Saturday, January 7, 2012

Angkory Birds

Ever ridden in the back of a pickup truck down a rough gravel road? Of course you have. But have you done it for six and a half hours? That was what our bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was like. Except that we had seats and air con. And the air con was blasting through the broken vents that I shoved Maclean's inserts into to save us from frost bite. And I'm not going to describe in detail the condition of the onboard toilet. But I do respect Leah for making use of it. Twice. Must've been the Angkor beers. I purposely dehydrated myself to avoid such fate.
Aside from the facilities, we took this $10 VIP bus ride to see the Cambodian countryside.  As you leave PP the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers dominate the land: flooding into rice paddies and stretching across the floodplain as far as you can see. About an hour out of the city it becomes more arid and large piles of hay (in yards and on trucks) dot the fields and cattle appear at the roadside.  But it's still flat, aside from two large hills (think Pilot Mound in Manitoba).
I've noticed that people of similar skill sets tend to congregate - if there's one bakery on a block then there'll likely be more bakeries on the next block. And so it was along #2 highway. We'd see one guy carving stone statues and 30s later there'd be 4 more doing the same. Same for tiles, woodwork, etc.

Siy, who gave us all hugs when he dropped us off at the bus, had arranged for an old high school friend of his to pick us up in Siem Reap. He even texted our names ahead so that we would know which tuktuk guy was ours. Sure enough when we pulled into the dusty, dimly lit compound after dark, we quickly spotted the sign "Julie Andrews McBannister III Winnipeg" being held up to the window. We were glad we had the ride waiting since it felt pretty sketchy there.
Bondal was an amicable young fellow with a big smile and obviously very appreciative of our business.  We polished off the case of beer on the tuktuk ride in to town and noted the stark contrast between the area where the bus stop was and the bright, glitzy tourist area. And we hadn't even yet seen Pub Street that reminded us of Chaweng or Patong. As we neared our hotel, both Blaine and i were taken by surprise at the largesse of it, glowing across the river. It once again firmly placed us in the flash-packer demographic.  I hope got us a good price at the Angkor Riviera.