17.03.2008 - 20.03.2008 40 °C
So with Angkor Watt under our belt – a very satisfied belt I might add, we went back to chill-mode for the next couple of days, and Siem Reap is a superb place for that. There is a well established street bar scene which is geared directly at tourism. That sounds bad but actually they’ve done it near-perfectly. There is a well balanced mix of tastes, ranging from local Khmer cuisine with some Apsara dancing chucked in, to French Cafes and restaurants, to nutty bars with multiple levels and live crocs.
We found a great French bar and sat on the upper balcony – which is where I have been doing my blogging (free wi-fi). It’s so easy to sit there the whole day, nibbling at snacks and slowly getting sozzled.
Across the street is a restaurant featuring free Apsara dancing every evening so we plonked ourselves down there on our last night in Siem Reap (and it was of course no mistake that we were still in range for the free wi-fi from the French bar :--) The dancing was a good hoot – mostly it involves the girls moving about very slowly in a kind of Egyptian way, occasionally holding golden goblets, and at one stage, rather bemusingly , with wicker baskets on their heads – and no – not balanced on their heads – with their heads in them – lol – shame – didn’t get a picture :--(
The guys join them after a while and they do a coconut dance where they spin round and clack each others’ coconuts together. I thought this was put-on but we found them doing the same thing in another bar. I have doubts it will hit the UK.
Oh – didn’t have the pics last time I posted, but do now… below is the Dead Fish bar – all split on lots of “platforms” at different levels– you can see a waiter on the left taking drinks from a tray that slides up on a diagonal pulley-beam combo.
If the place was not odd enough already, they had about 10 crocodiles on the ground floor.
On one of the levels they have a pool table, which is nothing odd in itself but a few things were not quite right… it started to become apparent when, after finding there was no chalk for the cues, I racked up the balls and they all wandered off from the triangle formation the moment I removed the triangle. I inspected the immaculate looking table which had clearly been recovered recently only to discover some bright spark had re-felted it not in felt, but with office carpet! I can only assume it was down to lack of choice, or more probably, they had decided the felt wasn’t lasting long enough and went for something tougher. The net result of this was when you hit a ball it would meander in all directions across the table, often changing direction by ninety degrees as it slowed :--) All of this and we had no chalk so hitting the white was tough enough on it’s own. It was hilarious – we knew we were going to be in for a long game. Fortunately my “Ray Mears” mode kicked in and I figured fag ash would be as good as chalk – and it worked!
One of the downsides of all this street bar activity is that you meet a lot of land mine victims, as I mentioned before. We found out that actually there are more amputees in Cambodia due to mistreated snake bites than land mines – though make no mistake, there are a lot of mine victims.
This legless chap has a hand powered “bike” – I paid him to take the photo – seemed better than just doing it. I certainly didn’t want to buy any of his books – we’ve already found out they are the kings of book forgers over here. We bought Lonely Planet Cambodia and Loas books which were brand new, for £1.50 each – seemed a bit odd and then we noticed some of the maps and pictures were a bit ropey. Fakes. No problem you think? Well, they showed published dates of 2007 but I checked after noticing the currency sections were way off the mark and then saw that they had stuck a new barcode with published date over the original. I reckon we have 1998 books! – makes using them for price guides and accommodation recommendations pretty pointless.
That brings me onto the “Lonely Planet Kiss of Death” – we’ve heard of this – a hotel gets recommended and instantly the owner moves to a beach hut and his sister’s uncle runs the joint at twice the price with half the quality. And it’s true. Every time we’ve gone to check out a guest house in the book it’s full, and it looks crap. Every time there have been far better options very near by. Pays to use those books as a culture and activity guide only.
Anyhow, for a wild change of topic, here is our usual mode of transport here…
They are very comfortable and cheap, though the driver becomes an instant paraplegic if the thing gets rear ended.. it’s attached just behind his back with a large steel ball. Not a nice thought.
I’m also starting to collect images of odd signs. I wish I’d started it sooner in Thailand as there have been some corkers that I’ve not got pictures of. This one was in a guest house where we got our laundry done…
Phew! – I would have left my grenades in my shorts had I not seen it.
Moving on.. we set off for Phnom Phen – we took a “luxury coach” for £4 each. It was a 6 hour journey that turned into 7 when we had to stop while some locals lifted a digger out of a pond with a crane. The coach was fine but they played Cambodian Karaoke all the way – I ended up with earplugs in and Kirstin dialled up her ipod to max. It drove me mad in the end. Why oh why in Asia the bus drivers think everyone wants to watch TV for 7 hours is a mystery to me. We’ve had the same in Thailand. It’s atrocious, and more often than not, 90% of the passengers are foreigners anyhow. Ahh well, we got there in the end.
