Saturday, 26 April 2008
The New Year festivities are dying down, but families are still arriving, usually on 3 or 4 motorbikes. Some plonk themselves on the wall and break out the food and beer. It is nowhere as busy as the last 3 days and some of the stall holders are swinging in their hammocks passing the time of day. THey know how to relax. The main beach area is still fairly busy. Being in a seaside resort, I thought I should try some of the fresh prawns, so I did, with a beer and very nice too. The prawns are easier work than the crab.
I am down to my last $15 and there is no bank or ATM here, so I had a sit on the prom wall, it's free and passed some time. A moto turned up eventually, so I headed back to pack, but ended up in the hammock reading and watching the evening draw in. It turned out not to be a good idea, as it was dark when I decided to pack and the electricity failed. I packed by torchlight. Then had tea by candlelight at the bar and a natter by moonlight. It wasn't that bad after all. There was only me at the bar and the lads wanted to go to the pagoda for some final celebrations, so I went back to the hammock, but the electricity came back on, so they had to stay. Not for long though.
I got chatting to an Aussie couple back at the bar. They have both quit their jobs and are off travelling for as long as it takes and when they get back they are changing jobs. 20 years as a plumber and an account is enough for them. I have met a good few people who have quit work and set off travelling. This couple were a bit older than the average, good luck to them. Laos has been their favourite place so far. I don' t think I can fit it in this trip, so better head back this way soon, before it is spoiled.
Friday, 25 April 2008
It looks like there is an entrance fee to Kep for New Year. Some blokes are stopping vehicles and handing out tickets. Anything to squeeze a dollar out of the people. I was gagging now, so picked up a coke at a roadside stall and found an old table under a tree to perch on and cool off. A young lady came over to join me to smile and borrow my nail clippers, she saw me using. That is almost all we could manage due to my lack of Khmer. I do feel a bit inadequate with the language barrier. I have tried to pick up a few words, but forget them faster than I learn them. I wandered down to the shoreline and had a paddle. It is like a warm bath, so didn't go any deeper. I headed back, still getting some Hello's, but not so many. People are wrapped up in their own party excitement. They come in and on all sorts of vehicles. Wagons come along, presumably from villages and pull up under a shadey coconut tree. They all bale out with crates of beer, a huge cool box, meal tins and get on partying. The cool boxes are the replacement for fridges. Not many fridges are around, even in the towns. These big cool boxes sit outside lots of shops and are in houses. The ice man comes along each morning and sells off his huge blocks.
There's loads of fresh fish and squid being cooked by the roadside. I may try some, but I'm not really a squid kid. I found a cake place on the way back, so had some carrot cake and an iced coffee, it's too hot for hot drinks. After the sugar fix I went to find a secluded beach and did so. The sandy area was about 3ft x 3ft, but did for a sit and laze. The water was too shallow to go for a swim. I would have had to rent a moto to get out far enough to swim. It clouded over anyway, looking like a storm was brewing, so I am off for something brewed, either a tea or a beer.
It was a beer!! setting me up for another lazy night at the bar. A cointreau replaced last nights sambucca, then I went to lie in the hammock and check out the stars, but it was too cloudy and a full moon, so no chance, but I enjoyed dossing in the hammock having a read. I had to get out before I nodded off and end up there for the night. I probably would have been eaten alive by something or other.
The trip to Kep was uneventful, we rolled in at a decent time. Kep is very busy, being a seaside town, it is buzzing with locals celebrating New Year. I headed for the Botanica guesthouse with and American on a tuk tuk. It is owned by a Belgian lad and his Cambodian wife. I bumped into him on the Pursat to Phnom Phen bus. They only have one room, so we tossed for it and I won. It is obvious why it is called Botanica, the garden is bursting with greenery. The bungalow is neat and tidy for $7 and I have a hammock on the patio, so after a butty and banana shake I crashed in it. I have decided to make Kep a lazy stay. I have been hopping around a bit of late, so after the hammock I just went to the bar and it was beer, beer, food, coffee, offer of a joint, sambuca, read and bed. A French/Cambodian couple offered me a joint, they told me it is $1 per gram and if you think that is cheap it was once $1 per Kg for the unprocessed plant on the local markets. Apparently it is used in Khmer soup, so I know what is for lunch tomorrow.
