Hello! Yes it's us again with another update!
So, we left you last time heading into the forest in Laos. The good news is the dirt track did in fact lead to the border with Cambodia. The bad news is the road got progressively worse as we travelled on. The dirt track soon turned into a dirt road with lots of bumps and holes and enormous puddles and muddy sludge. We felt quite lucky to actually reach our destination after seeing a lorry and a truck well and truly lodged in the mud!
We finally arrived in Kratie, bruised and battered after the most uncomfortable journey of our travels, hoping our aching bodies would feel better after a good night's sleep. Unfortunately, I felt awful the next day, and to cut a long story short, some of our travelling campanions decided my symptoms added up to either Malaria or Dengue Fever. This resulted in a wild goose chase to find a seemingly non-existent doctor and the eventual testing of my blood. Things might be basic in Cambodia, but for US$1 I had two blood tests and got the results within 15 minutes - you've got to ask questions about the NHS!!! And the results ..... a throat infection! A bit of bed rest and care from nurse Clew and I was well on my way to recovery.
Whilst in Kratie, we were lucky enough to have a close encounter with the wonderful freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins. We took a small boat on the Mekong to try and spot these rare and unusual creatures. We enjoyed a magical hour watching the dolphins surrounded by beautiful scenery and not another human in sight - it was truly wonderful.
I wasn't looking forward to moving on as I expected the journey to be another living hell, but surprisingly, our trip to Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh was painless. We'd heard some scary stories about just how safe Phnom Penh is, but thankfully, what we found did not match these expectations. The city is lively, vibrant and full of very friendly people despite it's devastating past. We learned much about Cambodia's history and the brutal, logic-defying regime imposed by the Khmer Rouge when we visited the eerie S21 genocide museum and the killing fields at Choung Ek. Such recent history that is almost too shocking to comprehend.
Shocking, in a totally different way, was the number of 'pests' in Cambodia - western men of a certain age with very young Cambodian girls on their arms. We managed to choose a hotel slap-bang in the middle of the 'action'! If nothing else it was great for people watching! It seems that Gary Glitter has been politely kicked out of Cambodia, but there were plenty of punters who wanted to be in his gang!!!
Having tired of the Khmer fare quickly, we were pleased to find some wonderful, inexpensive restaurants in Phnom Penh offering absolutely delightful international cuisine. We felt better about stuffing our faces at Friends restaurant where dining was for a cause - all the profits go to helping street kids get education and employment. Another favourite was the Foreign Correspondents Club, where it felt like stepping back in time and into a colonial club. Luckily it was open to everyone, not just journalists - I'm not sure this travel journal entitles us to press cards!!! And now over to our West of Cambodia reporter Derek Clew ...
... and you join me (not very) live on location in Siem Reap, forevermore known to us as the Semi in honour of the first Brizzler that crossed our paths. His renaming of the rapidly expanding town next to the famous ancient temples of Angkor made I laugh all the way through Cambodial. Semi seems to have more hotels than houses and has a strangely not-very-Cambodian feel about it. Tourism in Cambodia is increasing all the time and with Angkor being the major draw, this place is cashing in. Amazingly, it still retains a certain old French charm and the main area for bars and restaurants in old-fashioned colonial-style buildings was called Old Market. We loves you Bristol, but this Old Market was right nicerer.
The only drawback from seeing Angkor Wat (a self-proclaimed Wonder Of The World) was that having come overland from Laos and seen Kratie, Phnom Penh and other bits of Cambodia in between, we must have seen approximately 26 gazillion images of the famous temple on national flags, fags, beer, postcards, photographs, paintings, carvings, t-shirts and even toilet paper (OK not the bathroom stationery). So, breathtaking as it is, it's fair to say we had a fair idea of what it looked like. The fabulous surprise was that Angkor Wat was only one part of an enormous site with countless ruins and temples, all of which were brand new (by the way) to us and had us totally mesmerised. An amazing place to see and now we understood why there were so many places to stay.
Our Saturday night here was not spent at any of the dodgy mind-altering food joints with subtle names like Happy Herb's or Ecstatic Pizza (and not once in the whole of Cambodia did we see one of these naughty places have a pizza called the Pol Pot - it would probably have to leave more than a bad taste in the mouth), no this rock'n'roll goodtime duo spent it at a charity cello concert. The cellist was a passionate Swiss man called Dr.Beat (doc doc doc doc...) who has founded three children's hospitals in Cambodia to save countless lives and who raises awareness and money at the weekends by resining his bow and playing Bach. What a guy.
Templed out, we took a boat trip to Battambang from the bustling port town on the huge Tonle Sap lake, passing floating villages and having the thrill of seeing many riverside communities going about their rural lives. The boat, we were told, would 'definitely' take anywhere between 4 and 10 hours depending on which agent you asked. We clocked in just shy of 8 hours, but didn't mind a bit - well apart from the boat was way too long for certain s-bend sections and was forced to do countless 3-point turns in between the occasional crash on to the banks. Mmmad.
Our last couple of days in a Khmer stylee were spent in and around the city of Battambang. Our last day on the motos doing the 'around Battambang' trip with Tintin and Chinchin was the perfect way to finish and everywhere we went there would be hundreds of smiley kids high-fiving and waving. They were, without exception, always happy and delighted to see you.
So we had to say farewell to Cambodia and all those ladies and young boys who wore pyjamas all day long, all the Angkor-mania and all those young smiles. We zipped back to Thailand at the border in Poipet, all casinos and mafia (apparently) and headed back to Bangkok.
U can' t touch this!