Monday, 7 April 2008

Siem Reap to Battambong by boat.

31/3 - Last night was a hot one, but only because of the heat. The bus turned up on time. I bagged the seat with the leg room, then twigged we wouldn't be staying at 3 people so moved out of the way. We ended up chocka and someone didn't show. It wasn't far to the boat. We passed through a village on big stilts. The lake Tonel Sap, has receded a fair bit being dry season. The houses don't look much, but some of them are really smashing. In the open ones I saw TV's, water coolers, smashing dark wood furniture and the floors shine. Cambodians seem to start the day, whether at home or work, by sweeping the floor with the brushes and brooms made from natural materials. Some of the houses are not so flash, but still tidy. Some have bamboo floors, so there are gaps, which must be cool and handy for when washing the dishes in a bowl, any splash just drips through. It may be why there are no coins in the country too, if they are dropped they are lost. I was surprised how smart the shacks were, but should not be. That is a bit stuck up of me. Sorry.
At the boat and off the bus where loads of lasses bombard us to buy bread, water, fruit, cheese. "Nothing on the boat sir." They are not letting us out of their sight, so there is no rush to buy. They are always smiling and friendly. I don't know how to explain that it is nice hassle, but it is. They don't just take your money and run, as they move amongst people, they always have a word for you when they get back to you and the smiles are warm and in their eyes too.
We got to the boat and it is a bit hard to describe. An English speaking bloke, who was picked up from a posh hotel, sees the boat and exclaims "Is THAT it????" He was a bit reluctant to get on.
It is a fiberglass shallow shell with a longtail motor and canopy, no seats, just a ledge down each side. OH OH, to get to it is via a plank over water. There is a handrail. It brought back memories of my Dad crossing something similar to get to a lough staging we were fishing from in Ireland. He ended up swinging from the rail, while me and our Gil laughed. He must have been watching over me, I made it.
The LP says this is one of the most scenic boatrides in Cambodia. If that is the case it is not for the landscape scenery, but the people their homes and villages we pass by on the way. It is one of the most uncomfortable journies I have made, but I would go again tomorrow. Once on the lake, there are walls of fishing nets everywhere. It wouldn't be easy to traverse the lake without knowledge of the route. The nets stretch for hundreds of yards, funneling the fish to an area at the end. We passed a floating village that moves as the lake recedes and rises. It had loads of shops, a church, everything usually in a village. We passed similar village along the side of the river, once we left the lake. People move around on canoes. There was a kid alone in one, who could only have been about 4.
These fast boats that we are in are not popular with the villagers. It is easy to see why, their wake swamp the nets and some unattended canoes. As they are heard, people come out to steady their canoes. Having said that we stopped and picked up about 4 people from the villages. One old dear with her son and 5 boxes of fish. This is a great experience. The old dear is funny.She bosses about the boat crew and some other lads who have joined us and they all make a fuss of her. She has a great gold tooth smile. Her son was a bit shy, but eventually gave a smile and I had him trying to roll his eyes.
Not surprisingly for people living around rivers and lakes, fishing is the main stay. I don't think we were ever out of sight of a net or trap. There are lots of piles of fish on boats and houses, but there are lots of herons, terns, cormorants and quite a few different storks, so there must still be plenty of fish around. The water is varying shades of murky brown and where an offshoot joins the river it is 2 shades at once, side by side. We pull into the floating services at this point. It is pretty good too. Not Forte, but tasty and cheaper too.
It is really interesting to see how the river or lake molds the villagers lives. They wash in it, do laundry, wash up squatting by the side of their home. One kid squatted by the side, then his Mam splashed his bum. Work it out yourself. Along the river there are loads of groups of kids skinny dipping laughing and having a great time and there are lots of hellos and waves when they see us. The adults are a bit more dour, that may be the fast boat thing, but a lot still smile. The villages contain everything, grocers, hardware shops, garages, petrol stations. I don't know why I am surprised, it is only commonsense really, that everything should be available. A lot of the houses have TV aerials too and I spotted one satellite dish. There is the equivalent of the mobile shops too, lasses paddling along the river selling fruit and veg from house to house. One lass pulled up at a shop in her canoe, shouted to the proprietor and he came out with her goods. There were quite a few water buffalo along the way too and a crocodile farm, a few more lads boarded here. The boat is now chocka. This is a great adventure and there is a big surprise at the end, a bloody big set of dodgy steps and the handrail only starts half way up. A lad offered to take my big rucksack when he saw me struggling with the small one. He did a lap of honour when I gave him $1, I thought he was going to have a party the way he went around showing all his mates. A dollar well spent. There are mini buses at the top waiting to whisk people away to their respective hotels. The bloke who collared me got impatient and told me to jump onto the back of his moto. It was cool, me with my big pack on, he had the small one up front, bustling along on a Honda 125 weaving in and out of the traffic. I'd fancied a go at this, another tick on the list. The lad asked what kind of room I wanted, cheapskated again, single with fan. He grabbed 2 keys, but the cheapskating bit back, they are on the 4th floor, no lift, but I made it and for $4 it is the business, fridge, TV. I'm chuffed, so chuffed I am off out for a coffee and brownie.
I have not been sure about Phnom Phen, but while I was having my coffee and cake, 2 German lasses joined me, tall, blonde and lovely, no towels to throw. They were telling me how much they loved Phnom Phen, which cheered me up. They have the same feelings about the Cambodian people as me too, regards their smiley, warm character. The cafe wants to close, 18:00, so I wandered off into the sunset, no doubt a very sexy sight. I ended up at the river. The town does not seem a big place. There is an obvious French influence in the architecture and there's some Art Deco. There is a lot of construction going on around the river, so there seems to be an effort to make the place aesthetically appealing to the tourists. The promenade has been paved, but does not look to have been done with great enthusiasm, it is creaking already, benches broke, stones raised and missing. I sat on one of the benches to find out where I was and was quickly joined by a young lad wanting to practice his English AND HE WAS. He was enthusiastic, curious and friendly, just like I would have expected before I started my travelling and had my view tainted. I never got to check the map, it was too dark when I moved on. I had to move on, the lad would have talked all night. I found a restaurant and ordered my pot of tea, it's a Chinese Cambodian place, ordered my food and in walked Martin and James, who I met in Siem Reap. 2 good lads having a good time on their tour. These 2 make me seem organised.
2 ladies with a kid each are sat on the kerb at the edge of the restaurant, one has a part of each leg amputated and drags her baby along with her in one arm. I don't know how to handle this, no matter what I do, I don't feel good or enjoy eating food in front of them. Martin and James, as usual, ordered shed loads of food, too much and Martin gives me a lesson in what to do. He takes all the fresh spring rolls they haven't eaten and gives them to the ladies. Then there is a funny follow up. One of the ladies comes over and asks for the sauce that goes with the spring rolls. She brought the dish back later. I felt really proud of the lads, so I suppose that is what to do. The ladies didn't bother anyone, they just sat and waited, giving everyone a big smile. I guess I need to order more food in the future. I handed over my packet of Oreos I'd been carrying around on my way out. I went for an efix on the way back, but got thrown out. The place was shutting. It looks like Battambong closes down at 21:00, there is hardly anywhere open. I headed back and got invited to sit on one of the benches outside the hotel door. How could I refuse. The moto driver who invited me was after some business for tomorrow, so I told him I had a moto booked, then he offered to get me a lady. With all the preliminaries done, we sat and had a good chat, then I hit the sack. One good day in many.