I wandered around the streets a bit, looking for somewhere to eat, but that was easier said than done. Eventually I came across a place that said "Snacks", so that was spot on. I went in and it was a full blown, buzzing Chinese restaurant, but I stayed to show off my chopstick skills. I had sweet and sour pork and seafood soup. I am not a big sweet and sour fan, but the food in here was nearly as good as Kheang's.
I was going to head to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, but it is too damn hot, so I had a kip and when I woke it was too late to go, so I headed to the promenade again, for some so-so food and wine. It is still fairly quiet here, only a few people after money, but I bet it is a different story after New Year. I went and sat on the prom wall for a bit of people watching and a friendly family came and sat next to me, so I had a bit of fun with the kids, before heading off for another glass of wine. I never made the wine, I spotted a coffee shop, so had some smashing coffee, just like in the Netherlands and a cake, just like everywhere I've been on this trip.
I headed for home and the same moto driver spotted me, but he offered no ganja or sex tonight.
I stepped off at the guesthouse and put my leg on the exhaust. Plonker!! That will ruin the tan. I don't really have one, only below the knees and elbows.
Into Phnom Phen and the tuk tuk drivers aren't too much hassle, so I got to the hotel easy, if overcharged, it is New Year. The hotel is good, even though I'm on the 5th floor. It is early afternoon, so I went for a wander in the peace and quiet, comparatively anyway, I still got plenty of moto offers. A lot of places are closed until the 17th, the Royal Palace was open, but I got there too late, so I wandered passed a nearby Wat, which is where the parties are supposed to be held, but nothing has kicked off yet. Phnom Phen is a typical big city, plenty to see. I wandered through a park with food stalls sprinkled around, passed the Houses of Corruption, Government HQ. I walked along the front of the Royal Palace and there is a big green here with mats spread out along the paths and on some of the grass. There are loads of food stalls who own the mats. This place is buzzing. It is just next to the Prom along Tonel Sap lake, so I strolled and sat and strolled and .... you get the picture. The city people are not as smiley as those outside of cities, just like back home. I settled in a bar for some Khmer food and a beer. The food is not a patch on Kheangs. Then I bartered for a moto back to the guesthouse, 40p and got offered sex and marajuana on the way back, but they weren't included in the price, so I declined. Up the apples and pears and off to kip.
Thursday, 24 April 2008
Back to today. Kheang has arranged for a small tractor and trailer to take her, the kids and me into the countryside. Kheang brought a kids stool for me to sit on, but I would have been flat on my backside before 50yds, so put myself on my backside at the start. It was not a smooth ride. We made it to our destination with Kheang commentating along the way. We stopped at the edge of a paddy field ready for harvesting. It is the first one I've seen at this stage. We strolled along the side of a cucumber field and Kheang shouted as we went, so we ended up at a 3 sided thatched palm shelter where there was a couple and their son sat. The lad is here because it is Khmer New Year tomorrow, so he has some time off school. The couple stay here for 6 months, from when the Mekong recedes from their cucumber field until it comes back again, which should be soon, around the end of May. In the shack/shelter there's a bamboo bed and the ubiquitous hammock. Cooking is done on a wood fire. The husband goes catching fish in a nearby pond off a river. They have a couple of motorbike batteries for lighting and their son-in-law, today, or any family member, replenishes the batteries and also brings food for them. They don't even take New Years day off, as the cucumber wholesaler comes to collect the cucumbers the following day, so they have to be picked. They also have paddy and cashew fields nearby that they farm. I asked if they go back to the village for odd days, but they don't want to. THey are happy here, living out in the country and the quiet. They are a smashing couple and seem really content. Kheang was discussing market prices with them. The price of fuel has doubled very quickly, the world rice price has shot up, but the farmers are being paid less for their produce. The corruption in this country is insane and the rich seem to want to grind the poor into their fields. The average Cambodian seems to be very resilient, but they are getting a real bum deal. I think the village environment stops life being worse. The villagers sell and buy locally and help each other whenever possible. Kheang said the prices are the same for the produce on the market, nobody tries to undercut another person.
Nearby, there is a dam that was built by the local children when the Khmer Rouge were in power. The kids were between 5 and 10 years old, Kheang being one of them. The dam was just dirt piled high, so is now just back to the land level around it. We were going to go over for a look and a ride on a fishermans boat, but the husband of the couple told us there is nobody there because of Khmer New Year, so we gave it a miss and wandered back to the tractor.
