Alex, Leon and myself set out for the border crossing to Cambodia. We got up early and took the local bus to Aranyaprathet, a tuktuk to the border, stamped out of Thailand, paid the bribe rate to get a visa quickly and the free bus to the bus-taxi station. All during this we had many touts yap yap yapping in our ears. They took on different people individually. I trusted not a word anyone said and tried to stick to the plan as read on talesofasia.com. One tout followed us all the way from the Thai border to the taxi station. This made me pretty adverse to working with him, as I’ve said before I’m stubborn. And his price of 40 dollars was 5 less than I was hearing we’d need to pay, and his driver understood not a word of what I was asking him. So after taking time to try hear what other taxi drivers might offer (and in the process making the touts start to verbally fight, since our original tout was loosing what he thought was his commission, a few police men showed up) we eventually settled back for the first guy who’d now found an English speaking driver and perhaps a new found understanding of how hard some foreigners are to manipulate. Then we sailed into Siam Reap with little other issues. Given the reputation for this crossing, we’d done alright, if me feeling a little stressed and tired. The taxi driver then offered us 25 dollars a day to see the temples over the next day or two which everyone agreed was fine. We arranged a sunrise start.
Next morning we hit Angkor Wat for the sunrise. It was fairly busy, even at 5.30. We went around towards the back of the Wat and climbed up to the top. Angkor is big and impressive. The sunrise didn’t disappoint either. The rest of, what seemed like the day but was just the morning, was taken up visiting a variety of temples in the increasing heat (by 9am it was roasting). See pictures soon to see some of these impressive sights. Midday was for resting and internet and then in the evening we went back to Angkor for sunset. This didn’t really happen due to a thunderstorm that cut the show short. Surprisingly while there I met Pip, Liv who were traveling with the boysontour in Queenstown, NZ. Which was nice. That night we hit the town for a few drinks, merriment and behaviour suited to that of a drunk farang. The next day after a late, hungover start we visited a handful of temples and the guys slept most of the afternoon. That evening we were more successful with the sunset and went up a mountain/hill (Alex royally going via elephant) to watch the sunset from the temple on top. We arranged bus tickets for the next day. Personally I like Siam Reap. After the shit hole that was the border (even Villazon in Bolivia beat this), Siam seemed to me to be full of nice people and I found that I rather liked this part of Cambodia. In terms of advancement, I think Cambodia is somewhere between Peru and Boliva.
After Siam we set out for Phnom Penh. This place is a tad busier, bigger and to all of us a bit more wild. Off the bus, we’d done no research, so I got the guide book, trundled over to the side of the street, tried (I say tried, but my concentration was crap and I’ll admit I got narky at this point) to read up on a guest house, while being hassled by about 5 touts endlessly. I’d decided on principle not to use any of the bastards but one guy did stand out for speaking good english. I chose a guest house, asked the guys if that suited (yeah yeah mumble mumble response) and then after a bit of questioning of the good english speaking guy who had answers to all the questions I gave him, I decided to let him tout us. I never do this, I mean, why do we need someone to get us a tuk tuk. But his price was good, I’d cross checked him on where the hidden costs would be and could find none (which means if he tries to charge us for any of the things I’d checked him on we’d not pay). What things did I check? The guest house we’d go to was the one we’d asked for? (Yes) Would we stop somewhere else on the way? (No) Why couldn’t we just go and get ourselves a tuk tuk? (More expensive) Who was he and what was his commission? (Wouldn’t say until on tuk tuk, BIG WARNING SIGN that one). But curiosity as to what the tout would be and not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth won out.
Turned out he coincidentally worked the guest house we were going to, so just a weird coincidence there. We arrived at the guest house without incident and got a room for three for 5 dollars. His job was to make sure the tourists got onto his tuk tuk because he’d then be able to try setup tours etc at the guest house. The guest house was cheap, but the food a little more expensive and tours too. Nothing wrong really. The mild downside was at the guest house he was just as bad for touting as outside of it, like some love sick person in an unrequited love. “where are you going now? who did you speak to? are you doing a tour tomorrow? you shouldn’t use other tuk tuks they will lie to you and take you to the wrong place?” etc.
