Sunday, January 13, 2008

"Then your head is skewered on a stake..."

Greetings from Cambodia, good readers! It's amazing, but yes, it does appear that I update my blog far more frequently when surrounded in land mines than I do from the comfort of my office/lounge room/wading pool. The quality of the post however, might suffer. Then again, it might improve some, too.

VG and I arrived in Siem Reap this arvo, after two and a half/three (I can't remember exactly - I'm still trying to pretend they didn't happen) days from the Thai/Cambodian border crossing at Poipet, via Battambang (pronounced Battambong, apparently). On this journey, and I'm sure you'll hear all the personal stories later, we encountered many things. People drawn carts (big fuck-off wood ones - like you'd expect a horse to pull), more dodgy immigration staff than you could point the biggest stick ever found at, and - get this - a camry mafia. Yes, that's right - a camry mafia. Oh, and there was a landslide onto a construction site too, which was quite exciting, if not a little worrying.

The camry mafia aren't your normal everyday tommy-gun carrying mafia thugs. No. Instead, they wield a steering wheel... of a late nineties Toyota Camry. I could really go on and on here, but I just can't really do it justice - in retrospect, it's one of the funnier things I've ever seen, while at the time, and while still relatively uninformed, it was one of the scarier situations I've been in. Though luckily, it turns out that while I was concentrating on being super-vigilant from the back of our (voluntary) camry-bound prison, my wife was sizing up the driver, figuring that between the two of us 'we could take him'. With what exactly, I'm not sure. Maybe she was intending to bludgeon him into unconsciousness with my camera, whilst I glared at him sternly or something.

Either way, it was a big relief to arrive into Siem Reap today, even if it was by one of the hairier roads I've traversed in my 25 years*. I can see how people who fly into this city, and then fly out again after checking out the temples would never get even the slightest idea of Cambodia as a nation - poor, easily corruptable, and often non-sensical. Don't get me wrong; outside of the Poipet crossing - where there is this Vegas-like strip of casinos in no-mans-land - people are lovely, and as far as I can tell, very hospitable. But it is so incredibly, incredibly poor. In the last three days, we've dined like foreign diplomats on aid-paid junkets... for the ridiculous sum of $10. A $2 tip leaves staff bowing and scraping from your table, leaving you more than a little embarrassed. And it's no surprise really - government bureaucrats earn only $72 a month - and the government is quite clearly the only group with money here. A textile worker (which apparently is quite highly paid here) earns only an average of $41. From there on in, the pay only gets lower.

But that's probably enough of my harping on about a third world country being dirt poor (duh). People will continue to be blown up by land mines, people will still live hand to mouth, and arguably, a semi-secret civil war will continue in isolated areas of the east. For now, I suspect we will try and subtly leave tips behind so as to avoid spectacle.

But now - the cool things we've come across!
* More cake shops than you could throw a oddly-painted mating elephant at (yes, they paint them!)
* 1 litre bottles of Absolute for $10!!!
* Bottles of some strange liquor involving a coiled, dead snake, a scorpion, and a handful of peanuts for $12
* Thai whiskey! $1.30!!
* Curry as far as the eye can see!
* Little Cambodian cats
* Cheap, luxurious accommodation
* Cool temples and carvings and stuff
* Transport via little motorcycle-drawn open air cabs

* Other stuff I'll remember about two minutes after I click 'Publish Post'.

Anyhow, for now I get on with my travels. The next thing on my to-do list is to find out if I can get to a Cambodian McDonalds. After all, no international trip would be complete without adding to my 'McDonalds of the world' diary...

The Rantolotl.

* The road in question:


CJ said...

While the rantolotl has been cake shop spotting - I've been trying to see how many poeple can be fitted on the back of a small scooter. The answer so far seems to be between 3 and 4 adults and 2 -3 children. Or 1 adult and a huge cane cage of pigs. Or 1 adult and about 200 dead ducks...
But the award for most interesting scooter use goes to the guy riding at high speed on the highway, whilst texting...

Anonymous said...

...piglets, thankyou.