rather our life, is a freeze frame of a hammock pushed idly by Rachel that is tethered on the beams above our heads whilst we both stare into the forever of the ocean. A white sand beach, devoid of people, arches away from us into the hazy distance of this lush and beautiful bay. And us, we, read and daydream, and talk and laugh and touch and feel so at one with one another that our eyes moisten as our hearts swell with a feeling that has a physical weight in our chests. This, thing that exists between us just grows and grows and grows and continues to surprise, enthrall and amaze us the more time we spend together. Time passes so quickly and  2½ years have passed in 2½ minutes and how I have arrived at this particular ‘now’ is a mystery but with 4 months of travelling behind us and world of opportunity in front this ‘now’ is a wonderful place to be especially since now has sand, sea, surf and rum and coke in it.
He’s a soppy tart, but you get the gist of Koh Rong. We spent a couple of days, lazing around in the hammock, cooling off in the shallow crystal clear waters, strolling along the soft white sandy cove and eating and drinking our way through the menus of the 2 restaurants. I might add that neither restaurant (generous description) had extensive choices so it didn’t take long.  

This sounds pretty idyllic but there’s a bit of down side to all the loveliness and solitude. Electricity was limited so consequently we only had lights in the room and a fan from about 6.30 till 10 in the evening. Not too much of a problem except it was so bloody hot that even with all the gaps in the wood(what passed for windows) as wide open as they would go and the door open there was no air. So without exception we would be dripping in sweat from midnight until about 5 in the morning when it seemed to cool down. Chris would have at least 2 showers, in the dark, during the night. The mozzy net was of course lifted open several times and I had bites on my arse, back, legs blah blah blah. And the first morning I woke to find a huge cockroach inside the net at my feet. You can imagine the scrambling and hysteria that followed that! And then just as we dropped off to sleep the locals living in the village just behind our beach bungalow would wake up. Noises in no particular order….generators, cockerels, dogs barking and howling, boat engines starting up, children squealing, children with whistles, hammering, children climbing our tree to steal the coconuts, peasants walking along the lane, birds chattering and a constant crashing of waves on the shore 3 feet away from us.
However, we came away relaxed, if a little tired, and don’t really want to tell too many people about the island in case it gets spoilt, though with only a dozen bungalows it will be difficult to over crowd.

Sunday, 3 February 2013


Cambodia, Well. I have already said about the coppers getting drunk with their mates at the landing stage. Since then i have seen three of 'em trying to look dignified on a scooter, several of them riding bikes with a fag in their mouth and a mobile phone in their ear and one of them nodding off in the sun by his road block.

This is the sort of notice you get in our level of  hotel

We have arrived at Phnom Penh at a funny time. As mentioned in last blog the old king (current ones dad). A man loved and revered by the people died the other day. This caused many roads surrounding the palace to be blocked off and they will remain so for 4 days. This is to allow easy access to the palace, provide traffic free roads for processions and people gatherings and to allow an air of quiet reflection to pervade outwards from the epicentre of dispair. The whole city is in mourning with many shops closing. Bars and restuarants within the areas around the palace are asked to contain their patrons behind closed doors; Every street has flags lining the pavements and key roads have address systems broadcasting sorrowful singing and chanting direct from the palace. The palace itself is bedecked with white rose bouquets and silk covered chairs that surround a central dias on which is sitting the ornate and quite beautiful coffin. Every evening a vast crowd gathers outside the palace to pay respects and light candles and incense sticks and at 8.00pm a large firework display lights the sky for thirty minutes. It impacts on us in that there are road blocks that stop traffic but also attempt to herd people away from the palace environs. Consequently we are constantly having to argue our way from one road to another or seek sneaky back alleys to gain access.

 Flora decorations and mourners in the palace

There is a something in the air. Not unlike the great Diana collective grieving that hit the UK and therefore we cannot be sure what the locals are usually like. From our perspective, however, they have generally seemed warm and welcoming and although many are trying to rip you off or sell you something it is done in a more sedate way than, say, Vietnam.

