Cambodia is just trying to recover from 30 years of armed conflict as opposed to Thailand who has not been at war for 100 years and has the longest reigning monarch in the world. The infra structure has suffered and most of the roads are really dismal and dusty. The red sand on the side of the roads gets covered by falling leaves and people sweep the leaves back towards the jungle, creating perpetual dust clouds.
I went to the landmine museum which is very relevant and educational. An ex-soldier and deminer established it with contributions of various organizations. I then toured a bit of Siem Reap and booked the boat to Phnom Phen for tomorrow morning. In the evening I met Saren in front of Angkor Wat for a good bye dinner. She showed me her school books and gave me some pictures for Bob in her school uniform. She also gave me a traditional Khmer scarf. She wanted me to choose one but I said she should pick it. She and two of her girlfriends then knotted the fringes.
A pick up truck crammed with people and luggage picked me up at 5.45 and brought us to the boat, which was about an hour's drive. Only Quebecers can remotely imagine what the dirt road was like.
I got a room at the Hotel California but only for one night so far. I look out onto the confluence of the mighty Mekong and the Tonle Sap rivers and there is even a third one joining in nearby. Ask any Feng Shui person on how auspicious that is. I went to Sharkey's and the Martini Pub, played some pool and had a very fun evening.
I got to stay on at the hotel and took a tuk tuk to the Russian Market. I bought a DVD Movie for 2$ that doesn't work on my laptop (as compared to one I bought in Chiang Mai, which was fine) but works on a DVD player, and went on to see the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, which is not for the faint hearted. It is where the main sadists of the Khmer Rouge committed many of their atrocities. I thought since I'm here and in order to understand the history and the people etc.......When I exited the most hideously disfigured beggars approached me. Luckily my tuk tuk driver was waiting.-
The neighboring establishment has the bad custom to broadcast ceremonies like funerals and weddings etc. where monks preach and chant through a PA system. It went on all day yesterday and started at 8 am this morning. I decided to follow the call of the sea and go to Sihanoukville by bus at noon.-I'm staying at the Emerald guesthouse due to the fact that my guesthouse of choice was full. Not a particularly enchanting place but it will do for 6$ a night. I just didn't want to ride around with all my luggage. They only have motorbike taxis and no tuk tuks. The driver, my bag behind him and then me and my knapsack. You don't want to do this longer than necessary. I went to the Shiva Shack Beach Bar and had a few beers with some Scottish people.
Monday, Feb. 6th
I rented a motorbike and drove around the peninsula. I stopped at a beach for a while and had some Rambutan fruit which might have given me the runs. I booked a boat-snorkeling tour to the islands for tomorrow. I spent the evening in my room, close to the bathroom. It drained me and during the night the power went off and therefore the fan. Just as I was mustering my last strenght to find a better hotel it started raining for the first time this trip.
Tuesday, Feb. 7th
I got up at 7.30 pleasantly surprised that my guts had settled down. We went to three different islands and one, known as Bamboo Island (every archipelago seems to have one) had the Ko Rui Beach Huts on them. About 10 thatch bungalows on the beach (8$ a night) and a bar restaurant. That's all on that island. It is an ideal getaway for anybody who wants to get away from it all. No vendors and a golden beach. Electricity is available from 18-24 hours. The underwater flora and fauna is interesting but the visibility is not very clear because the sea is choppier and has a little surf.
A most fascinating shared taxi ride back to Phnom Phen. Two Cambodian girls in the back and the driver and me in front along with a cargo of coolers we picked up from the local hospital and courier mail. A good deal for 8$ for the 3 hour trip, which I opted for because my bowels are still fragile. Before that I went to the pharmacy and in my most expressive sign language explained my problem.
A van took us to the boat and we went down the Mekong to Vietnam. More action and more industry in Vietnam. I like the typical boats they build. They're wooden, sturdy and Chinese - junk like but sleeker and come in all sizes. We moved into a guest house in Chau Doc and I had dinner with Audrey, a cute 25 year old French girl that has been travelling the world for the last six months and is going for a full year. Gotta admire that spirit, especially with a budget of 10$ a day! She told me what a good time she had in Iran and how nice the people were in the country side, totally contradicting the image one gets from watching the news about Teheran these days.
We visited a floating fish farm and a Cham (ethnic minority) village and drove on to Cantho City where I'm staying at the Huy Hoang Hotel until tomorrow morning 7am.
We took some relatively small boats to the floating markets and through some small canals past some orchards. The Mekong Delta is vast and fertile, producing lots of rice, fruit and fish. Went on to Mytho and am staying at the Cong Doan Hotel.
More orchards, coconut candy factories and canals as well as bonsai gardens. Just arrived in Ho Chi Minh City and am staying at a nice top floor (6th) room at the LeLe Hotel. All the comforts of home. Feels very nice after the last couple of backpacker type accomodations, which however made me feel like a teenager again.
This town has something very special. The food is amazing and costs very little. I had mixed fried rice in a pineapple shell for 1.50$, a Saigon Export beer for 70 cents and then a Vietnamese rice wine (25cl) for 80 cents. The alcohol content is between Sake and Schnaps. The people have a certain charm and sophistication and some address you in French. I applied for my Chinese visa and tentatively reserved my flights to Shanghai, Seoul and Tokyo. The architecture is interesting, my 20$ room has beautiful art deco stucco work on the ceiling and pillars in the corners, no doubt remnants of French colonialism.