Monday, 14 November 2011

Cambodia Part IV - witness to a natural disaster...


And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY and AFD in the Lion City.  The Bull hit the bike for an hour tonight, logging 30K and feeling better than he had in awhile.  That's 5 straight days of exercise, and I think the development of a rhythm (other than "go to airport, drink beer, engage in ridiculous activities, drink more beer, fly home") has certainly been good for me.  I slept fairly well last night, which is always good news for this guy.

In work news today, I had lunch with Nancy and Adeline.  We went to Kim Gary (Hong Kong cuisine), where I tried "typhoon shelter noodles."  Now, to me, "typhoon shelter cuisine" sounds like:  "Um, we are out of power, completely stranded and out of food, and so I'm going to cook up the remaining ramen noodles by lighting the sludge now surrounding our house."  However, Adeline assured me it was tasty.  And I am happy to report that it was quite good!  And even more exciting was the conversation of wedding make-up.  Muffin - you were SMOKIN' HOT on our wedding day, and if you went through even half of what I just learned and I didn't complement you enough, I am forever apologetic.  But Adeline, to be clear - your eyebrows do look very even to me...

A very standard scene in rural Cambodia - thin cattle to help
in the fields, houses on stilts, and water throughout the area.
This is apparently common even when there aren't floods.
Also, I tried blueberry flavored Oreo's today.  And whilst the first one tasted EXCELLENT, but the third one, I was pretty sure I was just eating noxious chemicals that were shortening my life.  I'm glad I've had the experience, but the next time I want something new, I very well might go with tripe.  But anyhoo, enough of that, let's get back to Cambodia, where we'll discuss the travel day from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. 

We were picked up (after another HUGE brekkie, of course) from our hotel promptly by the Mekong Express Bus Company - offering luxury travel between PP and Siem Reap.  The cost of this "luxurious bus" that would take us across the country?  ELEVEN DOLLARS FOR A SIX HOUR JOURNEY.  When you think that the Heathrow Express is $30 USD for a 15 minute journey, you almost lose your dinner.  But then you realize that you can actually breathe on the Heathrow Express, and suddently money seems a small concern.  But we'll get to that...

So our pick-up arrives, we stand up, and all is well.  But then he says, "Where is your third person?"  To which we, after seeing the empty lobby, reply:  "There is no third person" (it's like the Matrix - there is no spoon).  He is having trouble with this, and so he calls the company, they chat in Khmer (which, I will tell you, is NOT a pretty language), and then he looks at me again earnestly and says, "Where is your 3rd person?"  I again explain that Jenny and I ARE NOT TRAVELING WITH ANYONE, at which point he asks me, "What room is he in?"  (DUDE, HOW THE @#$# SHOULD I KNOW?  YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT PUFF THE MAGIC @#$#ING DRAGON FOR ALL I KNOW!!!!!).  But then they locate the ONLY OTHER OCCUPANT in the hotel - who is the missing third person.  He's also STILL ASLEEP, which means we have to wait about 15 minutes on his donkey ass to get ready.  But soon enough, we're on the road, and 20 minutes later we're at the bus depot.  We go to get on (we'd prebooked the tickets), and they say "you no board - go to ticket office."  We think this is a pickup of tickets, so when they first say, "Bus full," and then they say, "Bus tickets $22," I am angry.  However, after speaking in English, Thai, Spanish, Khmer, and some form of traveler sign language, we eventually convey to them that we've pre-booked, at which point they magically whip out our tickets.  5 mintues later we're on the bus, set for our six hour "luxury journey." 

Now, in the third world, you do get accustomed to knocking a few stars off the rating scale.  In Egypt, for example, if it says "FIVE STAR LUXURY," chances are it's a run down Motel 6.  If it's four stars, you will think twice before showering.  If it's less than that, you clearly want to die.  But regardless, Cambodia had been fantastic so far, and I was hopeful that it would just be a standard bus.  And truth be told, I think it was a standard bus - for the dwarves of Middle Earth.

I was folded up in that puppy like a lawnchair.  Movement was confined to wiggling just enough to shake off Deep Vein Thrombosis (T-bone - that was for you), and don't even TRY to use the toilet on that bus.  There were pot holes you could land a space station in, and I'm pretty sure we hit every single one of them while I was trying to go.  Thank goodness there was a break halfway through, or my back teeth would have been floating.  And Gimli and his ilk must like it warm as well, because the aircon DIDN'T WORK.  Let's just say I've looked better - even after just finishing marathons...

