30.03.2012 - 02.04.2012 32 °C
I also met another volunteer, Claire, that week, who was stopping over at Hope Agency for a short while. A junior Cambridge undergrad taking a course in International Relations; we had a couple of interesting political and ethical discussions - but her best talent was music. She had an acoustic guitar and sang in the university choir so we were treated to very good versions of Adele songs and a couple of other melodic covers. The next day, she left for Phnom Penh in the evening and the rest of us prepared for the haul to Siem Reap (although you say "See-emm Ree-epp"). I was a little worried about a long journey with limited stops, as I had already managed to catch the "Phnom Penh Express" and felt like someone had turned on an egg whisker in my stomach.
I needn't have worried however, as the white-knuckle thrill ride that are the Cambodian A-roads is enough to distract anyone. There seems to be only one rule of the road out here, known as give way to the bigger vehicle. Allegedly Cambodians are meant to drive on the right-hand side of the road, but this is scarcely observed. For extra bonus points moto and tuk-tuk drivers sometimes weave and U-turn just in time to avoid a petrol tanker, to what must have been only screams of delight from their passengers. Watching a "shared taxi" - 40 people hanging on to the roof of an old minivan or pickup - dodge an oncoming cement truck was memorable, particularly the moment two of the pickup's wheels left the ground only 6ft away from me.
The bus interchange in the capital was bustling and dirty. After having just acclimatised to the sleepy otherness of Bak Kod village, the big city hub was a little overwhelming with its strong odour of street food and old sewage and the the constant blaring of motor-horns. Silk-clad Indonesian women politely edged past in delicately decorated headscarves and Cham Ladies in sun bonnets chewed noisily on stringy strips of fried meat on benches, whilst small children and limbless tramps went around the bus stops begging and tuk-tuk drivers hassled anyone nearby for business. When we found our bus it was air-conditioned and quite comfy, bar a few of the seats coming loose. Soon, the countryside and madness of the highways was speeding past with pot holes more akin to small meteoric craters caused our bus to bounce and lean like a small vessel until we arrived at Kompong Thom, a hot and dusty town with litter in the streets and small, wary townsfolk. After 7 hours on a bus we were finally in Siem Reap, cramming into the I Win Guesthouse just in time for a tropical storm to hit the city. Torrents of rain arrived in under a minute, absolutely soaking many unsuspecting tourists. Our group made it to a small restaurant before ending up in the aptly-named Pub Street, a backpacker haven where details start to get a little fuzzy....
I don't think the activities of the previous night did much to help my stomach, as I felt pretty rough even as I watched the sun rise over Angkor Wat the next day. You know you're pretty ill when a sight like that fails to register! Things eased up in the afternoon and I was able to take in some of the sheer scale of the reclining Buddha statue at the back of the imposing Baphuon pyramid and Ta Prohm with its invasion of giant tree roots casting alien shadows around the tumbled ruins.
Oh, a quick interesting fact. I am not the first Venning to go to Angkor: in 1969 on the same day of the year my Grandparents were visiting Angkor Wat, just before the terrible strife of the Khmer Rouge era. I have the postcards and guidebooks from then to prove it.
I think, though that I may need to come back in July and get a weekend pass, as I had seen less than 10% of the temples and appreciated even less. Ugh, vile!