Category Archives: Phnom Penh

Reflecting after a RTW trip

I have been back in California for a month. I cannot even begin to tell you how difficult it has been to get back in the swing of it all. I seem to have been surrounded by an enormous, blanketing fog, a fug even. I can’t see anything, I can’t do anything, everything just seems different, a blur.
After I had been back in Ca for just about a week I was driving down Sir Francis Drake Blvd into our small town when it struck me, where are the ladies collecting cow dung to fire up the cooking for their evening meal, where are the endless smells, some good, some really really bad, where are the bright colored clothes, saris, turbans, where is the endless din, traffic, horns, shouts, where are the tuk tuks, where are the Holy cows? Why is there nothing to see, no jaw dropping forts, no endless vistas stretching away to the horizon, no sand, no dirt, no dust, no crowds and crowds, ha, no heat even? There is not a pot hole within miles. There is hardly even a decent curry, unless I go to Berkeley. I can park easily, I can walk into a shop and know where everything is and what it costs. I am not the remotest bit scared. There is no chanting, there are no bells, there are no Temples to marvel at, no Muezzins calling the Faithful to prayer, there isn’t even a train whistle. There is no new town, city or village for me to explore tomorrow, not even a new street. I know what is going to happen next with crashing certainty, I even know where the next meal is coming from. I am not anxious about talking to people, or even not talking to people. I am not fixated with Internet accessibility concerns for emails, Skype or blog posting. I just about know where close family members are and what they are doing, up to the point where I need or want to know.
Did I really ride a tuk tuk into downtown Vientiane, did I really take an hour’s ride in a sampan on the Mekong river in Phnom Penh, is it possible that I spent a week roaming the Western Ghats without seeing or speaking to another Westerner, did I really stand on the walls of the forts at Jaiselmer, Jodhpur or Udaipur, was that really Ankor Wat, Hong Kong ?
But yes, I guess I did those things and more besides and now I am back, I know I am back as I just went on a lengthy walk (hike) with son the younger, he told me I was back ! Thank you Sebastian.
People said very kind words about my blog posts and now that the fog is clearing I may take it up again, blogging that is. It is also interesting to note that my site is still getting some twenty or so hits a day, from all over the world, they can’t all be from my Mother!
There are a number of events missing in my posts, I may try and cover them before the memory fades. Notably getting sick as a dog in London, of all places, after all that, I get sick in London, it was quite unpleasant and most embarrassing, I didn’t eat for a week and felt dreadful. There was a night in Lincolnshire that was uproarious, my thanks for the hospitality.
Today, July 27th 2012.
I’m reviewing a number of posts that I wrote for my blog after returning to the West Coast, or the Edge as its sometimes known, but you know what, they all seem a bit whiney, wingeing even. Hope the above does not fall into that category. It’s been three months now since I returned and quite honestly I can’t sit still. Jump up every time a plane flies over, where is it, where’s it going, who is on it ? Why am I not on it ? Saw a lady in town yesterday in full sari regalia, it’s the little things. Here I am, on the day that everyone seems to be planning to watch the Olympic Opening Ceremonies, OFF, outa here. In twenty four hours I hope to be checking into a(n) hotel in NAPLES. Wow. See you there or en route.

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Farewell IndoChine.