Another lazy day.

29/3 - Up and at 'em with a fruit salad to make up for yesterdays fry up. Off into town to try and phone up and book a trip to the bird sanctuary. I have seen booths by the side of the road with the area codes they can phone, but I have never seen a phone in them. I know why now. I stopped and asked a lady if I could phone the bird place and she handed me her mobile. I can't go anyway, it does not run trips over the weekend, so I blew that one. The boat to Battambong goes close, so perhaps I'll get to see some birds then.
Running around on the bike is great. I nip back and forth to the Guesthouse willy nilly now. Before when I left, it was for the day.
It looks like an early start on Monday to Battambong, so I'll watch the football tonight and pack tomorrow. That is pretty decisive, so that wont happen.
I took off on the bike to find the land mine museum, 5 or 6 Km out of town. I went along the riverside dirttrack for more look at the residential areas. There are houses on stilts one side of the river and big posh places the other side. There is a big imbalance in wealth here, more signs of the corruption. The river does not smell and I guess the sewage goes into it, as I saw a lady hoy a dish of water over her balcony into the river, on the poor side. I passed a load of school kids on bikes again, or rather they passed me. A couple of the little lasses were too small to reach the pedals for the full cycle, but they had the knack off perfect of waiting for the pedal to come around. One even had her younger sister on the back. A few of the kids give me stern looks, but I give them a smile or a Hello and there faces light up usually. I headed over a bridge to find the main road, as I must be getting close. I came out at the ticket office for the Angkor temples and the bloke pulled me over. There is no access without a ticket, supposedly. I told him where I was headed and he told me to carry on. I thought I'd check my direction with him. "The land mine museum is up here on the right?"
"Yes, about 25 to 30 Km."
Not on my map. It was about 1Km. They've moved it he told me. I tried to head on to the river and sit there, but he was not for letting me through now, so I did a U'y and headed back to town.
I am getting loads and loads of big, wide, happy, smiles as I cycle along. I do like the Cambodians.
I stopped to pick up a sliced mango from a roadside barrow and came to the conclusion that it is the blokes who are the scammers. I asked the lady how much and she indicated 2000 riel, then a bloke on the bike next to her, selling bread, said something to her and she said $1, 4000 riel. I frowned and the lady next to her who spoke fair English said 2000 riel. I had a bit of a laugh with the $1 lady, a good laugh and then a bit of broken chat and was off again. Out here and in town, there are loads of flat barrows with perrywinkles and cockles spread on them. They are the most common stall here. I would take a picture, but my camera has bit the dust. Too much abuse and lack of care. Into town for the obligatory coffee and cake, then back to the guesthouse for the necessary shower. Had a typical Cambodian snack, tomato bruschetta and then it is into town to see if there is an early kick-off. NO!! nightmare. It's enough to drive you to drink, so I had a beer, then an efix then back to Bar street for the 22:00/15:00 kick off. The lady boys have laid off now. A lady did come over for a natter and took pity on me when I told her I was staying in a $6 guesthouse. She invited me back to her $10 room. Why did she have to wait until the game had started??? I reckon I could have used my charm to get her to stay around, but thought I might watch the 2nd match, so played it cool and she left. In other words, I was dumped. After the 1st match I was deciding whether to watch the 2nd, when all the tables and chairs around me started to disappear, so I took that as a NO. I did sit on the bike outside a bar and watch the Sunderland highligts. Sitting on the bike stops hawker hassle, although one toot toot did offer to take me and the bike.
30/3 - Flo was definitely right about staying out of the big cities. I should have left Siem Reap yesterday. Not to worry, I have booked the boat ticket to Battambong for tomorrow, 6.00 pick up, so have packed. Off to buy a camera, mine keeps stopping and starting. Other than that, a day out on the bike sweating buckets, out for and Indian, very nice and bed early after saying goodbye to T.

