Published: April 5th 2011April 5th 2011
Heard of Smoking Popes, but....
For the first time in all these years I am sitting down to write a travel blog with no notes, no journal and no plan to guide me. For the first time I am writing this because I feel like its expected of me. In the short time since I posted last, on that early morning in Koh Chang, I feel like I have experienced more than I did most months I was here last time. My theory is that when you have 6 months, you feel like you have all the time in the world, so you waste it. When you only have 2 weeks, you savor every minute. During the past 6 days in Cambodia every minute has been an adventure, every minute the equivalent of an hour in the real world. Last time I feel like I was a collector of stories, a collector of images, building my collection to share with everyone back home. This time Jamie has helped me slow down and notice what is going on between the lines on the pages. She has helped me see beyond the borders of the viewfinder. I have now seen Cambodia with eyes instead of a lens. I
have done the best I can to put my mind at ease and let the experiences come and go without looking for the best headline.
So, that's all great for me and for Jamie, but kinda sucks for you, because I really don't know where to start. Guess I'll just start where I left off before...
Our day of diving in Koh Chang was amazing. Two dive sites with lunch on a secluded white sand beach. Crystal clear waters giving way to blues you can only see in Thailand. The marine layer was there along the horizon, but the sun was shining and it couldn't have been more perfect. Jamie did amazing on her first two 'real' dives and our divemaster was impressed with my skills after being landlocked for so long. If I was keeping a checklist of things we set out to do, this would have been check #2 after our 24 hours in Bangkok. That night we saw the only rain we have seen the whole trip. It really seems the weather forecasts here are less accurate than Colorado...if that's even possible. But overall it was a beautiful day that left us high on life.
Sunrise at Angkor
A high we rode until we ran down some people on a motobike with a bus the next day.
Yes, the overland trip to Phnom Penh only took 12 hours, as advertised. The van to the ferry to the bus to the border...no problem. The border crossing? The hellish Cambodian-Thai border crossing? 10 minutes. Stamp, visa, stamp, done! Taxi to bus...bus to the capital. We were 45km out of Phnom Penh and were even going to have time for a shower before meeting Billy at 7:30pm. I wasn't even tired. And that's when it happened. The screeching of brakes, the turn of the wheel and our bus almost on its side. But we were the lucky ones. Looking out the window, it seems the people who flew off the motobike were lucky as well. The driver of the bike, the one still under the bike...not so lucky. We watched from the bus as the bike was lifted off him, his arm lifted in the air and then dropped like a rock. I thought for sure he was dead. But a few minutes later, he was up. Covered in blood and dazed and confused, but he was alive, so it
Jamie at Angkor Wat
was time to go. Our bus took off, drove 20 minutes and then the motobike had its revenge. We pulled over on the side of the road and proceeded to wait for another bus. Evidently the accident did a little more damage to the bus than originally thought. We waited 15-20 minutes and then jumped in a shared taxi with a bunch of locals. This is the beauty of only traveling for 2 weeks, having a good job at home and not being on a backpacker's budget....a few extra dollars is well worth a few extra hours!
24 hours in Phnom Penh with a friend from San Francisco who is high on life like its heroin? Yes, I recommend. Billy got himself a tan, taught himself some Khmer and made himself some friends. Bill Kornele was a balloon inflated with happiness ready to explode and it was awesome to witness! Between his lust for Cambodian life and Jamie's amazement at how we traveled to a different world in only a matter of hours was enough to keep me entertained. Sitting at the same outside cafe, on the same river, in the same city that I sat exactly 5 years
ago with Jamie and Billy, two people whom I didn't even know then, was really eye opening. Incredible how much my life has improved in such a short time.
I think my favorite image of Phnom Penh this time around with always be seeing the girl I started dating a few years ago (the little hippie vegetarian who lived in Duboce Triangle) being supported by the heavy hand of an ex-Cambodian military man while she worked up an appetite blasting off AK-47 rounds, before putting down a lunch comprising of fried pork. I've done so well with her!
We took the night bus to Siem Reap so we wouldn't waste another day traveling. Logical and dumb. The night bus is a cattle bus. Not literally, but it's seriously ridiculous. 3 bunks high with aisle ways as thin as a sheet of paper. We had bottom bunks which is awesome when you're claustrophobic. After not breathing for 6 1/2 hours, it was nice to get that first breath of thick, hot, wet, not-so-fresh air. It was at this bus stop that we met our moto driver who took us around Angkor for the next couple days. He got us
to the hotel, we ate breakfast, took a quick nap and shower and we were off. We did a few temples that day...local stuff like Angkor Thom with Bayon, Ta Prohm and some other smaller temples. The next day we did sunrise at Angkor Wat and instead of Bang Mealea (which I did last time), we took a 1 hour drive and 2K hike up to Kbal Spean and then did Benteay Srei. I highly recommend both, even though I lost 10 lbs of sweat during the hike and would have given up at the 600M mark if it weren't for Jamie. Have I mentioned it's hot here...and no rain? Weather forecasters are stupid. But at least it's not as hot as last time...not nearly as hot as last time. We are very fortunate when it comes to the weather.
Speaking of Jamie...her new favorite things are geckos, bugs that are cute or have cool colors, Cambodian food and tuk-tuk (or whatever they are called here) driver's who decorate their rig...and of course Cambodian babies.
Yesterday I hired a driver and a car. The negotiations started out at $400. I ended up paying around half that...but had to
Told this story already, don't need to tell it again
leave the English-speaking part on the table. That didn't seem like a bad trade until something happened in Battambang today...something that involved a crazed man coming at our driver and our car with a knife. I'm not going to go into detail here, but if you are traveling up to Phnom Sampeau or checking out the Killing Caves, don't hog the road if a van is coming up it. They might stall and not be able to get moving again. Sometimes that van might be carrying 20 people...men, women and children...and sometimes that van driver might be drunk and might blame you for his van stalling. Nothing good can come of this. Seriously one of the scariest situations I have been in while traveling.
Other than our little incident on the road, Battambang (c'mon, say it with me...Bat-um-bong...it's so much fun) has been a great city. We even rode the lorrys (bamboo trains) today, which was a highlight. I missed this stop last time around and am really happy we made it today.
So, to sum it up...diving in Koh Chang, overland trip to PP, 24 hrs. with Billy, Killing Fields, SR-21, shooting automatic weapons, food, food and
The Khmer Billy
Billy and I in PP
more food, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, temples, temples and more temples, drinking on Pub Street, eating crocodile and snake, road trip to Battambang, almost getting killed (not really, hopefully) by a crazed driver and now staying in an amazing 7-room French villa in Bat-um-bong...it's been a ride and it's not over yet. Tomorrow we head South...just not sure where.
This is by far the best short trip I have ever been on. Pictures to follow...this computer sucks and I've been sitting here too long!
There are more photos below