Saturday, 24 October 2009

CAMBODIA BY BUS

So here we are embarking on a 10 hour bus journey across Cambodia. We're travelling up from Sihanoukville in the far south, to Siem Reap in the north and quite close to the Thai border. Apparently the land around it actually belonged to Thailand until quite recent times.
The road goes through the straggling outliers of the Elephant Mountains which are covered in rainforest and cobwebbed by mist. In the valleys between there are rice paddies, single tall palm trees like rows of floor mops, water buffalo wallowing in pools among the pink and white lotus flowers, and stilt houses high above the flood water, all along the road. There's a piglet on a leash tied to the leg of one of them. A stall beside the road advertises itself as the 'Any Book Store', but the shelves are filled with cigarettes and Fanta cans. There aren't many books in Cambodia - looking for one for our little grandaughter either in Khmer (her preferred language) or English was a frustrating experience.
The bus has one or two europeans on it, but mainly Khmer or Chinese passengers. The battered screen at the front is showing the Khmer equivalent of a bollywood movie. There's a shrine to the gods who protect travellers under the television with little offerings and joss sticks. It's obviously needed. We try not to look out of the front window at the four lanes of traffic coming towards us on a two lane road, while the bus is overtaking a moto. Somehow everything avoids everything else and we hope it stays that way.


We stop every couple of hours for drinks and food and the stretching of cramped legs. Immediately food vendors gather round the bus selling banana fritters, french bread, small birds on skewers we'd rather not try to identify, boiled eggs (chick still in) and a range of drinks. Neil tries the fritters, but I'm sticking to things in packets, fresh fruit and ring pull cans. The standard of food hygiene in Cambodia is very low.

At one of the stops an itinerent european musician (his accent is vaguely New Zealand) gets on with various musical instruments strung about his body. He has a goatee beard and is wearing an akubra hat and quite a lot of jewellery. Within ten minutes of taking his seat he is already in conversation with the 'Single Female Traveller' of a certain age sitting three rows back. We hope he isn't pestering her, but later in Siem Reap see them sitting together outside a bar, so presumably his chat-up lines were acceptable!
The further north west we go the more water we see. In places the road has been washed away by this year's intense monsoon and is down to one lane. The dead leaves of the banana palms hang limp where they've been submerged in water. We can see in some places that the field boundaries have been washed away and the rice crop lies flat in the water like fields of wheat after a tornado. There are rumours of an anticipated humanitarian crisis. Several charity vehicles pass us on the road and just outside Siem Reap the UN World Food Programme have erected a tent village.


We are both rather sore and stiff when we reach Siem Reap, but very glad to have seen so much of the country from the windows. You don't get this view from the plane! It's too dark tonight to see any temples, so that will have to wait for tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the tour of Cambodia. I've not been, it sounds fantastic.

    I think your care over food is well worthwhile. There is nothing like a case of Delhi-belly to make a trip unpleasant.

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