Sua s'dei. I'm in Cambodia in supposedly the first city on our itinerary, Ban Lung. It didn't quite work out how we planed to get here though.
We spent four days on the Si Phan Don but although it was very relaxing and I did develop a very close relationship with my hammock, I was getting keen to get to Cambodia and have a bit more of an adventure. Ironically on our last night when we were expecting another quiet 9om bed time (the electricity went off at 10 and was pretty dodgy even before that, plus when you're waken up by pigs and roosters and 4.30am you need to get to bed by 9), we ran into someone from New Zealand (the fist New Zealander we've meet in Laos). This person from New Zealand is in fact also a person from Dunedin and just to be 'really crazy' we kept saying all evening, I know him and Sylvia and him have been in the same classes for three years.
As you do on a such an exciting occasion we went to a trance party he told us about on another island and me, Sylvia and Dom are now 'best friends', although Dom had had quite alot of Laolao (whiskey) when he said this so I'm not sure if it will stand true now that we're sober. We said goodbye to Dom and gave him the last of the whiskey to remember us by, then got a few hours sleep before crossing the Cambodia border. This is always fun as the border police love to make you pay all sorts of extra fees while smiling unashamedly and trying to teach you some basic Cambodian.
This added to the journey that followed did nothing to endear us to the country. Luckily the rest (all 24 hours of it) has made up for it, and I really love it here. It much more insane, chaotic and less western than anywhere else we've been and I quite like that despite the fact that it makes everything alot harder.
Our introduction to this came on the bus where we expereinced our first scam (I almost feel it's a milestone). There seemed to be about five bus drivers on the bus whose goal seemed to be less to drive and more to make life as difficult as possible for us. The man who had been assigned to us told us a convincing tale of broken bridges to Ban Lung, trying instead to get us to go where the bus was heading, Phonm Penh. We were suspicious and asked to be dropped in the town nearest (still five hours away) from Ban Lung but 'we had passed there''. Instead we managed to get off in Kratie, a city much further South, which of course, we had to pay more for. When I say in Kratie I mean 'on the outskirts of Kratie in the countryside''. Because we were stubborn and did not want to do anything more the bus man said, we refused the tuk tuk and he had arranged for us. We walked 1-2kms along the side of the road in the midday sun before giving in and paying a van to give us a lift. It cost the same as it would have to get the tuk tuk but the hot walk was worth it just to annoy the bus man.
In Kratie we wandered around with someone else from the bus, a French man whose name I still don't know, wondering what to do. Luckily a man advertising his guesthouse found out we were wanting to go to Ban Lung. There was no more public transport that day but he knew someone who was driving there from Phnomh Penh who could stop and take us.
I felt I should be suspicious of more scams but we had been travelling for seven hours on a bus where we'd been both scammed and driven past two dead bodies (although thank god they were on the other side from me so I didn't see them). There was no way we were going to cope much longer if we didn't trust someone.
This turned out to be a good choice. The minivan that picked us up got us to Ban Lung within five hours. The three of us and the French man was the only westerners on it and judging by the stares we got I think we were the only three westerners ever to set foot on it. And by alot of stares, I don't just mean a few people staring many times. Including the four of us there were 17 people in this tiny van, including the chubbiest baby I have ever seen, a baby that looked exactly like monkey and the tiredest but best behaved toddler in the world who had been travelling from Vietnam on his father's knee.
When we got to Ban Lung 10 hours later than expected we were picked up by our helpful Kratie man's brother who owns a guesthouse in the old colonial governer's house. He is incredibly friendly and very honest. I've never met someone in New Zealand, let alone Cambodia who will tell you exactly what may be wrong with every service he provides. His rest of the family similarly follow suit and I get at least five enthusiastic 'hellos' from every member of the family I pass just walking from our room to reception. The Cambodians who will scam you, of which there admittedly are alot, are more than made up for by the friendliness of those that don't and I'm finding that smiling warmly at someone will be returned with the most heart-warmingly kind smile back.
This afternoon me and Sylvia are biking out to the entire reason we are in this isolated part of the world, a crater lake 7kms out of town that is meant to be beautiful to swim in. Tomorrow we are going on a tour to a minority tribe cemetry and the next day we are going on a three day trek in the National Park. But right now, I'm going to go find some lunch.