Kheang and Don are having trouble with rats killing their chickens. The farmers use a car battery and wire to kill the rats eating the rice in the paddy fields, so Kheang thought, but the couple showed us there is a device in between that steps up the voltage to 240 AC. DOn was going to do the same, but this may cause a rethink with the kids and dog around.
Yesterday, Kheang showed me how a bamboo shaft is setup so the sugar palms can be climbed and the sugar sap collected. Today we stopped on the way back to see how it is made into palm sugar. I got a taste and it was like fudge, very nice. The lady wanted me to take a great lump, but I restrained myself. The kids got stuck in though. It would be great to talk Khmer, so I could talk to the locals, but I have enough trouble with English, so I suppose I am being a bit ambitious. We headed back with the kids licking their lips, they had had about 3 cucumbers each at the field too.
Kheang made some dinner and afterwards was telling me what it was like to be 5 and under Khmer Rouge (KR) rule. She was moved out of the village to work in the fields and on the dam. Any minor misdemeanours were punished and food was scarce. There is a killing field near the village and the clothes from victims were piled up nearby. Some of the kids went to try and steal some of the clothes, so they had another set. Kheang got caught. The soldier put her in a wooden box. She paniced after a few minutes and kicked the lid off, luckily enough there was nobody around, so she legged it. I don't think the KR were organised enough for the soldier to have told anyone else. The kids rarely got to see their parents and they got minimal rations. Eating food whilst harvesting was a big NO NO, but Kheang had a couple of stories of how they tried to get around it. Not always successfully, but sometimes. The KR promised a great life and delivered misery, yet there are ex-KR people in the government and one from the torture camp S21. The war criminals are not being tried either, for some strange reason. Money would be my first guess in this country. Many KR are rumoured to have escaped as refugees to other countries, very reminiscent of the Nazis.
It was good to sit and talk to Kheang, she is a smashing lass. She is off again now, running around, but me being an old knacker went for 40 winks. When I woke, I saw Kheang disappearing with the kids on the moto and Don was nowhere to be seen, so I wandered into the village. I stopped for a coke and a sit in the shade. A lad who lived at the stall, came over for a chat. He is home from Phnom Phen for New Year. He works in a mobile repair place. Half of the shops in the towns and villages are mobile shops, so he will be busy. Someone came over while we sat for him to change the settings on their mobile. He can't afford a room in Phnom Phen, so stay with some monks at a Pagoda. He gets free board and food, only the electric and water have to be paid for. Kheang spotted me at the stall and came over to say hello. Ra wanted to walk back with me, but Kheang is a typical protective Mam, so wouldn't let him. I wandered back after a good chat. I was going to get my hair cut, but the barber was busy as I passed, in both directions, so I bought some water melons instead, an obvious replacement for a haircut. I had a real good laugh with the ladies on the stall, even though the only Khmer I know is thank you and some numbers. They thought I was trying to barter. We did some laughing. I saw Don on the moto as I went back, he almost ignored me and when I got back, he almost had a go at me for going into the village alone. It is a long story why, but not being phsycic, I didn't know I should not have. I think he overplayed it a bit too. He is starting to get on my pip a bit. He picks on Kheang constantly. I think she could do without it. I chilled for the rest of the evening until Kheang served up another great meal, fish Amok. This lady can cook. I should have gone in to watch her cook, but didn't like to intrude. With hindsight, I would not have been. In the evening, once it is dark, she works using a lamp on her head, she is good with it and just gets along with life. After the meal Don started giving her grief. The lady was knackered and didn't need it. I had a shower and did a quick exit to leave them to it. Not my place to get involved, but I was very tempted.
Wednesday, 23 April 2008
Kheang was almost sweeping the track for me as we went along. She is a very considerate lady and like perpetual motion, as soon as we got back, she was in the kitchen preparing tea.
Kheangs Mam came along for a chat. I was supposed to ask her questions, but had no idea what to ask, but the conversation went along OK after a while with Kheang translating. Her Mam is 62 and still works hard in the field most days. She heard Kheang shouting her this afternoon, but had to get on with her work, as there was nobody at home to cook the tea, so she had to get finished in the fields and get home to cook tea, so couldn't stop. She must be a hard lady to have lived through Cambodia's recent history. She had to be up early in the morning to get to the market and then back to the fields, so she left about 20:00 on her push bike.
We then had a smashing tea of curry and then a chat. With hindsight I should have gone to bed earlier, as Kheang also has to be up early to go to the market, 5.30. She is a lovely lady. I showered by candlelight and retired under the mozzy net for a read.
