Well this has to be the most bizarre location to be writing a post for my website – we are currently on an old boat, slowly cruising up the Stung Sangker river from Battambang to Siem Reap (Adele, this is your chance for the second instalment of the ‘following waterways on Google Maps’ after your virtual trip down the Suez Canal!). For those that have seen it, think Martin Sheen in the boat in Apocalypse Now – “That’s Cambodia, Captain”. But more of that later.
Monday began with yet another early morning and a 4 hour bus ride from Bangkok to the border with Cambodia at Aranyaprathet – then the silliness began. The guide books all talk about the various scams on offer around this area, the first of which was the tuk-tuk driver who promised to take us from the bus stop to the actual border 5km away taking us to a fake ‘Cambodian Consulate’ to get a visa before we’d even left Thailand which we saw coming and managed to avoid.
The border itself wasn’t too bad if you just ignored all the touts (save for the interminable wait for a passport stamp, caused by 30 or so Russian tourists barging their way to the front of the queue.
We bought a ticket for a shared taxi in Poipet (the horrible border town nearby) to Battambang and jumped into the car. We drove around the corner and stopped by the side of the road, 500 yards away, apparently to pick up 2 more people. After a 20 minute wait, the taxi driver and his mate suddenly sprinted off in the direction of what appeared to be a local who’d just come over the border and had grabbed a moto taxi to the town. They then seemed to sort of wrestle the guy off the back of the bike, one man grabbing the ‘lucky’ passenger and the other grabbing his bag and led him to our car. At which point, another taxi driver laid claim to the vital human cargo and tried to steal the unperturbed local’s bag from our man. A sort of schoolboy tussle ensued, won by the imposter, and we lost our chance of immediate departure.
A 30 minute period then followed during which ‘we’ attempted a couple of other minor kidnaps and drove around the dusty back streets picking bags and other people up but eventually we were off, and after a very squashed couple of hours, we arrived at our destination.
Initially, Battambang (inexplicably pronounced BattambOng) didn’t fill us with much hope. Fairly dirty and quiet, a little bit shabby and quite dull we thought. But after a drink on the rooftop of our hotel and a chat to some of the locals, it sounded like there was much to see in the local area and motorbikes was the best way.
Next day, I attempted to ride a manual gear motorbike to the end of the road and back with, err, limited success. So we each took a guide with us for the day who drove the bikes and led us to the best sites which were down bumpy, dusty, unmarked roads so I think it was best we didn’t attempt it on our own.
The first site, some caves used by the Khmer Rouge to kill hundreds of people during their short reign of power in the late 70’s, was reached by driving down an incredibly dusty road, orange dust covering everything in sight including trees, houses and people! “Cambodian snow”, my driver told me – it is a joke they are very proud of but not a bad one in truth and very apt, given what we are reading about conditions back home.
A day of arse-punishing roads, local temples and amusing times teaching our guides some English slang (“she is fit”, “big tits” etc. was the general theme) left us exhausted and quite, quite orange from the ‘snow’.
Another early morning and now we are on our way to Siem Reap, home of the famous Angkor Wat on the river, which is such a good way to travel, seeing the people living by, and on the river going about their daily chores and small children waving enthusiastically at the site of the farangs chugging past.
In 7 hours time, we will be there – we intend to stay for a few days as Angkor apparently takes 2 days to see properly and we could do with a rest (these early mornings get a bit silly after a while). Our hotel has a pool and Annika is 2/3 of the way through War and Peace so some reading shall be done.