Cambodia March 2007
Land of the hot. humid, and dusty. Where over priced tourist attractions meet the poverty and village ways of people who dress their babies in nothing but a gold necklace, earrings, a bracelet and perhaps an anklet.
Ancient Wats waiting to be rediscovered by thousands of tourist being overcharged to run around crazy with little and big cameras alike still with their stickers on indicating they were just bought for the trip. Large tour groups with loads of Korean’s, Japaneses, Chinese all wearing a hat, most in long sleeves and many with some sort of umbrella to protect and shade them from the sun.
I in my shorts and tank top with a sporty back pack and inappropriate walking shoes, however better than the girls over dress and sporting 5 inch heels.
Zach and I headed to Cambodia after a few days of relaxing on Ko Chang (Ko means island in Thai) in South Eastern Thailand and saying good-bye to my other friend Nathan. We took a 10 minute taxi ride in the back of a pick up lined with benches. Winding up, down and around the hills of the island that’s entire interior is National Park.
Waiting in the blazing sun for the ferry to come we hunker under a palm and I jump at the chance to pull out my sarong and swim suit in hopes it will dry after my morning swim. We met the minivan parked outside at 8am filled with tourists all going to Siam Reap. We take a 40 minute ferry ride back to the mainland then jump back on the minibus that is “air conditioned” we make several stops not ever really believing we are “on the road” We head out for a 4ish hour ride on good road weaving in and out of traffic passing every vehicle that gets in our way and honking like it was a requirement. We pull into a place that says visa, we go in and give the women a photo, our passport, some money and a form we just filled out, she leaves and we all exchange looks as you normally do when someone walks away with your passport and money. Someone always smiles and says “hope she comes back” with a nervous but lite harted chuckle as it’s too hard to believe they actually wouldn’t!
Convientiently there was a restaurant attached to the visa building, and since we had 45 minutes and it was jut passed lunch time and who knows when or if dinner will happen we all grabbed food.
All at once (as it always seems to happen that way) it’s time to go. We all jump back in the minibus, but wait, where are the passports with our visas!? Someone was told we’ll get them at the border……. More looks were exchanged.
Getting out of the bus was all at once chaos, there was a Thai man that spoke good English that had jumped on the bus saying, “Welcome! I will be your escort across the border, keep everything close to you walking across the border as the people are very sneaky” when we got off the bus someone stuck me with a little piece of yellow tape and gave me my passport, it was a race for the border walking passed vendors and beggors, children stopping you in your tracks while you try to push by without hitting them with your giant bag. I looked up just in time to see a full grown man kick a little girl no more than 4 so hard both her feet came off the ground at the same time she let out a scream and instantly broke into tears. Just look ahead and walk I told myself so disturbed, sad, wanting to grab him by the hair and yell at him, but I just walked.\
Crossing through a corridor and coming out to a street the sights were an instant change. It’s illegal to gamble in Thailand so there are casinos that line the streets, but you can almost instantly tell the country is less developed and poorer by the modes of transport, the roads. We get in line to get our passport stamped while many tourists fallow suit behind. It feels about 110 degrees and I’m just feel as thought there is a layer of sweat covering my body.
There are fans place up high that help a little but everyone is miserable, Large bags are being kicked along on the dirty floor as nobody can be bothered to wear them for so long. (we get cut in front of) of well, the bus won’t leave without us. A Cambodian women sits down next to me and asks where I’m from, when she hears I’m American she replies “me too” granted her English is so bad I can hardly understand her, but then her husband sits down in his suit looking very clean and well to do. I’m from the United States I repeat, he answers, “me too” (we get cut in front of again)
So I did hear them right! He goes on and says they live in Tennessee! They had been living in California but moved, then a police officer comes and he gets excorted to the front and he’s apologizing as I notice his American Passport, but goes on his way because his nephew is waiting with his car to take them to their home that is 20 minutes away.
Somehow the line behind us is getting smaller and the line in front isn’t moving very fast. An hour plus later we notice there is NOBODY behind us, yes we are now in the back of the line! How this happened is still beyond us but it did, those sneaky people cutting in front of laid back us, I try to give people a little bumper so that I’m not crowding too much and WHOOSH just like that the space is soon filled with a sneaky person. Even a girl I was talking to from Korea that seemed so nice, quiet, and innocent, was a swooping cutter as well!!!!!!