Well that’s it for IndoChina. What a treat, what a privilege, a big thank you to all the peoples of Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia, you have all been so kind and gracious. Not to mention your great food and cooking.
My five days in the Province of Kampot in the small town of Kep was a welcome break from the big cities, World Heritage Sites, museums, temples but most of all from the pollution and really really bad air quality. It took three days but I finally threw off completely the cold I caught in Hanoi. I did try a Post from Kep, alas still unfinished but will try for a successful completion at some point, but the power was unreliable and the web connection kept crashing. I have to say though that I couldn’t actually come up with too much to say that would be of much interest to anyone. The days passed far too quickly, breakfast became lunch, the afternoon into a siesta, tea became dinner and then it was all over and it was sleep time. Apologies to the squeamish but my sleep mates were wide and varied ! There was a dog outside my room every night despite changing rooms three times during the five day stay. Very large geckoes were constant companions both in and outside the room, there were toads and frogs kicking up a shindig for most of the night. I don’t really want to tell of the spiders and ants that marched about the rooms and the monkeys who screeched and yelled for most of the night, at least I suppose they were monkeys.
I think I may have mentioned the food, peppercorns, still attached to their vine, fried up and served with just about everything. The crab, the prawns, Lok Lak (a Khmer traditional beef dish), every meal was an exploration of my taste buds and an event to anticipate.
All too soon it came to an end and I was back on a tuk tuk to the bus station and the ride back to PP. Scheduled for 12.30 pm departure we were all still hanging about in the heat until about 2.00, will it come? Is that it? Where is it? Did we miss it? All the usual anxieties. Got to chatting with a Canadian gent, odd how they are always so easy to chat with, he from Vancouver Island and raised an eyebrow when I mentioned Victoria. Its good to get around a bit. Bus eventually came, another double decker, and I successfully found seat thirteen (angst) and who should settle in beside me but the Canadian. How do you do says I , Tim, no, he says, that’s who I am too. Not an Aries, but we had a most entertaining ride to PP. We ranged from the ten thousand hour rule, which dictates that to be really good at anything you have to have practiced same for said amount of hours to his six minute rule. I might try it.
Back home he specializes in emergency management at disaster sites and was in Cambodia with his wife and family researching for a magazine article she was writing on the indentured servant racket that is so prevalent in this country. Nice guy, we shared a tuk tuk to hotel row and off he went to find his family, funny to think he might be reading this. (hello Tim McLeod).
Not a very good evening as it was already getting late, did some gift shopping, Kramas (Khmer accessory), silk scarves, more pepper, a t shirt for me etc. went to the Foreign Correspondents Club, the FCC, for dinner and turned in early. That was the plan. Turned out the room had three extremely noisy extracta fans which I couldn’t figure how to disable. Called reception, first one, then two, then three hotel handy men came avisiting. Climbing on chairs, plunging the room into darkness, every switch, knob, dial, remote was brought into the scenario. Finally at about ten thirty I called a halt, herded them out and spent a largely sleepless night wearing my noise canceling headphones.
A 5am wake up call, 6am cab to airport, and this 8.30 flight. Oh yawn.
A break there for a read.
Right then, India for tea. Major expletive! Doodling over my 5.30 am cup of tea I made a couple of notes. I think one of the first books I remember reading was Kipling’s Just so Stories, so finally I am going to the land of Mowgli, Shere Khan, Bagheera and Baloo, O Best Beloved (s). I remember reading about the terrible famines and the tragedy of Partition. Plus of course the Bonzo Dog’s Hunting Tigers out in India!
I am on my way, have I planned sufficiently, am I prepared, time will tell I guess. If all goes to plan the next Post will be from Kochi (old Cochin) in the State of Kerala. More from there.

One Hour of my Day.

“No sir, no Sir, you cannot rent a fishing boat, they are not for holiday makers, you must go on big boat” . I wanted to go ride on a Sampan. I have always wanted to ride on a Sampan and it looks as if my chances of doing so are running out. Not too many days left in Sampan Country. There were many boats for hire, sort of small to medium cruise vessels, complete with full bar, garish lights, tables and chairs for between thirty and seventy five, they are mostly used for dinner cruises up and down the river, at night. This is not what I had in mind at all. “There is one” says I, Oh no Sir he is busy. Well he didn’t look busy, in fact there was no-one on board at all and the whole craft had a somewhat disheveled look, crates and boxes everywhere, random curtains spread about, old bits and pieces, it was a bit of a wreck, almost a garbage dump. A shouted conversation took place from the top of the bank to the bottom. I imagine it went something like “Look at this crazy person, he does not want to spend an hour on the river in a luxury cruise boat, he wants to ride in your fishing boat with no bar, not even a chair”. Ah well, canny fisherman sees a quick buck in sight, ok, ten dollars for an hour, that’s more than I would earn in an hour fishing, lets do it, crazy person or not. Frantic rushing about, junk hurled onto adjoining fisher boat and in about a minute the Sampan was ready to go.

Note the smart mats for the sitting on.

I embarked, given a bottle of water and two beers in a cooler and shaking his head my Captain shoved off. Out into the stream of the Tonle Sap before it merges with the Mekong a half mile down stream and is gone forever. It was exactly what I wanted.

He has got that grin on again

We puttered down the middle of the river and looking over at the bank I could see all the people on the riverfront parade , I could almost hear the comments.

Undeterred we puttered on and reached the confluence of the two rivers, it got a little choppy.

The rivers meet

The village on the other side, flooded in the rainy season I would imagine

Today's catch

Fixing things

Everyone is busy

The riverfront in Phnom Penh

On our way back to the dock.

Here it is in all it's glory, my boat. (not sure you can see the file name but it is img_1948.jpg. Significant !)

I did finally Skype the younger son this evening and told him this brief, one hour tale. Sebastian commented ” Well Dad, that sounds like a life’s ambition achieved”

Too right Seb, too right.

Phnom Penh for a day.

