I departed Kompong Cham and headed east to the wild countryside of Cambodia with promises of waterfalls, mountains and elephants. It's not a place that a lot of travellers go to so I thought it would be a good place to explore. Some of the road had a surface but most was still being built, in face in places it felt like we were just driving acroos a building sight. Then we reached Sen Monoram town and it too looked like a building sight with roads being dug up everywhere. Very like Wimbledon thinking about it. I was met by another friendly moto driver Mr Mot who took me a very nice and new guesthouse. Bungalow style. Detached. Mr Mot's favourite saying is "I'm telling you!" The guidebook also compared this landscape as being like Wales in the summer. Well it wasn't that cold I didn't see any sheep. I went in serch of a cafe and got collared by a rather vivacious Australian girl called Vanessa whose opening question to me was "Have you noticed how everyone wears their pajamas all day here?" We went for a walk to explore the town - a very strange place with an 'in the middle of nowhere' feel. We also met a young Dutch guy called Bart with wild hair who had been there for 6 days, 3 of which he had spent on the Internet. He'd discovered a cafe called 'Bananas' where he could get onnline for free if he had a meal so he just stayed on! Vanessa and I went for a drink in a bar with a strange collection of music.
The following day I booked an elephant trek - it was just me and an Australian student called Lachy. He was studying law in Adelaide but taking time out to travel and also to be jackaroo! His girlfriend refused to go on the elephant as she didn't like the idea of animals in captivity but I think they were quite well looked after. The "Elephant Valley Project" in the town oversees most of what goes on. Whilst I have ridden elephants before I'd forgotten how uncomfortable it is! We were advised to take pillows but these kept sliding around and you felt like you were constantly trying to star upright especially when going downhill. It was also a bit worrying when our elephant recognised that his friend was behind and tried to turn, trumpetting loudly! Our mahout's name was ''Hup" which was easy to remember "Hup, two, three four..." So then I just had the jungle book music on my brain all day. We stopped for lunch in a very picturesque setting by waterfalls. I had requested a cheese sandwich from Mr Mot because I couldn't face more rice but when I looked in the bag all I had was a baguette and a tiny portion of marmalade. Serves me right for being fussy. After our rest Lachy went off with the mahouts to find the Elephants (I think he wanted to find out if they were chained up) and he came back riding on the neck - a much more comfortable position if a bit scratchy. The elephants had a bath in the river which they enjoyed then we set back, pulling half the trees up as we went.
I spent one more day in Sen Monoram but there really wasn't much to do. Vanessa had told me how she uses the local beauty salons to get a good hairwash every few days so as my hair was feeling like a clump of hay, mainly due to extremely dusty conditions I decided to follow her suggestion. How funny. The salon was basic to say the least and all they did was to sit me down with a towel over my shoulders and proceed to pour diluted shampoo over my head. The girl then massaged my hair into a lather whilst I sat looking in the mirror horrified at the grey foam. Then I had to lie back on a kind of dentists chair for a rinsing and "I'm telling you" it was a lot more comfortable than the ones back home. No neck strain. Back upright I was combed through, doused with a leave-on condioner and finished off with a 30 second blow dry. And all for a dollar!! Just as well I wasn't going out into sub zero temperatures.
There wasn't an awful lot to do in this place unless you wanted to hire a bike and go out onto the countryside so I took an early morning bus to Phnom Penh along with several spare tyres and a massive sandwich board advertising timetables. Oh and several humans who susequently had problems accessing seats. The horn broke. It wouldn't turn off, but luckily I had remembered to pack my ear plugs finally! Then the bus broke down and we all had to get out and find trees to shelter under while they tried to fix the problem. Once or twice all the men had try and push the bus to get it moving to no avail. Eventually we were squashed into two minibuses and the journey continued. Mine did anyway - those on the other bus were chucked out onto the road again along with their luggage! I found out later there was some dispute over payment so they had to make alternative arrangements. Again.We reached a rest stop which I had passed through before so knowing where the loos were I headed straight there. When I got back to the minibus it was pulling away and I thought "what...??" But I noticed some of my fellow passengers climbing aboard another coach - I had a panic because I didn't know if my bag had been changed across! Some Frenchmen told me they'd moved their's themselves. Luckily mine had been moved - I had visions of having to do a tour of lost property offices in Phnom Penh and I didn't relish that thought much! About six kms out of Phnom Penh city centre we hit London traffic and then broke down again.