Well, the bus did wait and we finally boarded and took a small bus to a terminal where we were told to change money into ‘real’ the Cambodian currency. I’m not going to be last so we hurry and get on the first bus. The old bus fills up fast and we are all just happy to be on our way as many of us had been told we’d be there by 8pm at the latest and it was already 4pm. The border crossing took so long! As we set out, our escort jumps up and says “welcome to Cambodia! The road is still not paved, but we are hoping it will be finished by 2008” We have about 160 km to Siam Reap and it will take 6-7 hours! There were many of those looks exchanged again. Zach and I sitting in opposite seats in different rows find each other and just laugh, it has already been such a long day! Not 30 minutes into the drive we hit a HUGE pothole and you could tell something wasn’t right with the already rickety bus. We pull over and everyone starts to get out of the car. We are really out in the openness of Cambodia. The sun is setting with a foreground of a few huts with children playing, a dirt road with cars attempting to whiz by and some young travels annoyed with the breakdown. Everyone lights a cigerette and Zach and I find some quiet on the other end of the bus away from the cigerette smoke and negative comments. I enjoyed watching the sunset and the landscaping falling at piece, Our bus driver in hi cut off jean shorts, sandels, big straw hat, and old shirt pulled out his cell phone! Triple ‘A’ maybe!? It started to get dark so I rummaged around to find my headlamp and gave to the drive as he laid under the bus trying to fix whatever was wrong. Shorty after a man on a motorbike pulls up and drops off some cables and a tool. A few of us clap as nobody knows how to say “thank you” in Cambodian (yet).
The bus is fixed, for now, and we are on our way!...........
We pull over again, this time it’s dark and people are more reluctant to get off the bus. We sat around for sometime trying to find entertainment in conversation, but everyone had such long days it was difficult to find interest. Somehow there was a building that someone ventured over to explore. It was a Cambodian style Costco! It was FILLED with boxes of various things. Water, candies, bread items, pencils, you name it. People found snacks and water to hydrate. There was a story in the Lonely Planet guide book of tour companies taking a longer more bumpy road to make the journey more uncomfortable so upon arrival when the bus just takes you to a guest house you will just stay. Someone brought this up and I rolled my eyes thinking how silly to fake a break down. They were planning on stopping, but at some restaurant along the way for dinner.
A girl with her sister on the back of the motorbike pull up and asked what happened, her solution is for all of us to come to her house, just beyond the bus. We say no thank you, and after a few more tries by the girls they go on there way. A moment later the two sisters are running down the road holding hands and giggling they approach our group and take my elbow pulling me and wanting us to go with her. I finally ablig and another girl came with me. We came to her home just near the bus and as we walked up to the room with no walls and about 10 people sitting around watching a small television the girl who was 20 and much shorter than I, but dressed in jeans and a zip up sweatshirt and hair in a ponytail, I teased her about the heat, had pulled a chair and insisted I sit down. She shoed away a boy lounging in another chair and offered it to her other guest. Everyone was looking at us, some would look a long time, some a short minute then look back at the Soap Opera type show that was playing. I pointed to someone and asked if she was a friend, she said, “no, sister” I did again to another girl, same answer, to a boy, “brother” she said, all family. I had to ask how many kids, “nine” and then a young Monk walked in, “my brother, the Monk” she said. My heart is beating fast, I never thought I could have this experience. I look over to my right from where I came and see a man with a Women facing him kneeling down and holding her hands as if praying to him, or paying respect, or something.
As they approach she says, “my Mother and Father” the man was dressed as I will later learn is a very common way this village people are dressed. A sarong type piece of cloth that is tied around the waist but is short, above the knee. I later saw men doing road construction work, lying around, working on the road, tending to their water source etc in this. As he comes closer I notice his entire bare chest is tattooed in a very ‘tribal’ looking way.
He says something his daughter that had brought us here and she translates and asks us where we are going? We say Angkor Wat, he wants to know why. I say, “to learn, and see” he asks but why, I don’t know what he wants to hear. She offers, “to visit?” I say “Yes, to visit” he English is great, she offers us something to drink, if we want to stay the night. We can stay and learn her language, she attempts to teach me how to count to 3, but the sounds are so foreign we all just laugh.
Finally time to go from this place, she seemed very pleased with our visit and it was nice to have such an authentic experience. Later while broken down a village man brings his shy little girl by the hand closer and he speaks enough English to ask how old his daughter is and what his name is. “James Bond” he replies, all of us laugh.
Around 1am we finally arrived in town, a good 7 hours later! Our ‘escort’ stood up and told us that since the bus station was closed and it was so late he has called and his friend has a hotel with enough rooms for all of us, both AC or with a fan. The suspiscion grew in the bus that they had planned all this. A lot of times the people that deliver travelrs to a hotel will get a good commission. I didn’t care it had been a very long day and I wanted a shower and a bed!