A lazy day in Siem Reap.

28/3 - Started with a fry up to make sure I didn't go fast, then trudged into town. I stopped at a watch stall to get some batteries for my reading light, until he asked for $12. "$12 !!!!!!!!!. You are joking". He took the price down to 6, but the damage was done. I walked away, before I reached 10 metres the price was $1, but being a stubborn git, I cut my nose off to spite my face and kept going.
Got myself a bike with gears and a high seat. Now there'll be trouble. Had an e-fix and a coffee and a doughnut and off for a cycle. Siem Reap is not an outstanding town, it is functional and has lots of tourism building going on, but it does have a warm, cosy, small town feel about it, I think I'll linger a couple of more days before heading to Battambong by boat.
I passed a big school, a lot of the kids are leaving now, mostly on bikes, so there were lots of hellos and smiles. A lot of the locals wear surgical masks, especially on bikes. It is the dry season and it is dusty. Sometimes it could be for the smalls, but Cambodia does not have the array of smells India has, or as often.
There's a smashing big park here, so I set off in that direction, but via the riverside residential area north of town. These are interesting places to see how people live. There is a net part way along the river, this one is to catch rubbish though. There are signs around the river "Don't put rubbish in our beautiful river. Judging by the rubbish in the net, the signs have little effect. I passed. I thought I had blown my navigation to the park, so set off for some benches I say by the river and found the park. Magic navigation. The park must be the hit the tourist" spot". A couple of lads came over telling me how they were studying and needed sponsoring. The second one got cut short, as I told him about the first. I should have recognised the "Can I speak English with you?" The first lad blew the no chance he had when I told him I had given some money to 2 students already and he told me he didn't believe me. Not typically Cambodian.
"I think Siem Reap will take a dive for the worst in the next few years." stgom (said the grumpy old man). I hope I am wrong the people are too nice for it to get a bad reputation, they are always laughing and joking about, but Cambodia is developing fast and us tourists and our dollars seem to have that kind of affect.
I am getting back on the bike to get the happy juices flowing again. I think it is like Flo says "I'm better off out of the big cities", I do enjoy Siem Reap, but it may be time to move on.
Cycled around a bit more and passed the benches by the river that I was looking for before. Back to the Guesthouse after a nice cycle around and a beer and shower.
I went to watch the Apsara dancers again. I blew ordering my food, the fried rice with veg and chicken was good, but the spring rolls I ordered were not the crunchy ones I thought, but big ones wrapped in rice paper and 8 of them, not 4. I don't like to leave food, but I couldn't manage all these. I have really taken to the dancing, probably because I have not watched anything like it before. The food here is around $6 or $7 a go including one drink. Cheap, but not as cheap as India, the budget has definitely taken a hit since I left India, but I have been diving along the way. I headed back for an early night, but Tuy Vuthy, T, the bar lad was sat alone, so I had a drink and chatted to him. You'll never guess what he would like to be. OK you did, a tour guide. It must be the job of the moment. The Khmer are not daft, they know the trend to follow. T didn't try to hit on me for money though, in fact he gave me a book to read about the temples. He is using it to study. We had a scan through it and I tried to explain some of the words he didn't understand. I'll never make a talking dictionary, no wonder I failed English twice. T is a smashing lad, very unassuming. I hope he gets his dream job.
It's the witching hour, so I am off to see if one has flown into my room.