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Casino Riel

Shaken and Stirre


Plenty of room in the ash tray. Move on down the rear axel. Can you move down the boot please?. Sir there is still a lot of space in the glove compartment. Just hold on to the exhaust - it is very comfortable".

Oh the joys of shared taxis! There is often a speed/comfort dilema. Do I take a comfortable coach wth a seat to myself for the 150km East bound journey from Kampot to Phnom Phen? But this takes 5 hours Or do I take the taxi that takes the route over a bridge (designed only for smaller vehicles) that dramatically halves the journey? A no brainer for me because I find road travel pretty boring. It does not evesdrop through the landscape from the interesting angles that a train can. The taxi ride however proved to be a must for any trainee contortionist. All was going well. We set off at 8 am. Just myself and 2 local chaps. I was paying $7 which I know was the considerably higher foreigners rate. That was however justified since I was taking up considerably more space than my small 'framed fellow passengers. Then we picked up a local lady. Then, to my horror, 3 more people squeezed into the front passanger seat, albeit one of them was a toddler of 3 years old. So that's 8 people in an ordinary saloon, including the driver.

If that journey was like being crushed like an orange juice extractor, a couple of days prior to this I was clearly in a cocktail shaker of a ride. Kampot is on a picturesque location by the river. Certainly it is tatty round the edges although it is being earmarked for development. There is not much to do in the town although it is is a good base. One day I took a motor bike taxi around some local sites including a decent beach called Kep. On another day I decided to take an excursion to Boker national park. This is where the king used to take a ride on an elephant. Our party were spared the royal luxary though. After a cramped but brief journey in a mini bus and a 3 hour steap jungle trek (whilst walking I saw a millepede the size of a small snake), there then followed 1 hour winding journey on the back of a truck. The road conditions were so horrendous that it felt like being pushed up an endless flight of stairs on a shopping trolly. It was all worth it though despite all my internal organs being completely rearanged on the journey.

We arrived on the top of Boker hill and the view was amazing. In the 1920s the French set up a hill station complete with church, school, shops post office and Casino. The French however abondoned this little village when the Cambodians were fighting for independece in the 1940s. In The 70's it was abandoned again for the Khemer Rouge to take over. It was caught in the cross fire in the war with the invading Vietnames in the late 70s. The numerous bullet holes are a testament to that. It is now all overgrown, deralict and very very spooky. From the carcus of the Casino there is a huge drop into the jungle below. This is where too many riels (Cambodian currency) were gambled away and people jumped to their death to escape their dept burden. allegedly it is haunted. You can imagine the Scooby mobile turning up, with the usual unmasking of the park warden, to which he would protest "I would have done it if it wasn't for those pesky kids" . By the way is Fred gay, does Dafney put it around a little and is Thelma (that's the one ith the glasses) happy after the sex change? Let's not mention Shaggy and Scoobies relationship.

After being seriously shaken and stirred by the preceding few days I arrived again in Phenom Phen. At this point I decided to slow the pace down. The following afternoon I found a tranquil spot by a lilly pond under the shade of a tree. The capital could just about be glimpsed over a number of fields. I sat in contemplation the birds sang their song. For it was around this spot in Cheoung Ek where 17000 detainees held in the S-21 prison were brutally brought here and beaten to death. Also known as the killing Fields. Big holes in the ground mark where the mass graves were.

Yesterday morning with the horrific museum images still in my mind I took the bus to Battembang, the 2nd biggest city. Like Kampot, it is located by the river. And if Kampot is full of faded battered colonial charm then Battembong has even more " run over by a herd of elephants and then squashed in an olive press" , 10 on the GBH scale charm. The town is like a giant unmade bed but I kind of like it.

I will leave this town tomorrow, bed unmade, to take the boat up the Tonle Sap river to Siem Reap for the penultimate leg of my journey. I think I am going to miss the excitement of moving on and arriving at a new destination. In my usually basic but clean hotel the first thing I read are the obligitary police enforced notices. "No explosives. No deadly weapons. No illegal drugs. No poisonous substances. No Prostitution".

I am going to sign off now. In a few hours time I will be retirng to my room to embark on the usual poisonous drug fueled, gun toting orgy which will probably end in a bang.

Posted by gavinbose 01:50 Archived in Cambodia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)


The End

sunny 30 °C

Iits' so easy to get blase on an extended trip like this. Another beach; another temple; another gleaming UNESCO protected old town; another sunset; another sunrise; another bone crunching 4 your journey down a dirt track bumpy enough to masquerade as the surface of the moon.