Sunday, 20 April 2008
T said he would go slow and he did, until we hit the dirt track up the hill, then it was like a moto-X race. I knew he was getting bored on the way here when he was driving with his feet up on the front post. It was a good journey though, along the banks of the Mekong, through lots of small villages, although there weren't so many Hello's today, mind you people were going about their daily routines, mostly farming and some fishing. The countryside isn't dissimilar to the UK, only with different crops and different trees making up the woods and banana and mango trees scattered among the houses. OK, it's nothing like the UK. It is away from the houses in the countryside, which is very arid around here at the moment. I'd like to come back in the wet season to see the difference.
There are the usual women driving motos with baseball caps and pyjamas on carrying their shopping. I am getting used to it now and have a theory. They are the equivalent to the shellsuits the Scallies wear, I've hardly seen any tracksuits out here.
Back to the moto. After we battered up the hill, T had a flat front tyre. We had a look around the new temple being built. In here 4 lads had set up some wires, ropes, pullies and chains and were dragging a big Buddha into place, inch by inch. No cranes or forklifts out here mate!!
T had this thing in his head about showing me the cashew orchard, so he ushered me over to the orchard. The trees looked mostly bare, but he wasn't giving up. He spotted some at the top of one of the trees, off went the flip flops and up he went. I'm glad he didn't give up. He threw a couple down. They look like yellow peppers. "They aren't cashews." said clever clogs. "Yes they are, " he told me. He split one open, still not cashew nut, but they tasted lovely and sweet and juicy. T told me they are good for power, so I scoffed mine, then I spotted the cashew nut. It is like the stalk of the pepper, on the outside. I live and learn and was chuffed that T insisted I see them.
T went off down the hill now to get his flat fixed. He shouted back at me to sit in the shade. I wasn't awe inspired by the temples and the LP had promised great views of the Mekong, but I never saw them, so decided to wander down the hill to see if they were there and save T coming back up the hill. I got a good dab on, so kept stopping in the shade. The views still weren't great. 3 kids stood in their door frame and shouted to me, the usual Hello. Their Mam appeared, but the kids were too shy to come out to see the Barang (foreigner/Frenchman from old times). I had my binoculars in my hand, so enticed them over, with a push from Mam. One of their mates showed up and they shared the binoculars around. It is good to see how they do that.
I carried on to the base of the hill and sat in the shade to wait for T, whilst trying to have a conversation with a bloke and his daughter. T surprised me by coming down the hill. How was I to know there is another way up? He surprised me again by setting back off up the hill once I got onboard. How was I to know there were more temples up the hill and the good views I was expecting?? These were more like it. There were plenty of statues that seem to depict a story, so I asked T what one was. He didn't know, so asked the local magic man and passed it on to me. He tried to get me to go in and see the magic man to see if he could fix my legs and tie a bangle around my wrist, but I declined, ever the cynical, grumpy, old, non-believer. To be honest I'd wish I'd gone in for the experience, but I am a bit shy. REALLY. I never know how much to give people either. I later learned that the magic man is quite famous and lots of locals go to him for treatment. His specialty is mental health, so perhaps it wasn't my legs T was trying to fix.
The views of the Mekong from here are great. T was trying to hustle me around the temples at break neck speed, then he realised I only have one speed, so we sat on a wall to look out over the Mekong. He is really curious about my muscular dystrophy and was examining my legs and stomach. I was sat in the shade the other day and a bloke came over. He had watched me walk down the street. He pulled up my jeans leg and checked out my ankle, then was feeling my knee. This bloke had been discussing me with his mates, fellow moto drivers, before he gave me the once over. Anyway, back to T. He is also curious about how things work in the West and is full of questions. I have told a few Cambodians that the money removes the smiles from peoples faces. I love the way most of them beam with smiles and wish it happened more back home. The Cambodians see us here with the dollars thousands of miles from our homes and envy us. Which is the best?? Beats me. A mixture of both I guess. We'll all probably end up in a great big melting pot. There's a song in there for us oldies. He wanted me to tell him where Buddha had come from. I know where a few buggers have come from but Buddha?? My sisters and Thomo will find this hard to believe, but I did have an opinion where Buddha comes from. It's a good job T's not into football and politics, we could have been there for days.
We headed back to the moto, parked in a food stall out of the shade, for a boiled egg, mango and coke. Something to slush around on the way back, when T turned into the Devil on a moto. I never saw a great deal on the way back. I was too scared to take my eyes off the road. He thought speed bumps had to be taken at speed, but we made it back.
