Age and wisdom supposedly go hand in hand but it seems that any commmon sense that I had in the past (and its debatable as to whether there was any in the first place) seems have to be thrown out of a 1000 storey window and then sat on by that fat black lady from This Morning. I think her name is Alison. Then again, its probably not that surprising given the considerable lack of sleep I have been getting added to the low low price of Angkor, adding to psychological stress and the rapid but minor(although still very worrying) appearance of tiny, tiny crows feet. Some money will have to be spent on Biotherm...
The past week or so has been a very mixed bag. Not only have I managed to get myself into some quite ridiculous predicaments but I have also managed to have a lot of fun and indeed have some of the best experiences of my time away so far. Its just a shame that I got it the wrong way round. I'll explain.
Moving on from Sihanoukville brought a sense of elation. The three days I had spent there seemed to drain me somewhat despite the fact that i had done very little. It wasn't my kind of place and I was happy to move on. I didn't know what to expect from Kampot but was just glad to put my head down when I got onto the minibus as 3 hours of sleep is all I had managed the night before. I slept all the way to Kampot and as I got off, I was still quite unsure of where I was and what exactly it was I supposed to be doing. I was greeted by a tuk tuk driver who asked me where I wanted to go. All i could manage was 'I want to go to bed'. Upon realising that what i had said probably made no sense at all, I managed to pick out a name of a hostel that had been recommended and 5 minutes later, I was at Bodhi Villa.
This was pretty much exactly what I was looking for. Bodhi villa is set on the banks of the river outside Kampot. The bar is right next to the jetty so you could finish your beer and then jump into the river if thats your thing. The vibe was cool but unpretentious and refreshingly unbackpackerish.
I have grown to kind of loathe backpackers, especially english ones. I am well aware this is a massive contradiction seeing as I am, in essence an English backpacker.
The villa is run by Huge (I don't know whats with the spelling of that either, its pronounced Hugh), an Aussie ex pilot who seems to be nearly almost always stoned to some degree and eating an ice cream sandwich. He also has a recording studio in the back which he invited me to jam in with him and some mates. More about that later.
I spent the remainder of my first day, milling around the town and taking it in. There was little doubt that this was a lot closer to a 'real' cambodian experience in comparison to the other places that I had visited. Locals sat around the market, fussing over nothing in particular, shooting the breeze in Khmer, perhaps about me. I shall never know. It wasn't busy and after having my dinner, nearly everything seemed to be closed. So I ended up back at Bodhi Villa at half 8 where I sat at the bar and got progressivly wasted and ended up sat on the floor, playing with Max, the resident puppy. Huge came in at some point, kind if off his face (but not in an aggressive way) and then suggested we should jam. He then disappeared and I didnt see him til the next day.
The following day, i got up at half one after the best nights sleep in a long while. The alochol from the night before probably did its bit in putting me to sleep for longer than i really needed, so I decided to rent a motorbike to make the most of my day. After riding around for half an hour or so, making sure that I wasn't going to die anytime soon, I set off for a set of rapids that was reportedly a favourite with the locals. I languished fort a good hour on another tributary of the river, away from the other people. there was no one there and I enjoyed just being by myself. I started jumping from pool to pool and rock to rock, in some sort of ridiculous Mowgli inspired manor. The light began to fade and i thought it a good idea to call it a day and make my way back. Before leaving, I caught a glimpse of some spray painted script in Khmer on a couple of the big rocks. I had no idea what they said but when I looked at my lonely planet later on, I had been instructed to be cautious as not all of the tributaries had been de-mined...
Had an awesome sri lankan curry and a pot of masala tea before being swindled out of 2000 riel for 'the protection of my motorbike'. Another night was spent at the bar, chatting with various long term residents and playing s***head. It seems that the majority of people there had been been there for a minimum of 2 months. I could see how you could get like that without even realising it. One 19 year old from hackney, Harry, had been away from home for nearly 6 months but had managed to rack up 3 months in Kampot alone, not really doing much but sitting by the river and playing jazz licks on an old classical guitar. Another bloke, Shaun, Canada, had been in and out of Bodhi Villa(as though it was f***ing rehab or something) for going on 2 years. He is a voice artist(whatever that is) and makes documentaries. he had previously lived in korea but got kicked out because he had an 'issue with marijuana'. Watching him smoke, I could see why. They asked me to play bass for a gig that they were planning. I stupidly said yes in my drunken stupor without realising that this could well be in 2 weeks time. I think they had forgotten that they had asked me which is a good thing as they were going to play 'jazz fusion jams' whatever the f*** that is. If I had figured out whatever the f*** it was then in all likelihood, I wouldnt have been able to play it and would thus have been referred to as c*** on bass'. Probably.
