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Published: April 6th 2013
At about 7.00am the next morning, after a chaotic and very rushed breakfast, we had to make a decision. I was negotiating few extra nights at Green Suites with Long the receptionist when Janie appeared on the stairs and said, ‘Let’s just go for it!’ Still ‘Ohing and Ahing’ we jumped into a minibus, and from Ho Chi Minh City, headed south-west for the Mekong Delta. There were several stops at ‘motorway services’ - banana leaf shacks at the side of the road - which gave some relief to the relentless heat of the confined minibus and enabled Janie to stretch her aching back. The roads were basic to say the least and our little bus bounced and jarred over the numerous bridges. Eventually we arrived in Vinh Long in the heart of the Mekong and jumped in a little boat for a tour around the ‘floating market’, the backwaters and various other ‘sights’. Finally we arrived at the Floating Hotel in Chau Doc. Having been shown to our ‘room’ (a tiny box) it became apparent that the Floating Hotel was actually sinking! Water washed over the floor and the bed was rock hard. At this point, with a major episode
of humour failure, I went for a ‘little chat’ with the reception staff. After a short, and rather sharp exchange of views, and a hint of ‘dongs’ to come, the now smiling young reception boy instantly upgraded us to an executive suite with a river view Don‘t get me wrong - it wasn‘t really that grand but at least the beds were slightly softer!
Daydreaming… I feel guilt-stricken, dear reader, but duty-bound to inform you of the present circumstances of writing this blog, I am currently sitting in a large circular chair with an even larger deep red cushion. My feet are resting on a wooden rail which surrounds the decking on which I sit,. On the table in front of me is an ice-cold coke and looking out I can see the sweeping silver form of Serendipity Beach, Cambodia. All is quiet! It is 10am and already it is hot and sunny - about 30 degrees. As I sit, typing under a merciful palm tree, all I can hear is the lapping of the water below me and the gentle grumble of a fishing boat setting out from the wooden jetty about 300 yards away. The shack is
What do you think of my cock?
Selling a fighting cock onboard the local ferry!
called ‘Above Us Only Sky’ and is run by a charming couple from Australia - Nick and Vicky. At present there are about 3 people in the place - of which I am one! It is stunningly peaceful! A gentle breeze blows and does its best to tousle my non-existent hair! About 30 yards away, in the upstairs open room of another shack (The Mango Rooms) Janie is taking part in her yoga lesson with Sally from Singapore. Those rooms also share the benefit of open views across the bay to the numerous tiny hazy islands which dot the horizon. This place is only a half step away from heaven!
Anyway back to the blog! After a restful night we walked from the ‘side door’ of the hotel and stepped directly onto a waiting ‘slow boat’ to make our way up the Mekong and towards the Cambodian border. This boat was a huge lumbering wooden affair which showed its intention to transport us at a leisurely pace through endless regiments of mangrove swamps. There is only the occasional sign of life in the form of primitive wooden shacks in which a few people make their homes. Many wave at
The Floating Hotel
at Chau Doc but floating for how long???
the boat and one senses that, given their isolated situation, we constitute the only signs of life in an otherwise featureless day.
We reluctantly part, as instructed, with $25 each and hand our passports to a member of ships staff who is then put ashore at some isolated spot in the jungle. He disappears into the undergrowth with our money and our passports! What an act of blind faith! He will meet us later at the border with our visas ready done, we are assured! Fingers crossed! Apparently this happens several times a day! Sure enough, at the boarder post we are met by our trusty shipmate who has our passports containing a fresh golden visa!
20 minutes later we transfer to a ‘fast boat’. This is a very different craft to the former! It is a torpedo-shaped missile constructed of fibre glass and has a huge engine throbbing excitedly at the back. Now the landscape flashes past in a blur of green and brown. There is a missing panel at the very front of the missile which ensures that ventilation no problem. A blast of cool air rushes in and bathes all the passengers in an endless
refreshing stream. We are told that the journey to Phnom Penh will take about 3 hours. This is not to be!!!