As we got closer to Phnom Phen (we stopped a few times for toilet and drinks) the amount of beggars and children selling stuff increased rapidly. You could see the people were getting poorer and poorer. At one stop we abandoned our fag break and got back on just to run away from the hawkers and beggars. Saying that, some of the kids are incredibly cute. When they were loading up the coach , and I was outside making sure our backpacks got loaded, two young girls came round the corner, they can’t have been more than 8 years old I’d guess – and they both had our huge backpacks attached to them – the 1st girl turned 180 degrees and plonked K’s backpack on the coach deck and released herself, sighing in relief. The second girl walked towards me, then her eyes widened and she said, “ohhh nooo” – as she started falling backwards with the weight. I caught her. Awwww! – I gave them both some small change and they were delighted – they gave us a big wave goodbye as we left – way too cute.
On the other hand… in Phnom Phen it’s not so pretty. Every child seems to be selling something and they have a big homeless and abuse problem. We were eating dinner the other night and a tiny girl – maybe 5 ish, with a snotty nose and a sad expression came up and politely , but clearly desperately, asked if she may take my left over half of a spring roll, “can I have please?” – of course I gave it to her. The staff then chased her away. It’s really really hard seeing children this young on the streets fending for themselves. And I can’t bear to think what else goes on. You can’t ignore it – there are frequent posters asking foreigners not to abuse children…. Terrible, truly terrible.
I’ve also been offered, on several occasions (and bear on mind we are quite smartly dressed)
- Ganja (no surprise there)
- Shooting guns/rockets – at cows and chickens I’ve read.
Some nights I get approached two or three times.
All of this has pretty much spoilt Phnom Phen for us. We went to see the old school building that was used by the Khmer Rouge as a torture and interrogation prison – where some of the biggest atrocities were committed during their time. We paid for a guide, who it transpired, was around during the conflict – her father was killed and she worked on a farm under force. It was a grim tour. It’s unbelievable how horrific people can be to each other when all the rules are taken away. What really drove it home though was how recently it was – the prison was only liberated by the Vietnamese in 1979. A fascinating but haunting afternoon.
If you fancy an education and you don’t already know, read up on the Khmer Rougue and Pol Pot – what went on here was terrible and unbelievable and the fact the Cambodian people are so jolly and optimistic is a testament to human resilience.
After that we tried our hand at the National Museum – that was hilarious. We were in and out in about 5 minutes tops! – Just lots and lots of statues and carvings from the Angkor period. Nothing had descriptions and we are not historians. As we walked in and saw the 1st exhibits Kirstin said to me , “hmm, can’t see this taking long hey?! – lol – we just walked in one way and straight out the exit. Way too boring unless you are specifically into that stuff.
Yesterday we decided we’ve had enough of Cambodia. In fact, after a bit of discussion, we both agreed we are done with Asia for now. We need a break. We need normality. And we want to be somewhere where you don’t need to spray with mozzie repellent 3 times and shower 3 times a day and basically spend most of your time trying not to get eaten alive :--)
We were planning to work our way up though Cambo, then Laos, then into North Thailand, but that can wait – we’ll be back in this “area” towards December – we want to be in Hong Kong for the Chinese New year in Feb 09 – so we’ll prob do Japan in September (for the Autumn colours) then a touch of Korea (God knows what that will be like – we are praying they are more calm when at home) then HK, then after that more of what we have missed here.
In the meantime – what to do next…..?
Well, in a fit of compulsion, I just booked two seats to LA ! :--) – we fancy big sights, theme parks, self drive – basically we want to “do” things. We’ve had an awesome time here but it’s time for a change. After you’ve done the main sights there is little to do but drink beer, which sounds great, and it is, at first, but after a while it wears a bit thin.
Nothing planned yet. We fly back to BKK today, then off to LA on Monday. We are going to spend the next few days planning a little and arranging car hire and a rough itinerary. April – June seems a reasonable time to be in America, we think. I checked the theme parks are open, so that’s cool :--)
We are both very excited! – and I’m suspecting we might spend a little more than planned too lol. We’ll see.
p.s. Out travel map is going to be ridiculous compared to everyone else’s orderly journeys round the world. Lots of cross crossing due to impulsiveness awaits :--)