I think the whole touting crap in general got on peoples nerves. I endlessly ended up having to make the call on things, while continuously trying to get the other two to make some calls or at least take responsibility for agreeing. I’d been noticing that after agreeing to the prices of things or to a tour with and for the others they’d then take the easy position of complaining hours later about how things turned out if it was a bit expensive or the weather was hot. Not directly of course, but that simmering petulant moodiness that only young men can master. I’ve a new found respect for leadership in this respect. I apologise to those I’ve been a pain in the arse of for doing the same. I spent a few hours over my time in Cambodia wondering how the fuck I’d become a tour guide and planning my escape. None of this detracted from Cambodia of course, there are always trials when traveling, this was just a new one for me. While obviously pissed off with some of the attitudes this is not to say I didn’t get on with the Swedish lads or have plenty of fun in between times.
The next day we went to the Killing Fields. Along the way we’d go to the firing range. But I’d made up my mind not to participate. Similar to not doing the cheaper tours in Bolivia that promote killing of snakes, I didn’t want to encourage the notion that all foreigners want to fire rocket launchers at cows. When there the two Swedish lads passed up on the guns too, there was nothing they’d not fired when in the army. The Killing Fields were a sombre affair, showing the locations of mass graves of victims of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh as well as collections of skulls and bones and the disturbing killing tree, used to bludgeon children against to save bullets. After this we went across town to S21. This place was also gruesome and horrifying. I didn’t like the first picture I saw or the mood of the place but decided it would be best to look at it so that I might learn how bad we can be and to enforce the urge to not let such a thing happen again. For me to deny that would have been facing away from reality. S21 was a converted high school used to keep prisoners before execution. Prisoners were chained to beds and the Khmer combatants, many of whom were what we’d call children, tortured and interrogated the captives. Pictures were taken of the prisoners who arrived there and these were all on display. Some contain young infants of two or three, many children and many adults. Also on display were pictures of corpses from the killing fields, the cells and some corpses found rotting when the Khmer had moved out. Finally there were portraits of Khmer combatants/soldiers and relatives of the dead. These told the opinions of these people from today with some surprising views.
Obviously the mood was low after this. We got food and then vaguely considered the royal palace and skipped when the price seemed to have doubled and settled for shopping in the Russian market. The evening was spent sleeping or on the internet. That night we set out for a night club called “The heart of darkness” where we got jolly, but kept careful due to the reputation of the place.
The next day, after bravely battling through a hang over I somehow managed to get great prices from a motorcycle driver and befriend him in the process. Well I say befriend, but what I mean is we small talked a little politics when driving through the absolutely chaotic traffic in the city. The driving system here seems to not rely as much on momentum like in Lima but more on tutting the horn (not rude, just raises awareness) and using all other vehicles as shields. Weirdly this means the more vehicles the safer. Alex happily provided first hand evidence of this when coming aback from the night club on a bike in much emptier streets, his driver, speeding, drove into the back of a car (something he couldn’t do when busier), fell from the bike and sent Alex into a somersault. Ten minutes later Alex arrived back at the guest house with only a mild graze on his elbow laughing in shock at the event.
The sight of several vehicles driving the wrong way down a street was extremely common and often the definition of street or right of way was completely confused.. for a foreigner. Apparently no one has a license (needs a proper reference that claim) and cars have only newly been introduced over the last couple of years. Back to my bike driver befriend. In turn for keeping an eye out for this guy when I needed a bike and occasionally paying him a dollar more to wait for an hour while I was at a market, he gave me good rates. For example when other bike drivers heard me ask for the price to an ATM and back their first quote was four dollars while my guy said one and a half which caused the other touts to immediately wince their eyes in disgust. The trips to the market have now given me cause for concern as I wonder how risky it may be to introduce so many dvd’s back into Ireland.
And that brings me to maybe the most important part of this post. I’m now in Bangkok. Not Vietnam, not Laos. In two days I’ll be in Hongkong and then overnighting to London and finally Dublin. I’d intended to carry on around South East Asia for much of the next two months but fortunately/unfortunately an opportunity has arisen and I’d like to take advantage of it. I’m not entirely finished though because I still have some of my world ticket to use up and that will be done in Hong Kong and Japan for around two weeks or so in September. So to most of those reading, I look forward to meeting you again in Ireland soon for a pint or two. To the rest I promise this isn’t the last post.