The following day, which I decided to call my last for fear of getting too used to a lazy existence, I jumped on the bike again and headed to Kep, a seaside village about 30km away where nothing in particular ever happens. A lot smaller than Kampot, but not any less charming, the ride there was just awesome. Swerving past potholes and dodging cows on the road, locals toiled in the paddy fields, children stopped and waved at me and mouintains sat at the back of what was more or less, a pretty perfect piece of cambodian scenary. There is absolutely nothing to do in kep apart from do nothing, perhaps have a coconut and munch on the seafood that is constantly being turned out from the shore. I did exactly that, chewing my way through steamed prawns and grilled crab, gazing at nothing in particular. It was a hard day...
I left Kep at about 4pm, stopping occasionaly to take photos and answer questions about my camera from inquisitive kids who were playing in their front yards. I got back to Bodhi, quite tired but ready to have a quiet couple before heading back off to Phnom penh again the next day. I met a couple of people at the bar who had been there before and had chose to come back because they had enjoyed it so much. We sat and drank for a while until things got a bit ridiculous and we decided to go for a swim. By the time we got back, the bar had closed and we were out of booze. Thierry, this french bloke who has a photography shop in Phnom Penh was staying in a floating bungalow on the river so invited me and this other girl to go and chill out there. We ended up staying there til sunrise; chatting, swimming, hanging out. I am well aware of how 'american college cliche' this sounds... have a look at these pics.
It was pretty special.
I ended up getting an hours sleep before I was due to leave.
The night before i had booked a share taxi to Phnom Penh. I knew that shared would mean that there would be other people than just me in the taxi. What I didnt know that shared taxi really meant 8 people in a 5 seater Toyota camry. Leaving kampot, a Khmer guy sat next to me , squashed in the back, speaking German to me. Occasoinaly I would nod me head with half open eyes and blurt 'genau'. I think he understood that I wasn't feeling my best. Two people were sat in the drivers seat. I don't know which one of them was driving. Perhaps on was using the wheel and the other took charge of the pedal and the gears. I should have asked them. Given that there were 8 of us in the car, I grew slightly concerned that overtaking was done with great gusto and frequency and that conversation roared throughout the journey, glances often being exchanged between front and back. I had experienced some horrific cambodian driving but this was taking it to the next level. I managed to fall asleep for most of the 3 hour journey back to the capital but ended up with a smacking head and cramp in muscles I was unaware I had.
I had realised the night before that I was very low on insulin so I made a beeline for a pharmacy where I ended up having to shell out a quite ridicuous US$190 for 6 vials. What the f*** do you do if you a cambodian diabetic? Die???
Checking into a guest house not far from the riverfront, I decided that it was perhaps time to move on from Cambodia. Time is now my enemy and the more I speak to people and the more I read, the more I realise how much left there is to see and how little time I now have to get there. Laos seemed the best place to venture to next. I booked a ticket to Stung Treng, a cambodian town close to the border and pondered my last night in the capital. I managed 3 hours sleep and was woken up at 7am by the hotel staff banging on my door saying my bus was outside. I stood in the doorway, a towel around me, hair all over the place, bag not packed and blurted '5 minutes'. 3 minutes later, the staff were back again, asking if I was ready. I threw everything into my bag which managed to close first time and ran downstairs, hair all over the place, stains on my t shirt and feeling pretty horrific. I'm not sure whether swimming in the river under the influence was such a great idea but it seemed it at the time.
You would have thought that a 10 hour journey to Stung treng would allow me to catch up with sleep. But picture this; a bus full of unidentifiable cargo, some of which was alive, khmer pensioners, toddlers and general oddbods, sqauking between seats at a frantic pace and khmer karaoke blaring over them. For 10 hours. if you have never heard Khmer Karaoke, listen to this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rr0Z7l-B8EA and imagine it, non stop, for 10 f***ing, relentless, ear bleeding hours. Theres a tv too so you can sing along and watch the awesome videos. This is present on pretty much every cambodian bus. Even when you sleep, you're not really asleep. This WILL perforate your ear drums. Even if you're sat on the back row, with death metal on your ipod at full volume. It doesn't work.
I got to Stung treng, which Lonely planet had described as a 'delightful town to unwind before moving on to Ratanakiri, Laos or Vietnam'. f***ing filthy liars they are. Stung treng is a f***ing s*** hole and don't let any f***er tell you any different. I took one look at it; squalid with s*** all over the floor and decided to book my ticket out of there and into laos traight away. US$15 and I was done. One mini bus and two ferry rides away. All I had to do was wait.
