Cambodians are so friendly. We arrived in the capital, Phnom Penh - a bit punch drunk as usual from a long bus ride - and had an unexpectedly pleasant encounter with a group of tuk-tuk drivers. About 17 of them intervened to help our driver decipher where on earth we wanted to go, and then gave us a crash course in Cambodian pronunciation. At this late stage of our travels we took the very tough decision to give the capital a miss and we caught a minibus straight to Kratie - a town in the northeast. Kratie is located next to a really wide, island-filled part of the mighty Mekong River and we took a ferry to one of them and cycled past stilted wooden houses and lovely green paddy fields - a beautiful sight we never get tired of. We also arranged a homestay on another island further north, which entailed a bum-numbing 45-kilometre cycle ride. Let me just be clear about this: I cycled there and back in two days. That's 90 kilometres. That's about 60 miles. In two days. This is me we're talking about. As we rode on a pretty straight road along the river, kids ran out of their houses to wave and shout "hello" to us. This happened approximately every 30 seconds throughout the five-hour ride there - utterly touching and utterly bewildering. By now we had planted ourselves quite firmly in the middle of the monsoon season and the heavens opened as we arrived to catch the ferry to the island. As the boat arrived at the mainland, the many passengers who were on motorbikes had to be given an almighty push by the boatmen up the ludicrously steep riverbank, which by now had turned into a very muddy and fast-flowing stream. Shahar then had to navigate this riverbank/stream to put our bikes on the ferry, which he achieved using a technique that was somewhere between running and falling, all the way down and onto the boat in one move.
It had stopped raining by the time we reached the island, Koh Pdao, and we cycled the last 10 kilometres past buffalo and over some severely rickety wooden bridges to our homestay in a village, where we found more adorably excitable children, and lots of piglets running around the legs of the house. A guide arrived the following morning to take us on a little boat ride dressed in an outfit that is very common among Cambodian women - matching top and bottoms in sky blue or pink or bright yellow, printed with teddy bears and phrases like "100% cute". (Here, this is a kind of daytime trouser-suit, but to the western mind they are unmistakably pyjamas.) We cycled back to Kratie later that day, stopping on the way for a boat ride at a spot in the river where you can see dolphins. We sat on the boat in silence, listening for the telltale sound of the waters breaking and the dolphins breathing through their blowholes, so that we could catch a glimpse of them before they dove back underwater. It was magical. Back in Kratie we were greeted warmly in the street by a tiny boy in a football strip and a huge straw hat, and several of his friends, who shook us both by the hand numerous times.
From a part of Cambodia that doesn't see so many visitors, we then headed to the country's undisputed No. 1 tourist attraction - the temples of Angkor. Wikipedia tells me they are not, in fact, among the Seven Wonders of the World. Maybe they're eighth on the list. In any case, the heroic facts are: Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world, and the site might (or might not - the jury's out) be the largest group of temples in the world. As if this weren't enough, the temples also provided an apt backdrop for Angelina Jolie to run around in "Tomb Raider". The whole complex is immense and we spent a couple of days cycling (more cycling! - another 30 kilometres, we think) through Angkor's forests. Angkor Wat is, indeed, massive but also sort of ugly and square. Another of the temples, which has over the centuries been uprooted by gigantic trees that have now insinuated themselves completely between the stones, was really creepy and impressive, as was another that had more than 200 large, solemn faces carved into the stone and stared down at you.
Running out of holiday, we unwillingly had to keep our time in Cambodia short. We then crossed the border into Thailand and, via coach, minibus and ferry, plonked ourselves down on a Thai beach for three days of nothing. Our island of choice was Ko Samet and we made a beeline for a very quiet, rocky bay with just a handful of wooden bungalows and not a beer-sponsored beach umbrella in sight. Our very basic hut, hiding amid the trees, had a perfect view to the green sea. Our neighbours included some mild-mannered Europeans and a chain-smoking monk in saffron-coloured robes, but we often had the sea to ourselves. Heavy rain all through the first day didn't stop us and the sea was still warm, but it was quite weird to have a shower in the outdoor cubicle and find that you carried on getting wet even after you'd turned the shower off. Apart from being pummelled in turn by a Thai masseuse and by some huge, tenacious mosquitoes, it was blissfully uneventful.
And now we're back in Bangkok, for the third time. We seem to gravitate towards the worst part of this city, because it's convenient - the Kao San Road, which is a grotesque parody of tourism, filled with red-faced English drunks and rows of massage beds lining the street. A giant billboard on the way into the city politely asked us to "stop disrespecting Buddha" by getting tattoos of him and buying furniture carved in his image, and we'll do our best to obey.
Tomorrow we fly home!