Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Cambodia

Update

I'm back in Chiang Mai after 25 days in Cambodia. It's great to be back in Thailand. I had to go to Cambodia to obtain an Education Visa to facilitate my study of the Thai language over the next year.


Chiang Mai

Before leaving I explored more of the area around Chiang Mai. I happened upon a village called Mae Kee which, rather unfortunately, translates to Mother's Shite! I'd love to live here.
Not far from Mother's Shite I parked in front of some sunflowers while I had a coffee with a family from the Hmong hill tribe. The baby looks impressed.
On the way home I spotted this impressive elephant. Gorgeous tusks. I love chilling out with the Mahouts from the Karen tribe. They grow up with the elephants forging close relationships with them. It's amazing to watch their symbiotic interactions. I look on in wonder as I contemplate how man ever managed to tame such giants.
Chiang Mai Zoo

Oil and I had a day out to see the animals. I've been to three other zoos: Amsterdam, Singapore and a Scottish Safari Park. Chiang Mai is as good as any of those.
The main draw is the Panda Bear. The entrance fee to the zoo is 100bt and it's an extra 50bt to see the Panda. We watched it eat bamboo for 10 minutes. That's all it did. Sit and eat bamboo. CM zoo has it all - even penguins. An excellent day. Totally recommended.


Cambodia

On Saturday 18th January I walked to CM airport and jumped on a Bangkok bound plane. I waited four hours at Don Meaung airport where I wrote crap poetry through boredom. I then boarded another plane to Phnom Penh. I was pleased to see my Cambodian e-visa was valid and that it saved me a page in the passport. From the window I managed to snap a shot of Sichang Island, Chonburi Province nestled in the glistening seas of the Gulf of Thailand.





Phnom Penh

At the airport I converted THB to USD at $1=33THB. Unluckily, for me, the baht has weakened since Mr Suthep decided that he doesn't like democracy. However, luckily, his government protests didn't hamper the airports. During my $3 journey to the center of town on the back of a dilapidated scooter I'd realised I'd entered the stone age.


Phnom Penh is a shit hole occasionally punctuated by grotesque displays of wealth. In fact if you look up Phnom Penh in a Khmer language dictionary you will see that Phnom = Shit and Penh = Hole. It's true. As I wandered the streets of PP I was pleased to see piles of trash randomly strewn throughout streets. Complimenting this is the stench of urine as locals gleefully urinate anywhere they like.



To call Phnom Penh 'a bit of a shithole' is like saying David Cameron is 'a bit of a tosser'. Beggars, tramps, whores and scammers on every corner. There are no pavements - you have to walk on the roads risking life and limb. As you navigate the perilous roads by foot you will be asked every step of the way if you require the services of a tuktuk. Phnom Penh tuktuks are odd contraptions whereby a scooter pulls a cart fitted with seats. They're uncomfortable, loud, annoying and like everything else here, shit. On my first night I saw a dead body prone on the road. Blood was flowing profusely from his head while a crowd had gathered at the scene. Another unfortunate victim of the senseless chaos that is Phnom Penh's traffic.


Coincidentally the British foreign minister, Hugo Swire (what a name), visited PP while I was there to give £500,000 to the Cambodian government. I predict ten brand-new top-of-the-range Mercedes to be cruising the pot-holed roads of Cambodia soon. He also said PP has potential. Did he visit the same PP as me? I'd love to know where the potential is.

He visited the new 188m Vattanac Tower near the US Embassy which I'm guessing offers a completely realistic picture of PP. The US Embassy guards warned me not to take anymore photos after this. They also refused to engage in a dialogue regarding Phnom Penh's potential.


I was in PP to visit the Thai Embassy for an Education Visa. In the words of Craig David: I submitted a rain forest of forms on Monday. Returned to pay the $80 fee on Tuesday. Collected my passport on Thursday. Unfortunately, I never made love on Friday. I walked 8km there and back each time passing famous landmarks. This reminds me of when I was a young apprentice in the Royal Navy. I'd just had a short-back-and-sides haircut but the Fashion Police deemed it to be a cult haircut. They made me shave my entire head. Perhaps this is their headquarters?



Independence Monument right in the center of PP. Nearby is a smashed up map. The Thai embassy is on the bottom part that's been ripped off.