I don’t think I have ever said “no thank you” so often, I am hoarse with no thank you. Every step of the way in Phnom Penh (now referred to as PP) it’s the same refrain “tuk tuk sir?”. Honestly the guy has to see that actually I just got off a tuk tuk, why on earth would I need another one five seconds later.
I did sleep in this morning, all the way until 8.30am, that was a treat. Breakfast in the hotel looked somewhat expensive so took a ride to the recommended venue promoted by guide book, unfortunately it is no longer in business, or we couldn’t find it so jumped out at the first sign of eggs. Just as an aside, I really find it offensive to be unable to avoid hearing about the exploitation of the local female population over breakfast, sleaze bags.
Sorry. To continue. Totally messed up, thought I would go to the Royal Palace before lunch so jumped in a tuk tuk, off we went only to discover it’s closed for lunch, 11.00 to 2.30, that is quite some Royal Lunch. Sat in cafe and drank water, tried to Skype younger son. Passed the time. Time dragged. Come on….
2.30 and I was at the gate, very impressive Royal Palace. All gold, silver, temples, Buddha’s,beautiful woodwork, bas reliefs ( for Barbara),great gardens and monks and cameras, lots of cameras. round I went. There are some photos, I added to the previous post Arrived Phnom Penh.
I had heard or read about the Russian Market so that was the next stop. Warnings in book about claustrophobia, no kidding. If the aisles between the stalls were three foot wide I would be surprised. After about ten minutes I really felt overwhelmed and left. Another aside, the local kids have made an art of mimicking the sounds from Angry Birds (a game) it is quite amazing, listen, someone is playing Angry Birds, look round and these young kids are having convulsions of hysterical laughter. Really quite clever.
So then I went to the Tuol Sleng museum. Well you don’t think about Cambodia without thinking of Pol Pot and his murderous four year regime do you ?. In the year 1975 he and his bunch of thugs evacuated this entire city, enslaving the population into tilling the land. It was quite ghastly. Ladies were openly weeping in the courtyard.
I was very sad.

A Trip down the Tonle Sap River

Ploughing our way at quite a rate of knots over what looks like a big inland sea, no sign of the banks on either side. We chugged along through a somewhat stagnant waterway after leaving the dock, houses on stilts, some donated by Americans. Saw one with a large placard outside thanking a family in Philly. It was narrow and the boat, slow. We have a film crew aboard, French, ladies, who set up their cameras on the bows, amateurs followed until there was quite a crowd up on the pointed end. Others situated themselves on the top, luggage deck, where they had a great uninterrupted view all around. We chugged on. Got to thinking that at this rate we will be in Phnom Penh by sometime next week, not the claimed six to seven hours. Eventually the stagnant river emptied out into a wider waterway and the thrum of the engines increased. There was a floating village with the inhabitants going about their daily business by boat. A large Catholic Church. Fisherfolk with their nets and lines, baskets and pots. A school donated by the Australian Government. All of a sudden we were out in the middle of this lake, the engines roared up to full power and we were off to the races. Spray everywhere, cameras protected, photographers retreated to the sanctum of the cabin. Film crew dismantled equipment, tripods, mikes, booms, cameras all packed up and retreated back to the dry. Should I mention the catastrophic wardrobe malfunctions as we pounded along faster and faster, no, better not. On we zoom, no sign of land, no sign of much of anything, so will pause and read book, well, Kindle app. Patrick O’Brian, still, of course. Treasons Harbour. (go away American spell checker).
Time passed (four hours) and we continued to roar on downstream towards the capital. The banks have changed their look, not the rather barren of further upstream, but now lusher, greener, more verdant. Different species of tree, not just the occasional palm, deciduous perhaps, certainly a mangrove here and there. There is the floating wild hyacinth again remembered from the Delta in great clumps, islands almost, I did mention that didn’t I, back in HCMC? More river folk activity too, bigger cargo boats, some cruise boats out of Phnom Penh. We slowed as we came to a stilted town, slowed right down so people could disembark. We didn’t stop, they jumped, bags and all into small boats alongside. There was a great collection of house boats as well as the houses on stilts, I had a quick pine for the houseboats of Sausalito. Then back up to warp speed for what is presumably the end run to Phnom Penh. Back to POB.
I love the universality of the wave. All down the river whenever we pass some boat or other with people in, or pass folk attending to their business on shore there is always a pause from whatever activity is being attended to and they all stand and wave wave wave. I am fortunate in my choice of fellow passengers, this is not a oh so cool crowd, and we all wave wave wave back. It’s really most delightful.
We are pulling into PP, there is an unexpectedly large Mosque. The houses have red roofs, were the Italians here, no, must be the French influence. If this town is as much fun as Vientiane then I am really going to enjoy being here, even for just a few days. Despite now being into hour seven of our progress I still have a happy stupid grin, what a great way to journey. None of the discomfort of plane or bus, free to move about at will, walk about, photograph points of interest. Marvelous. We dock.
A quick tuk tuk ride to the hotel and all checked in for three nights. Off to investigate the Foreign Correspondents Club which sounds intriguing for a late lunch then exploring this new City.
Thanks for riding the river with me.
Oh and btw, thanks for all the ATM comments and concerns. To answer the question, yes, I do have more than one ATM card, and from more than one country. Should take care of things.