Rachel said "Look over there at that huge rattan
snake" I replied quite innocently "Where". "There,
right in front of you" she said pointing. "Sorry" I
said "I can only see the snake"

There is not a great deal to see here, a few wats, the palace, a museum and a bridge. But the bars are plentiful and sun shines (34 degrees today) and the roads are not unpleasant to stroll around. Couple of final notes is the market. This covers approx 100 metres square and seems to be all meat, fish and produce. However this is only the outside stalls. Inside there are a few normal tee shirt and dry goods stalls but the vast majority are hairdressers, and massage couchs. Its at least 10 degrees hotter inside, and everyone looks sweaty and miserable but every stall was busy with locals being beautified...extraordinary.

Sleepy Modped Porn star asleep
Yer asians love using mopeds as couches. In nearly every patch of shade there will be someone lounging on a seat of moped that is leaning on its stand just off centre. They seem to have developed a new centre of gravity thing which enables them to cope with the slight incline and never fall off. At times we have seen whole groups of maybe ten or eleven people, apparently unconnected, all just enjoying a little communal moped nap!


Friday, 1 February 2013

Goooooodbye Vietnam

We are doing another organised trip. OK more of an extended journey into Cambodia by bus and boat. First stop after a couple of hours yesterday was  a floating market on the Mekong – more of a floating cash and carry for vegetables really since there was no jumping from boat to boat fending off tat sellers. Here, big boats heavily laden with produce, sell smaller boats sackloads rather than bag loads of perishables, which are slung from one boat to the other by wiry men who seem to smoke permanently. These craft are dotted along a stretch of a tributary of the river where the water is murky brown  from silt and edged by shacks on stilts which sit three metres above the waterline to avoid flooding in the wet season.  We head off down river and pull into a small dock where we watch ricecorn (pop corn variant) being made along with coconut sweets and rice paper. Verdict – reasonably fast, quite interesting and tasty samples. Next we float a few more miles until we hit a low level green island and at the end of a rickety wooden jetty find some tired looking pushbikes waiting for us. Although there are about 20 of us in the group it is still a very pleasant and, in Rachel’s words “mercifully short” bike ride – She is not one for the saddle my girl. We end up at a little restaurant some 2 miles away where we have a pleasant lunch before biking back to the boat. A jaunt back upstream to the bus, a journey of a few miles to a ferry, and 1½ hours later we arrive at what our guide calls “A wheely gude rockodial farm” which was actually quite impressive with hundreds of crocs. Amazing looking creatures separated from us by only chain link fence and common sense. Our hotel is a floating hotel and quite large with wobbling walkways connecting different platforms – bedrooms, bars, restaurant. Its all pretty mediocre and there are a lot of mossies so we Deet up before going to eat what must be one of the nicest meals in Vietnam – Mekong fish in tamarind sauce, garlic spinach and beans and steamed rice.

Day two has involved a walk through a minority village (just looked like a scruffy normal village) where we ate a ricecake and made a quick visit to fish farm before setting up the Mekong Delta on a boat to Cambodia. All pretty uneventful apart from an incident at the border where a nice Aussie couple we had been chatting to had unknowingly overstayed their visa by two days and had to pay fines and backhanders to get out of the country . All the negotiations were conducted via our guide who sweated a lot and looked nervous. Not sure if this was real concern or excellent acting but whatever it was it left our fellow passengers $80 worse off. After then motoring up Mekong  with plumes of water spewing out either side of our boat which send small fishing canoes bouncing up and down  before breaking on the far green banks on either side we finally arrive in Phnom Penh. Bloody Kings Dad has died. Consequently can’t get to the quay in the city and pull up to hut on a muddy bank on a tributary filled with coppers and their mates getting drunk. All quite jolly but tiresome after long trip. Eventually get a minibus to as near the hotel as possible. Unfortunately the area of the hotel is closed so have to negotiate with police cordon to get through. Whilst we are now in I can’t guarantee we will get out so I hope there is plenty of beer.