The Russians were here once in an advisory capacity. Many of the street names are from that time. Mao Zudong Avenue, The Russian Market etc. Unfortunately the socialist utopia failed to live up to expectations and they're now stuck with awesome neo-liberalism which really knows how wealth should be distributed. It was announced today that the CEO of Barclays (bailed out with taxpayer's money) is to receive a £1.7M bonus while Cameron applies austerity to the rest of us. I guess the Khmers are really looking forward to that kind of Western-inspired governance.




Geordies get everywhere. My Austrian friend Armin turned up in PP and was delighted to visit a toilet that was sponsored by The World Toilet Association. I never knew such an organisation existed. They still have some way to go in Cambodia.

This was my third visit to Cambodia and Phnom Penh. There used to be a lake where backpackers used to stay. It was a great place to hang out. However, since Boeng Kak lake has been filled there's now no obvious backpacker center. I first came for a month in March 2007 and again in December 2008. Cambodia has seen some huge changes since then but it's still decades behind Thailand. I would say the biggest noticeable change is that there are some paved roads now. Work in progress.



Sihanoukville

This beach resort is named after Sihanouk - an old Khmer King. It sounds a bit like Sanuk-ville which in Thai means Fun Town! The 225km took 5hrs by bus. The sense of relief to be escaping PP after 10 days was palpable.

On the first day Armin and I walked about 25km from the Victory Hill area to the southern end of Otres beach and back. I was last here in 2008 and there's been much development since then. It's beginning to resemble a Thai beach resort. Another ten years and I don't think I'll recognise the place. I love these beach huts. $10/night.
Cows are everywhere wandering the dirt tracks.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a boat/microlight contraption. Lounging on the beach watching these at sunset was mint. Austrian Armin makes me laugh when he uses Geordie vernacular with his Germanic accent. His favourite words are mint and minging. Hehe.
I was missing Thailand so much. I missed my girlfriend, my bike, the food and the language. Therefore I was delighted to chat with this lad from Thailand. He's from Buriram and was selling sunglasses on the beach.
Victory Hill is an area of Sihanoukville where washed-out Farangs hang out. The cheap food, 50c beer, easy visas and prostitution make it a top choice for Pattaya rejects. Armin and I called these washed-out Farangs on the hill top: the Hill Tribes. Despite living in paradise with all the above benefits, rarely did we see anyone smile. There was some kind of unwritten rule that you mustn't laugh. Victory Hill is a different world to the main beaches. I loved it there. The street on the left is Victory Hill's main drag. The street on the right is the Chicken Farm.


Johnny Electric (sunglasses) is a Victory Hill institution. I first met him in 2008 when he had long hair and lived off $5/day. Today he has shorter hair but still lives off a penury $5/day. Originally from Germany he's been gracing Sihanoukville's drinking holes for years. When I saw him this time he was half passed out, drinking warm cans of beer while selling second hand books on the beach. Top bloke!


I first met Armin in Malaysia in August 2008. We've remained friends ever since and shared some great travel adventures. His language skills are incredible. I'm constantly amazed how he deploys high-level English vocabulary. He speaks most SE Asian languages including many dialects. He ordered everything in Khmer while we were there and he's currently learning Burmese. An amazing bloke, great friend and such a laugh to be around too.


I couldn't resist this picture. Scambodia? My room in PP (junction of streets 51/130) was $6/night but I ended up with hideous rashes all over my back. The $6/night room at the Marina Hotel on Victory Hill was splendid. Hot water showers, TV, WIFI and clean bedding everyday. After 7 days in the Sihanoukville sun my back soon cleared!

Kep

Kep is very quiet. It's a small fishing village close to the Vietnamese border in the extreme SW of Cambodia. We spent five nights here walking, swimming, chilling, learning Thai and eating fish. Our $11 rooms were palatial. The WIFI was so good I even managed to have video calls with Oil back in Chiang Mai.

Kep is famous for crabs. Crabs? Reminds of my young days as a Royal Navy Apprentice.

There is a very well-to-do resort in Kep called the Veranda. We'd go and rub shoulders with the hoi poloi for $3 - the price of a cappuccino. Situated half way up a hill it affords glorious views of the surrounding jungle and sea. Armin says this view is in his top 5 of SE Asian views!







