Thursday, November 09, 2006

Entering Cambodia

Cambodian flag, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Well, here we go.. see if it works this time, although stories are never as good at the second time of telling, at least they are not with me, especially when one has such a wobbly keyboard to work with.

So, we made it to the Cambodian border on a nice luxury double decker bus, passing quite slowly through the flat Thai landscape, being treated to a noisy Hollywood 'E' movie, the Chronicles of Roddick (anyone?), untilk we came to the border town the other side of Poipet here in Cambodia. A typical frontier twon full of shops selling goods which had recently crossed the border, a few of the passengers obtrained their visa from a place selling burgers and pizzas (we had our stable - fried rice), run by a retired man from London looking to setle in Siem Reap, here in Cambodia. He took the liberty of teling us about a place called Jasmine, which served a budfvfet dinner for $ 4 while putting on a local show. It spounded too corny to be true, but maybe its not such a bad idea. I just hate being in a foreign country and having prices offered in dollars, and touristy buffets are not much my thing either!

Anyway, about three and a half hours after we arrived at the border we were on our fourth bus for the 5-6 hour onward journey to Siem Reap, 140 kms away. It is said that the road is never improved at both the Thai and Cambodian governments have stakes in their nationalk airlines which charge a lot of money to all the thousands of tourists per week, making the journey by plane.

We passed first through a landscape reminding me very much of the one where Fred was born and raised - south-eats Groningen, with its flatness and monotony, few trees and an ever present canal on the side of the road. The rainy season had ended last week and the flood waters had receded and even the mud on the road had turned mostly to dust. However, at a level of the fields, just below the road, it was difficult to make out waht was swamp, lake or agricultural land, so wet it all was.

After a stop for dinner, it had turned dark and soon we were in the Dead Marshes of Lord of the Rings fame, with lights hovering over the watery shallows. Just a few of them, here and there, in a country where there was no electricity in the homes in the villages, there were just these lights. The similarity to the Dead Marshes was made more poignant by the fact that we were very conscious iof the Killing Fields and the atrocities preformed by Pol Pot during his reign of terror in the mid 1970's. It turned out that these lights were lanterns being carried by boys going fishing under the still full-ish sun, attracting the fish and the eels with their lights, ready for a catch to proudly bring home to their families.

We were just beginning to count down the hours ot go, congratulating ourslves that we were surviving this infamously difficult journey, when disdaster struck. There were three vehicles in a row all stranded on a particularly muddy and bumpy stretch of road, with a long queue of cars and trucks and now bus waiting to get through.

We got out to have a look and found a number of amused and bemused Cambodians standing around having a good look with no-one showing any sign or inclination to want to do anything about the matter. And so it carried on, with us thinking up plans for a rescue, a bus maybe to drive the three hours from Siem Reap to pick us nup, or even spending the night in the bus, as many have before us when trying this journey in the rainy season.

The biggest problemn was a smallish truck overloaded with furniture, sacks and sqawking half-dead chickens hanging upside downm on the side. The obvious thjing to do would have been to have offloaded some or all of the baggage to see if that would make any difference. But as it turned out, almost out of nowhere a big truck arrived with some wire and after an age of haggling, a fee was arranged and the small trucjk rescued, to great cheers and relief of all concerned. So, began a stream of cars and vans over the holes and bumps and we were just about ready to cheer our driver when he veered too far over top the left and in he went. Stuck in the mud. Again,we tried all means of geting the bus out but it was left to the big truck to pull us to safety for the ramining part of the journey, arriving some 15 hours after we had left in the morning.

Unfortunately, custom in this part of the world dictates that such buses bring you not to a bus station but to somebody's guesthouse, from which at around midnight it is hard toi extricate yourself. We have a big room for $ 8 a night, no breakfast but we are stuck away from anywhere interesting in town and are now reliant on our motorbike riders, Jackie and the other one. More of our stay in Siem Reap, home to the Angkor Wat temples, tomorrow, all being well.

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