Having moved ourselves and our luggage across Bangkok in a taxi for about £5 we booked into the Royal Hotel.It was clearly once a grand place but now in need of some TLC.Explore tend to use fairly basic hotels to keep their prices low.Next we went to the lobby to meet our fellow travellers and Soo the guide for this part of the journey.
There are 8 in the group. They are a mixed bag as you may expect.Fortunately they all seem good humoured. That afternoon we went on a trip. A short walk to the local pier and we picked up a long tail river boat. These are long thin boats powered by a converted lorry engine and boy can they shift. I had wanted to go on one so this tour had covered that.
First stop was the Royal barge museum to see the barges used by the Royal family for state occasions. A bit like the Thai version of the coronation coaches.
Then we went off the main river and along the extensive canal network which feeds into it. It was a bit like Venice but with slums. Most of the houses lining the canals were nothing more than shantys although there were some clearly expensive mansions. Most Bangkok residents live in very small apartments. They have a bedroom and a living room but no kitchens. Soo explained that this was why there are so many food stalls on the streets. Basically the locals don't cook they eat out by the roadside.
After an afternoon on the river we returned to the hotel before going out as a group for dinner. A nice meal and a chance to get to know the others.
Next day we met at 8am to board a bus to take us to the Cambodian border. 2 other travellers had hitched a ride with us. 10 people in a mini bus with all the suitcases....it was snug!!!!The border was 3 hours away and the aircon wasn't great. Driving in Asia makes driving in Rome look like a breeze. It really consists of overtaking at any time and playing chicken with the oncoming traffic. On top of this you have to be aware that mopeds, tuk tuks and small tractors drive against the traffic flow and will join without looking. I decided it was best not to look out of the front !!
Eventually we arrived at the border. There are two ways to get your entry visa. First, you can queue for 2 hours and use the official channel or you can give the cafe owneryour passport and 1200 baht and he will do it in 30 minutes. Truth is I don't think either Thailand or Cambodia give a toss who is coming in or out but it does raise money.
After passing through the Thai immigration shed its a 100 metre walk along a dusty road through 'no mans land' to the Cambodian immigration shed. A nervous few minutes while they check your visa and you are in.
On the other side we were met by Nak our guide. He took us to the bus depot where our bus was to collect us for the drive to Siem Reap. We soon realised something was wrong. Nak apologised and said the bus had left before we arrived. Welcome to Cambodia !!!
Frantic phone calls over the next 2 hours failed to secure another bus so we all jumped into taxis. Four in a cab plus 4 suitcases in the boot. It took three guys to shut the boot !!!
The driver put on his seat belt. Look as we may there were no belts for us. He could barely see through the windscreen for dirt and was constantly on his mobile. I know traffic officers who would wake up in a cold sweat at the thought. Of course some would orgasm at the thought of all that process !!!
Im a bad passenger but what was the option. Off we went and I just gritted my teeth with fear. We drove for over 2 hours. I counted about 20 near death experiences, mostly for mopeds crossing our path. Mopeds are of course designed for two people maximum. Out here its Dad driving, mum behind and two kids wedged between them. Oh and one of the kids is holding the dog.
Eventually we arrived at the hotel somewhat exhausted. Its amazing how a beer can perk you up !!!
Next day we are picked up and its off to the temples. First is Angkor Thom then Angkor Wat. Both are amazing. Huge structures built centuries ago. This was what we had come to Cambodia for. It was a long day in the heat but the experience was well worth it. Much of the film 'Tomb Raider' was filmed in these temples.
At the end of the day we climbed a hill to a temple and sat to watch the sunset. It was very romantic.
We arrived back late at the hotel. We appear to have adopted our own Tuk tuk driver. He calls himself 'spider man' and has a business card. For $2 US dollars he will take us to a bar or restaurant and wait outside to take us back to the hotel. Its dog eat dog in the world of the Tuk tuk drivers.
Tomorrow we are up at 5.30am to visit a temple for sunrise.
Ok its 5.30am and I am seriously regretting that last Long island iced tea. My head is thumping.Our bus picks us up and we head out to see the sun rise at a temple. Fabulous.Back to the hotel for breakfast. Before heading back out we took all our laundry to a local laundry. $6 dollars to wash it, dry it and fold it. I tell you if I could that at home I wouldn't have a machine.
We drove out into the countryside today. A different place to Siem Reap. Poverty everywhereyou look. Rice fields and scrawny cattle. We went to the landmine museum. The three biggest killers in Cambodia are HIV, road crashes and landmines. 3 people a day still die from stepping on mines. They are mostly children. Hundreds of thousands were laid by Thais, Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge. Its heartbreaking to see kids with missing limbs.
Our guide Nak told us that both his brothers and father had been killed by the Khmer Rouge and during the civil war. Also his uncle and all his cousins. In Phnom Pen 90% of the civilians were killed. Problems with a bit of snow? I don't think so.
After lunch we went to another temple. They are everywhere. Then we stopped at a small stall in a village to watch a lady make candy from palm oil. It tasted like fudge.
Back to Siem Reap and a visit to the carving school. Watching local kids learning how to carve wood, stone etc.
Tonight we've been to the local night market. Now in bed. Tomorrow we head off to Battambong by river. 6 hours in a boat. Im looking forward to that.
6.30am and we are up for breakfast. Next its a short bus ride to meet our boat. Its a long narrow motor boat with a canopy. Off we go. It is great fun sailing along first through tight channels lined by mangrove swamps then out into a massive lake.
As we continue up river we come across floating villages. Shanty towns of river people. Their houses are built on bamboo rafts so they rise and fall with the river level. I wonder at how people live in such conditions. The children smile and wave as we pass by. The adults just look on. I am taking photos but am conscious that these are people living their lives and not zoo exhibits. It is difficult to catch the moments without feeling you are intruding.
After a few hours we arrive at another village and stop in what is to all intents the village shop. A cold beer and a sarnie and we are back on the water. Leaving behind the village we are now in a channel that is just slightly wider than the boat and lined with 10ft high mangroves. We've moved into the middle of the boat as some of the branches come inside.
It has been a long and fascinating journey. We have stayed in the affluence of Beverly Hills and today we have seen the other end of the human existence.Poverty on top of more poverty. Strange how everyone we saw today had a smile on their face, unlike Beverly Hills. Maybe there's a lesson in there somewhere.
After 8 hours on the boat we are at our hotel. Time for a cold shower....well you didn't think it would be hot did you !!!!!