For $1 you can enter the Kep National Park and trek an 8km loop around Kep Hill. A very enjoyable walk offering views to Vietnam's Phu Quoc Island, the Vietnamese mainland and Cambodia's very own Bokor Hill Station where the French used to cool down in colonial times. A legacy of the French presence here is the abundance of European architecture evident throughout Khmer towns.

My favourite part of Kep. If you walk from Kep beach to the crab market you'll pass this spot. I'd sit here sunbathing, reading, sipping water and simply admiring the view as the sun began to set over the watery horizon. Fantastic. Not far from here was a small shack where you sit in the shade, drink lethally strong coffee for 50c while trying to remember the Khmer words for 1-10.



Each of my five nights in Kep was spent here at the Beach House. They did a sublime Cordon Bleu for $6. Just look at that sunset man. Here I met an Australian English teacher on a break from a Saigon International School. I enjoyed chatting to him for two reasons. Firstly, he made me feel so happy I quit teaching last July. Secondly, he recommended I read Shantaram. I bought this book three days ago and it's a page-turner. I can't put it down. Highly recommended - definitely in my top 5.



Kampot

So far I'd had 10 nights in Phnom Penh (urgh), 7 nights in Sihanoukville (OK) and 5 nights in Kep (good). The final 3 nights were in Kampot. We'd definitely saved the best for last. Kampot sits on a river only 25km inland from Kep. Kampot is so good that Armin composed a song about it which I'll upload to youtube soon. This could be the most laid back place I've ever been. What a revelation.

On the first day we rented a $1 bicycle and rode 10km to some rapids. It was thirsty work so we often stopped to drink water (duk sot) where we'd get to have a laugh with local kids. This little lad was great fun and he was very curious to see his photo on my phone which got passed around the household.

The rapids were OK but I wouldn't cycle 20km to see them again. What did interest me here was the few feet of white paint on each and every tree trunk. After asking around apparently it serves a dual purpose: 1. To keep insects off and 2. To reflect sunlight when the bark is young. MMMmmmm. Learn something new everyday.






Any Khmer infrastructure you see is brand-new. Gleaming newly-constructed electrical pylons convey power nationwide (there are still frequent black outs). Like many SEA countries Cambodia never really developed a PSTN (land line) network. This means they can skip costly cables and go straight to cellular/microwave communication networks. These systems are still being built as can be seen here. Those are brave lads working all the way up there. I remember when I had to grease the bearings of HMS Coventry's main radar in 1994..........shaking like a leaf after climbing the endless ladder.




Kampot's main roundabout. Hectic. Buying a ticket to the airport. Very happy to be going home.








However, before we went home we had one last chance to relax in one of Kampot's most spectacular settings. The rooms are $100/night here but we enjoyed the place for a $2.50 coffee. When things got too hot it's a simple dive off the edge into the refreshing waters of the Kampot river.

Cambodia was a mixed bag. I loathed Phnom Penh but loved Kampot. I felt homesick for the first time since I joined the Navy in 1991. Not for England but for Thailand - particularly Chiang Mai. Now I have the visa I don't have to go anywhere for the next year. I'm looking forward to going to school and starting my Thai lessons next week.


Booze

Before leaving Thailand I got drunk, rode my bike home and fell off it dislocating my shoulder. It still hurts a month later.

In PP I went on a 3 day bender blowing $250 in the process. $150 on beer and $100 stolen by a whore in a bar. I never realised I'd lost money until a few days later when I vaguely remembered a woman passing my wallet to me (and not finding that suspicious at the time - duh).

Finally, in Sihanoukville, I started drinking 1800 Friday night and didn't stop until 1600 Saturday. I passed out on a shop table - a fact three old American dudes would not let me forget the next day. This was after countless cans of 8% Black Panther that I can't even remember drinking.

This, my friends, is why I haven't had a drink since.

Philosophy

Armin's in to spiritual stuff like yoga and meditation. He made me laugh one day when he told me about an Indian guru who said:

If you see a fork in the road, take it.


I have decided to live my life by this nonsensical advice.

Keep living the dream.

Lingo

Setagit - economy
docbia - interest
ngernfer - inflation
plaek - strange
yokwen - except

1 comment:

  1. Cambodia looks really bad (you told me to be nice), I'll leave it to people like Johnny Electric.

    ReplyDelete

Please be nice.