It then occured to me that I had no cash on me so i went to find a bank to get some cash out. But it turns out that the only bank in town only accepts visa cards. I dont have a visa, so I was, as they say, f***ed. f*** you Lonely Planet. I went back to my room and pondered things and then went downstairs to make some sort of technical enquiry over my visa. The lovely LP had told me that I could get a visa at the border so that would be ok as long as I could get some cash out. No matter what happened, i could just stick around an extra day if need be, get a moto to the nearest town to get cash and then get my visa and be on my merry way. Turns out that you cant get a visa at the border. The lonely planet is full of lies. A visa will take 3 days to process, cost me US$70. In order to get these $70, i'd have to go back to Phnomh penh. thre was no town close by where I could get cash out. That was a definite red moment. I wanted to hit someone very, very hard. The guest house owner was beginning to smirk a bit, righteous f***er and I did well not to break his face and in turn get twatted by the Khmer Rouge sympathisers who may or may not have been lurking in the kitchen with cleavers and rat poison. I had 15 dollars in my wallet and managed to swap my ticket for one back to Phnom Penh the next day and breathed a sigh of relief.
Another 4 hours sleep in a s*** guest house and I was back on the road with the ubiqutous Khmer Karaoke blaring. I had been given the front seat this time which was just abso f***ing lutely fantastic... but I did get to watch Khmer traffic and driving habits in a measure of detail that i hadnt had the luxury of earlier in my travels. I saw motorbikes with 6 people on them. Motorbikes carrying what looked like 2 wardrobes, without a trailer. Just a bloke and his 2 wardrobes. On the back of his 100cc motorbike. I saw minibuses with at least 20 people in, perhaps doubling the originally intended capacity. I saw people sat on car roofs, travelling at speed over bumps and potholes and swerving to avoid water buffaloes in the road. I saw people sat on the bonnets, obviously to maximise space. I saw motorbikes carrying massive jerry cans of petrol on the side of the bike. It appears that in Cambodia, the size of your vehicle determines how much of the road you are allowed to steal. My bus overtook everything that came into its path and sometimes near enough ran motorbikes, cyclists and pedestrians into the paddy fields, bearing absolutely no regard for any smaller cars either. Although you are supposed to drive on the right hand side, there seems to be a middle overtaking lane for when you feel like it. But if you want to drive on the left, towards oncoming traffic, then thats just fine too. Buddha will probably save you. Have a look at this. It doesn't even begin to show how bad it can get. imagine this but 10 times worse. No hyperbole. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDkhVbsSprU
I rather sheepishly checked into the same guesthouse that I had left the day before. They didnt ask any questions of which I was glad. I was greeted by the tuk tuk drivers with the now infamous "do you need anything? Weed? Skunk? Crack? Smack?" and retorted with my now, personal favourite, "I am a priest" line. I frantically scoured the internet for a flight to Vientiane as getting my visa and waiting a round would cost me more cash than I really wanted to spend and I couldnt bear the thought of going to f***ing Stung treng again and seeing that smug C of a guest house owner as I rock up, looking all weary and dishevelled and ask him for a hovel for the night. I found nothing and wasnt really relishing the idea of spending more than one extra night in the not so phenomenal pen. I rushed back to the guest house and and explained my predicament to the travel desk. "I want to go to laos and i want to fly and i want to go tomorrow morning". The ticket office was closed so I sat in my room, watched a frankly awful liverpool and slept a couple of hours before going back to the travel desk at 8 am to check for tickets. I was, at last, in luck although it had cost me. I went back to bed for an hour before being woken up again and being told that the credit card machine hadnt worked and they needed to try again. PANIC. STRESS. It worked this time and so a couple of hours later, I found myself say on a Fokker 70 (wish I had taken a picture of this) with Vietnamese airlines, on my way to Vientiane. So far, I'd say its awesome. Up and down up and down. I hope things stay a bit more constant from now on but then again, its not much fun without a bit of drama, is it? I'll miss Cambodia, for all of its nuances. But now its Laos time. Let's get funky motherf***ers! It appears that there is not much to do but I'm sure I'll survive. Could be worse. Could be in England. I'll let you know how I get on. In other news. I'm close to getting to Christ like in my appearance insofar as my hair is getting to that state despite the Bangkok Butcher's best efforts to completely f*** it up, and my decision, for a laugh, to grow a beard, or something that Rafa Benitez might call a beard.
That's enough about me. How are you?