Yesterday, I emailed a couple about a homestay (Rana homestay, google it). They introduce people to the locals and rural life, so I checked my emails, phoned as requested and I'm in. I may not be able to get a room on stilts, but never mind. Now it is back for a kip. Khmer New Year is supposed to start at the weekend, but I was told the calendar does not get adhered to and there was a street party last night, so I'm knackered, from not sleeping for the noise, not through attending. I think tonights party could be washed out. I was woken by a monster storm. The road is flooded. The storm was good to watch, once I dragged myself out of my pit. The kids were running around in it and playing football, or water-football on the prom, just partying in the rain in general.
I nipped next door for some food and got invited to show off my prowess at pool. We lost the first game, but then my skill showed through as the luck increased and we won 2-1. I didnt push my luck and retired.
9 / 4 = Breakfast and back out on the bike. I headed for an out of town temple. I could have done with gears, it was getting hot, hot, hot, but I made it. This temple is a bit different, Wat Nokor. It is an old ruined temple that has a few new pagodas built around it and had itself incorporated into a new one. The old stuff is definitely better than the new stuff, a bit like us blokes. This is a smashing place to wander around, lots of nooks and crannies and shrines tucked away in hideaways. The workstaff were having a kip on the cold tiles of the temple, so I decided to join them for a read, it is a tadge warm. There is supposed to be a big reclining Buddha, but I couldn’t find it and couldn’t hear it snoring. I’ll do another lap on the bike to see if I can spot it. While I think on, I saw a first on the way here. A young lady driving a moto was breast-feeding her kid as she went along. That must complete the full set of moto sightings. I think the Dutch are clever with what they can carry and do on their bikes, but the Cambodians are magic on their motos. I got directed to the reclining Buddha by the Tourist policeman, after coughing up my 2 dollars. It was a bit of a disappointment, the old fellow asleep in front of it was more of a character. I don’t get this Buddhist style painting.
2 lads told me about some temples on a couple of hills about 6Km away that are worth a look, Phnom Pros and Phnom Srei, where legend has it the women had a race with the men to build a stuppa through the night (A place where ashes are laid to rest). The women outfoxed the blokes by starting a fire, the men saw that they were leading and thought the fire was the sunrise, so they stopped working. You have to watch these cunning ladies, especially when you are a stuppa bloke. Because the ladies won, they don't have to propose to the men anymore, as was the custom and they get another chance to rub the blokes noses in it by saying NO. Not that they would. Anyway, I set off for the hills, but my engine started to overheat, so I put my legs in reverse and headed back towards town. I went back in by a new route, as is my want, to see if I could get lost. I passed a signpost saying "Minefield cleared", but I didn't go in to check. This end of town has all the big old colonial buildings from the French days. There are some stilt houses mixed in with them and they are grand stilthouses too. A lot of the old government and military places are out here too, also very grand. Out of the area it is more rundown, any old colonial stuff around here is not maintained. This area is along the riverbank. A lot of poor places seem to border a river.
I had not been this far up the river, it is a huge river. Here it widens and splits creating what looks like an island. The name Mekong brings an image of greatness to my mind and now I've seen it, the image is cemented there.
I meandered back along the river for a coffee and cake, but they were out of cake, so a beer it was. Then I took the bike back, alas. The shop owner is a real happy lady. We communicated with sign language and a lot of laughs. I picked up a couple of cakes on the way back, but the walk has got me perspiring profusely, so it was iced coffee and cake.
A couple of South African lasses parked their bums next to me. There were no other outside seats overlooking the Mekong. They have put the idea of going to Laos into my head, but I will have to ponder it. I have already delayed my Sydney flight once. Also a mate in New Zealand has emailed me to see if I fancy the England v All Blacks game in Auckland, so I'll have to see if he gets a ticket, as that would rule out Laos. I'll see how crocked I am after this trip and perhaps plan a Laos trip later next year. You come away for 6 months thinking you have plenty of time to see what you want. NO WAY JOSE. The more you travel the more you realise there isn't enough time or money. If things carry on the way they are, I'll just make it back for Christmas.
I wanted to stay up and watch the Liverpool game last night, but I was too knackered and after another day on the bike it looks like the Man U game is out the window too, especially since I have booked a moto to take me out of town tomorrow, so it's snap and bed.