As far as boat trips are concerned, if you add them all together I feel that I have circumnavigated half way around the world. I have witnessed the fascinating hustle and bustle of Mekong life on its waterways. I have weaved around the limestone islands in the stunning Holong bay. I have also been up the beautiful Nam Ou river form Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw in Lao.

Towards the end of my trip I found myself still being wowed by a boat trip. On 6th December I decided to make the trip to Angkor Watt in style by taking a 7 hour boat journey from Battambang to Siem Reap on the Tonle Sap river. The water levels were low as the boat crashed trough the marshes. Semi submerged tree branches seemed to reach out and grab passengers, perhaps asking for a tip. On this journey we passed through fishing boats, floating villages, schools, riverside communities and tremendous bird life.

The boat trip was a hard act to follow although Angkor did not disappoint. Some of these clusters of (mainly Hindu) temples date back to the 9th century. All are accessible from Siem Reap although transport is required. I bought a 3 day pass. In order to vary the experience I decided to tour around on a auto rickshaw for the first day, bicycle for the second day and motorbike taxi for the first day. Had I bought a 7 day pass then day 4 would have been elephant back, day 5 pogo stick, 6 space hopper and on day 7 I would have used astral projection to take me to the most remote of temples.

Angkor Wat is undoubtedly the 'A list' highlight. Even with the masses of tourists, witnessing sunset at Ankor Wat was magical. The other temples however still have their own unique characteristics, like faces on the Bayan temples and the intricate carvings on some of the smaller temples. As if to add to their mystical nature, many of the temples are so old that they have been strangled by tree routes (eg Ta Promh). To add to the atmosphere often land mine victim buskers play sweet traditional music whilst you wander around. Another highlight of the area is Kbal Spean where carvings are submerged in the River of a Thousand Lingas.

Siem Reap itself is a great place to stay (I patronised the charms of the distinctly non Hilton 'Wats Up' guest house). It is brimming with restaurants bars and fish massages. A fish massage is not a giant Haddock cracking your bones. It is when you practically stick your feet in a fish tank and let the fish eat away your dead flesh. I gave it a go and instantly the fish were gasping for breath.

On my last day at Siem Reap I got pally with my moto driver and was invited to dinner at his house. I met his pregnant wife and 3 year old son and saw where the other half live. Their hospitality was overwhelming even though their so call house was the size of a garden shed.

Teap is pronounced quite usefully as 'Tip' and he was my aformentioned moto driver. He took me to the airport the next day. When I jumped on the flight to Kuala Lumpur part of me was left. I had developed a huge fondness for Cambodia, its people and Indochina as a whole.

Kuala Lumpur, my final stop was a huge contrast to what had come before. It was a giant melting pot that played like a link between East and West or Asia's greatest hits. How about a bit of How about a bit of Chinatown, little India, colonial district with all the grandiose buildings and cricket field in the centre of town? I was staying in an Arabic district. I was never far away from the waft of the wonderful food from restaurants, cafes and ethnic food.

Arriving at 21st century Asia was however like having emerged from a 9 week coma. I initially cowered from the bright lights like a rabbit startled by a car headlights. Initially I mourned the laid back small town feel of almost everywhere in Indochina. I quickly started to like Kuala Lumpur on its own merits though.

In the numerous huge western style shopping Malls I was rudely reminded that Christmas was around the corner. And very christmassy it was for a country where Christianity is a minority religion. The decorations were extravagant and in one mall a female Malaysian singer was belting out cliched Christmas songs about snow and reindeers. She was oblivious to the 30 degree humidity outside.

Of course the Petronas tour dominates the skyline. Gleaming modern stupas worshiping the god of consumerism.
All in all a great place, One thing I like about it is that it is a city with lungs. There are wonderful parks that provide opportunities to glimpse the towers from different. One park is effectively a city jungle complete with monkeys swinging around. Another park was shared with the biggest walk in aviary in the world.

It was on the penultimate day of my trip that I sat on one of the endless steps leading up to the impressive Batu caves. These huge caves are perpetually busy with Hindu worshipers visiting the cave temple. I sat admiring the Kuala Lumpur skyline and was flicking through the pictures on my camera. Suspecting that a cold grey Manchester was only 2 days away I tried to will myself to the time that some of the older pictures were taken. I tried to transport myself to the mountains of Sapa or the streets of Georgetown, Penang. It didn't work even though I had been sipping a can of Kickapoo Joy Juice. This was a popular Malaysian fizzy drink, and I hoped, a space time vortex lubricant. As a last resort I searched in vain for a discarded Tardis and eventually came to the conclusion that I could not play with time.

Alas the end of my trip, a journey of a lifetime. At least I still have the photos, the memories and the dodgy souvenirs and also the ability to dream of my next trip.

Posted by gavinbose 16:02 Archived in Malaysia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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