Tuesday, January 11, 2011

American Stinky

We bounced away from Kep on the bouncy bus, which conveniently stopped after about ten minutes to let us all out while the driver got nice and oily tinkering around in the engine. We sat on the grass in the sunshine while word spread among vendors back in the town that a bus had broken down, and a few minutes later our every street food desire was being fulfilled by carts selling meat on sticks, bread, water and unripe mangoes with weird little bags of salt (I bought one and wasn't sure whether that was how you eat them in Cambodia, or maybe as a naive foreigner I'd gone and chosen the wrong mango)

We watched the bus driver smile cheerfully as he chatted on the mobile, which gave no clue as to how screwed our bus was - it didn't seem like the kind of thing that was going to break his day. As it turned out, our bus was pretty much useless - it had been much nicer and shinier than the one we came in on, clearly the shiny buses do not work so well and are not to be trusted. A less shiny rescue bus came along shortly and we continued to Phnom Penh in suitable amounts of squalor.

This was just a quick stopover - we were thinking about getting the boat to Siem Reap but decided that it left too early (7am) and cost too much ($35) - the buses went all morning and cost a fraction of that. Phnom Penh seemed crazy, noisy and filthy after Kep. Probably because it is all those things. Unfortunately we were a few days too late to witness the wedding of two snakes in a nearby village.

We set off on the bus to Siem Reap the next day. The predicted 4-6 hour journey time was in fact seven hours, it was quite a rough journey. We stopped at a cafe for lunch, and Dgym and I shared a steamed dumpling which turned out to be pretty much the Cambodian equivalent of a Cornish Pasty, only breadier. We stopped again in the middle of nowhere about 20km short of Siem Reap to allow the bus radiator to cool down, the driver to have a smoke, and several dozen mosquitoes to join us for the final leg. By this time we'd run out of water and long since had enough of the journey and decided that five hours was about our limit for bus travel.

So we were infinitely thankful when we arrived at Siem Reap and were greeted by the grinning tuktuk driver from our hotel. We've never been so pleased to see a tuktuk driver, and sitting down and drinking water never felt so good!

We took the next day off to take it easy, then the following day we rented bikes from the hotel and rode up to the Angkor temple complex, a vast park full of crumbling stone temples, the ruins of the ancient Khmer empire. This includes the enormous Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious building. We had a lovely but very hot, thirsty and sweaty day riding around seeing some of the highlights. The scenery between the temples is beautiful too - mostly shady forest on the loop we did, but sometimes opening out a bit more and sprinkled with palm trees and cows. A particular highlight (and my favourite) was Ta Prohm - over time, trees and temple have become one, and it's sometimes hard to tell them apart.

Bike (11/365) There are plenty of places to stop for a little light refreshment during a day at the temples. Everywhere we stopped off we were offered water, fruit, hats, little bracelets, "Something to eat, lady?" (we are still arguing over which one of us was being called lady). When we finally decided to stop for lunch, we made the mistake of being separated for a second and were both pounced on by separate restaurant owners and managed to cause a bit of a fuss because they'd both seen us first and therefore each was indignantly staking her claim on us. We felt so objectified, but at least it meant we were hastily offered discounts in each place. They proceeded to squabble and moan like five year olds and left us just wanting to have a quiet sit down under a tree - but they'd seen us now and kept following us. We decided to go with the less annoying one, and as soon as we'd made our decision the fighting stopped.

However, the main highlight was trying to buy water after we emerged from Angkor Wat, hot and sweaty and ready to call it a day. We were approached by a young girl who had clearly found her target market and attempted to sell us a large water for $2. We pointed out that we could get it for about 50 cents in the cafes and shops. Not at Angkor Wat, she pointed out. Only pond water costs 50 cents at Angkor Wat. The price dropped quickly to $1 and then to 0.75. We didn't have far to go before we'd find a shop so we turned away and got on our bikes. She called us "American Stinky" and flounced off in a sulk.

We spent the next day recovering from visiting the temples - we lounged around town, ate food, drank fruit shakes, shopped a bit. There's some pretty cheap food to be found here - you can eat for a couple of dollars in the cafes by the old market. We've been staying a 20 minute walk from the town centre, close to some very cheap local restaurants, the point-at-your-food kind with jugs of free iced tea We've also discovered little street restaurants dedicated to desserts - beans, sticky rice, tapioca, coconut, taro, all served from metal bowls, plus some interesting pastries. Dinner + dessert for two has cost under $4 for the past couple of nights. Tasty and cheap.

Did I mention the cheese on toast? We found a western-run bar serving various fried breakfasts, Jacket potatoes and other stuff we haven't been seeing much of. I'd been having a difficult few days with food, not really feeling like eating local stuff. I walked in, up to the bar and asked for cheese on toast. "Well, you certainly know what you want", the Aussie owner remarked, and soon two delicious slices were placed before us. With a sprinkling of Lea & Perrins. that put me back on track and fulfilled my feeble Western body's cravings for wheat and dairy produce, a warm cheesy oasis in a desert of rice and noodles.

Tomorrow we're flying to Laos!

1 comment:

Zoë said...

We went in to a Kiwi owned restaurant in Hoi An and ordered steak with blue cheese and home made chunky chips. Mine was washed down with a crisp, cold glass of a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Not one of my proudest moments but bliss after 8 weeks or so in South East Asia! That said I kind of got in to the Vietnamese delicacy of jam and Dairylea on white bread.