But it wasn't all bad.  They did give us water and a snack (which we didn't touch, but still), and they even showed us a movie en route (Avatar).  We got some reading in, and I managed to doze a few bone-jarring minutes (in a seat that didn't recline, of course).  But the vehicle itself wasn't what made the journey so fascinating - it was the countryside.
The floods didn't stop people from fishing and working.  If
Anything, it was providing a boon for fishing.  Cambodians
are still largely subsistence people - catching their own fish,
hunting their own meat, and growing their own food.  It is
a culture VERY well preserved, which is amazing given all
they've been through in recent decades.
Tell me this isn't the greatest photo EVER from Muffin Puffin.
That dude has like 80,000 coconuts on his bike!
As you've no doubt seen on the telly, Cambodia and Thailand have been hit really hard with floods this year, resulting in over 500 deaths and ruining hundreds of thousands of acres of crops.  The journey that we made on the bus actually wasn't possible two weeks before we came, and we were SHOCKED at what we saw.  At times there was water at road level on both sides as far as the eye could see, and in countless villages we saw schools, homes, and other buildings flooded.  Flooding is common to some degree in this region, which is why everyone builds their houses on stilts.  In fact, one of the most amazing things I saw during the whole trip occurred on this ride, as you saw the people of Cambodia just finding ways to go about their daily lives.  Everyone was still working, people were still moving around, kids were still in school - life continued on.  And where there wasn't intense flooding, the scenery could only be described as quintessenial Asia.  Seriously, folks - rural Cambodia is the Asia you've always dreamed of and seen in pictures.  I was just BLOWN AWAY by the countless images of endless rice fields, dotted only by water buffalo, a few farmers, and the occasional palm tree.  It was a view that I'd wanted since arriving in Asia, and I couldn't get enough of it.

Picturesque - this is what I came to Asia to see.  Photos
just cannot do it justice - the scale is mind-blowing.

The arrival in Siem Reap was crazy - seriously something out of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.  Siem Reap - the Gateway to the Temples of Angkor, is obviously THE MOST visited place in Cambodia.  Yet, for some reason, it remains one of the poorest.  I read in Lonely Planet that Cambodia's government ranks 166 out of 181 nations in terms of corruption, and nowhere is it more evident than Siem Reap.

When the bus pulls into the bus station, you think he's lost.  The "bus station" is an old, corrugated shack, with a steel gate separating you from the outside.  When it opened briefly, you saw DOZENS of men screaming with paper in their hands, banging on the steel gate.  Jenny and I looked at each other - it was like something out of a zombie movie. 

When they fling that door open, the tuk tuk drivers and touts descend on people like a plague of locusts.  We guarded our bags as if we had the formula for cold fusion inside until we found our driver (Jenny'd arranged for a pickup).  His tuk tuk was GREAT, and we had this terrific 15 minute ride through the city, over the (VERY swollen) river, and over to the Motherhome Inn.  This place was PIMPTASTIC, and all for the bargain price of $24 per night!  Seriously - great pool, amazing room, unreal location, and breakfast was included!

And so we dropped our gear and headed into town for Happy Hour and dinner.  Our selected location?  An area called, appropriately enough, "Pub Street."  What we found there was NOTHING SHORT OF NIRVANA for two reasons.  First off, EVERY PLACE HAD ALL DAY 50 CENT BEER.  Second - WE DISCOVERED CAMBODIAN BBQ, BABY!!!!  OH, YEAH!!!!!  We hit this place that said we could have FIVE KINDS OF MEAT for $11 USD TOTAL.  And the options were ENDLESS.  This was one of those joints where they bring the meat raw (covered in raw egg) to your table, fire up the burner, rub some fat back over the grill, and then let you have at it.  We steered clear of the chicken (T-rowe - who saw that coming?), but we did select:

1. Snake (mom - the rattlesnake in Arizona was better)
2. Beef (it's what's for dinner)
3. Ostrich (CP - just like our Disney days, baby)
4. Crocodile (Grimshaw - it wasn't as good as the stuff you get in the Supermarket in South Africa...)
5. WAIT FOR IT....WAIT FOR IT...DEAN AND DOM HIDE YOUR EYES.......KANGAROO, BABY!!!!!  Oh, yeah!  Give me some of that Outback specialty! 

D & D - you just GOTTA trust me on this - you have NO IDEA what you
are guuuuuuuuuuuuud (peppy cheekies)...
Seriously - we ate as if it were our JOB for a solid hour - I just couldn't get enough of this goodness. They even gave us some "complimentary rice wine," which I'm pretty sure you could use to degrease an engine. And once you've eaten 10 times your body weight, what else should you do but GO AND GET A 90 MINUTE MASSAGE.  This was at the hotel - 90 minutes for $8 - HOW DO YOU ARGUE WITH THAT?  Although truth be told, I wish I had, as I was less than impressed.  But hey, no complaints, as we'd maxed this day out with activities!  It was then off to shower and bed, as we had an EAAAAAARLY call the next day.  However, that story will just have to keep, as it's getting late and it's time to Skype MOMMA!!!!!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print - chat tomorrow!


Sam and (probably batting at the MCG right now...or perhaps just knocking back some Margaret River wine) Jenny

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