Hello! I love you! Bye bye! How do you do!
Imagine a 55km bike ride (or thereabouts) punctuated every ten seconds or so for the duration by comments from the sidelines such as those above. This is the reality when taking a leaf out of a recently published Mekong Discovery Trail book and bumping around rural Kratie province on a "bike trail" which I would be surprised if many people had actually done. Ok, now we're talking bout the real Cambodia.
My inspiration was Don, he of the homestay outside Kampong Cham, who told me that when I arrived I should go to a cafe/bar (only bar in town?) called Red Sunset Falling and see the owner, expat American also, by the name of Joe. Joe was apparently a wealth of information and had this trail book as well as other info which Don thought would be ideal for me. Don raved about Joe and said: "He's a great guy, but he's a little swishy!"
Joe's place shuts in the afternoon because its on the riverfront and apparently has the sun blaring in, so I waited til he opened back up at 17.3o and moseyed on in to the sounds of Macey Gray. This was one of Joe's better selections. Joe starts the day with a gin and is relatively serene if you pop in for breakfast. However as the day wears on and the alcohol comes into effect, Joe becomes insanely verbose - the kind of person you dont need to worry about having a conversation with because they will do all the talking. And sometimes his somewhat camp musical taste (shall we follow Don's example and call it swishy??) takes one on a journey you would rather not be going on, especially after an evening of never ending diva's a la the Divine Miss M, Shania and Christina. ALthough sometimes a gem such as old Cars comes on, too.
Anyway I didnt get a chance to ask Joe about the book as my guesthouse owner, Andrew (expat New Zealander) had a copy which he allowed me to take out with me on my journey. And seeing as though I have been incredibly lazy on this journey (I blame the heat, seriously...who wants to scoot around the countryside when its so hot, although having said that it is infinitely better than walking around - at least one is furnaced with a bit of a breeze on a bike. But then, it is infinitely better to be zooming around on a moto or lazing in the back of a tuk tuk, but these things all take a toll on the bank balance and sometimes one does need to just get bloody active!!!) So, i hired my one buck fifty bike and headed off with book and map in hand.
It was a great day,headed south out of Kratie, couple of kms out of town to my first ferry journey across this part of the Mekong where I joined all the locals crammed into their trucks, on their motos etc. Once on the west bank I found the dirt road that would take me all the way to Vodthanak. Gorgeous countryside, effusive locals shouting all the things above and many more besides (although I would like to not have to say Hello to anyone for a couple of days, which was why it was nice spending yesterday on the balcony of my guesthouse doing a spot of reading, watching the river and life go by) and lots of moments. Succumbed to an inadvertent pitstop a short way into my travails when I discovered a group of 50 odd men attempting to transport the frame of a very large - by Cambodian standards - house. It blocked the entire way through the village, so I thought, just hang for a second, have a drink of H2O, and then scoot on past. What ensued was typical of what then happened everytime I stopped for a water break where there were any living creatures in the vicinity. Suddenly I was surrounded by Khmer villagers, swamped in fact about 8 deep, encircling me and the bike and staring and smiling and chattering and laughing. Of course I would pull out my map in my book to try and decipher where I was going, which always seemed to be the cue for someone to take the book out of my hand and peruse the pictures depicting what was essentially their life. Usually someone would come across a picture of a barang on a bike and laugh and point at it and then at me as if to say: "Look! It's you!" I think the good folk would have been quite happy to spend the rest of the day staring at me, but with a supposed 44km bike ride ahead of me I had to bid the good folk my adieus and head on past the men moving their house.
What followed was essentially more of the same - just a lovely time. That is until I got lost. There are not many things you can count on in this life. However you can pretty much rest assured that if I am in a foreign country on a moto or a bike (and whether I have a map or not), I will get lost and not encounter anyone at that crucial moment when the love of an adventure turns into a "Damn, I better work out where I am soon!" which then proceeds into "OK, I'm really getting cranky now because I should have worked out some handy Cambodian catchphrases to help me out of predicaments such as these!" I dont think Hello, Goodbye and Thank you really cut it when you are trying to find a town called Vodthanak and in particular a ferry to take me back to the East Bank of the river.
Alright, its easy enough to ask people if you are in Vodthanak and get a response either by means of a nod or a point in the right direction. But no amount of charades could engender a response to the more important question - once I had ascertained I was in Vodthanak (and how big is Vodthanak, and where does it end and where does it begin, when your whole journey has been one shamackle hut after another, occassionally punctuated by a rather more expensive establishment....what is a village????) - as to where the ferry landing was. Chug chug noises, wave motions, pointing in the direction of the Mekong all got me a big fat nothing! So, as you can see, I wasnt so much lost (I knew where the Mekong was!!!), I just had either travelled too far or not far enough. And my sinking feeling was that I had travelled along the bumpiest section of road so far a long long way too far. And as it happens I was right!
Thus I succumbed to retracing my path with the intention that I would head back to an earlier ferry landing I had managed to find which was apparently about 12kms beyond the beginning of Vodthanak (which is where precisely??!!) As it happens I was alerted to the Vodthanak Ferry Landing by a threesome of attention grabbing youths, who - had I not paid attention to them I would not have seen that they were standing right in the track between the two huts that led down to the beach, down to the - yes you guessed it - the ferry landing! Hurrah!
Then it was just a matter of waiting for a ferry to come into shore. ANd in the meantime I had the company of the three amigos who amused me greatly by demanding that I take photo after photo of them striking various poses. Too bloody funny! Then on the ferry back 3 sisters (?) wanted photos taken, so I happily obliged. Once back on shore I was happy to know I was on my way back to Kratie (never mind it was at least another 20kms....) I knew this side of the river because I had been out this way the day before to see the Irrawaddy dolphins in their natural habitat of the Mekong. They were pretty cool by the way, bit freaky looking and all too quick to get a good photo (as everyone soon discovers and gives up so as just to enjoy the moment). So anyway as soon as I reached Kampi - where the dolphin viewing site is - I knew I had 15kms to town, then Mount Sambok and I knew I was closer still, and so on and so on, maintaining my sanity by means of recognising monuments etc that were bringing me closer to town.
All was well when I arrived back to discover I had been out on my trusted pushie for close to 8 hours! Didnt know what I wanted to do first. Have a beer? Have a coke? Have a water? Have a shower? Have a poo? I went with the shower and then enjoyed a lovely evening on the balcony chatting to a young lady who was heading to Laos. Did pretty much the same thing last night talking to a great couple from Aus, David and Laine who had been away from their home of Newcastle for approx 3 years and who were - respectively - a primary school teacher and a haem nurse! Good times!
Yes, I like this town. Have thought about heading across to the island today for a bit of a wander, but damn, its hot (has been cloudy previously and so afforded a bit more of a comfortable temp, but not today....) Could just do the whole book thing again....Hmmm, the decisions of a holiday maker. Such a tough life.
Back to PP tomorrow to tick off a few more things to see off my list then heading down to the coastal towns on Kep, Kampot (which I think is actually a riverside town a little in from the coast) and good old Sihanoukville again before I leave on Monday week for a two night sojourn in Kuala Lumpur.
Aaaaah, as they say, all good things......