About an hour into our journey, partly due to the need to drink huge volumes of water to replace copious sweating, nature called. At the back of the missile was a small boom-cupboard affair which housed a toilet of sorts! When I opened the door the toxic smell of high-octane fuel hit me like a hammer It was simply impossible to breathe in! It suddenly struck me that there was a reason why our intrepid captain had been spending the last hour steering our boat with his naked right foot (quite common in these parts!) whilst gazing back at the bog door! He suddenly rushed to the back of the boat but by this time the engine had ceased to throb and died with a whimper and a stutter! There was nothing for it but to ground the boat on the nearest bank. And so he ran us aground! It occurred to me that if some fool lit a cigarette, or anything else for that matter, there was enough high-octane vapour to blow us all into lunar orbit.
Luckily no one did! There was a mad scrambling as the ships crew of two ran for the engine compartment and began to shout loudly at it! It appeared that, rather than fuelling the thirsty beast of an engine, the fuel hose had come loose and had been busily fuelling the Mekong River and the rear end of our missile! A passing boat stopped to allow us to ‘borrow’ some of their fuel and with a few hasty repairs, we continued with our journey! Janie and I simply looked at each other! We had been a few moments and a small accident away from celebrating our anniversary in the heavenly realm! Yes - we, The Hoggtrotters, had indeed pulled a hair from the grisly red nose of Disaster.
On arriving, eventually, at Sisawath Quay a young tuk-tuk driver called ‘October’ merrily crashed into our lives. At this point, due to Janie’s bad back, I was laden with two rucksacks, two day bags and a large shopping bag. I began to understand how a pack horse feels! October and I agreed a price to deliver us to our hotel, based on the assumption that he carried half the load up
Our fibreglass missile
the steep quay rampway to his waiting ‘vehicle’.
In the evening we found an interesting restaurant to sample. It was called ‘Win’ - something that, as it transpired, we were highly unlikely to do given that none of the staff spoke any English! To make matters even more complicated , there appeared to be a large cooking device on each table! Were we expected to cook our own meal at the table? So it would appear! The locals confidently ordered various plates of fresh vegetables etc and happily popped it into the cooker! We were stumped - not having a clue what any of the ingredients were - or their Khmer names! Finally we pointed to pretty pictures and hoped for the best! We dined on some kind of pork and weird vegetables - I think!
October insisted we visit Wat Phnom. This is a shrine to a woman named Penh who inadvertently founded the city to which she gave her name. She, apparently, saw a large tree floating down the Mekong River. For some reason she insisted that it was retrieved and split open. Within was discovered four shapes of Buddha in various precious stones and metals.
Run Aground ...
Whilst repairs are effected
Penh was hailed as a saint and a shrine erected to her on a hill in the middle of the city. The Wat is unusual in that it celebrates only women. All the statues and shrines are of Penh and her fellow female ‘saints’. The temple itself is a blaze of colour, with huge gaudy paintings and inscriptions on every inch of every wall.
As we watched various locals prayed fervently before the main shrine to Penh. They placed a pack of large brown cards on their heads and then inserted a knitting needle into them. They then took the cards down and took them off to the priest who interpreted the meaning of the particular card for them. It was a kind of cross between knitting needle Russian roulette and fortune telling.
We were now both desperate to get to the relative calm of Sihanoukville and our friends at the Beach Club. It would give Janie a decent stretch of time in which to recover and provide us both with some ‘down time’. We both agreed that the idea should be to do absolutely nothing for the next couple of weeks - fat chance!!!
Engine compartment is through the toilet wall. Cigarette anyone?
midst of the utter chaos and madness of the ‘Central Bus Station’ where October had left us, we waited for the ‘bus’ to take us the 5 hour journey to Sihanoukville. There is, at present, no other way to get there! A few years ago the authorities flew a plane down there from Siem Reap but it crashed! All flights to Sihanoukville were stopped. So for the last few years there has been an airport with no planes! Only in Cambodia! This fact alone has ensured that Sihanoukville has remained somewhat of a ‘backwater’ but there are signs that progress is on its way. The airport runway is to be extended to take small passenger jets etc. Shortly, if the airport realises its potential, Sihanoukville will open itself up to mass tourism.
It was beginning to dawn on us that, like many of the places we had visited, the relentless march of progress can be heard crashing down the road of tranquillity. We were only being temporarily protected by the earmuffs of time!! (Sorry, Dear reader. I don’t know what came over me! )
And so on to Sihanoukville....
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