|Back on the buses|
|Bus hostess (makes a welcome change from a lad in a greasy t-shirt!)|
|Empty Cambodian countryside|
Stef was still decidedly not right this morning, a bad omen as this afternoon we have to take the bus up to Siem Reap and the last thing you want on a bus is dodgy guts. He spent the morning relaxing in the room while I checked our mail and went to get cash from the bank. It seemed strange to be walking around a city like this on my own. I didn’t really need to go far but even so I was wary of the people around me and tried to ensure I looked like I knew where I was going. It was daft really because anyone can tell from the clothes you are wearing that you are here as a tourist and not part of the expat community.
At midday we got a tuk tuk up to the Mekong Express Limousine bus service, a very grand name for a coach company. There was no bus station as such, just a couple of buses parked at the corner of the road outside the bus company’s office. They seemed to be pretty well organised and everyone was given a ticket for their bags creating the feeling at least that they would be secure. A hostess was on board the bus ready to welcome you for the journey. She seemed friendly enough but was a bit shy and wary of having her photo taken.
Soon we were on our way driving through very flat landscape with small clusters of palm trees dotted along the way. It reminded both of us of the Chaco territory in Paraguay. We passed through a few tiny settlements, really no more than collections of wooden houses strung along the clay road with a little market at the heart of it. The wooden houses in the towns, as well as those along the road, are very rural. They are raised on stilts with bamboo awnings and a few trees near by to provide shade. Livestock and chickens potter about freely in the yards outside. Bird flu is still very prevalent in this part of the world so the chickens in particular were always given a wide berth by us.
The people here didn’t really seem to have an awful lot to call their own. The kids entertained themselves with whatever they could find on the road side but quite often they were running around with no clothes, or very little. Politics was ever present though and we regularly passed signs for offices of the three main parties - CPP, Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy. These were always hoisted above sandy paths leading to modest wooden huts. There were just too many of them to make and sense really and must have been more to let the local population know that the parties were here and still watching them.
At about the half way point we stopped for a break at a large open plan restaurant which seemed to have been designed solely to cater for the trade coming from the busses. If there was a food menu it didn’t appear and we just had a drink waiting to be called back onto the bus again. A few more hours of flat countryside passed us by before we reached Siem Reap at around 6pm. We’d been given conflicting times of when the bus would arrive so we ended up getting to Siem Reap earlier than we had expected, and therefore earlier than our pick up from our hotel had been arranged for.
I suppose we were really met by nothing unusual for Asia, a lot of Asians trying to make money. The bus had parked up behind a fence but as soon as we got off we were besieged by tuk tuk drivers all wanting to take us to our hotel. They all seemed to be operating at the same rate, around R500, for a ride to town which is less than 10p. It just didn’t make sense so you knew that somehow they would make up their money. They were a relentless and noisy bunch and it made it virtually impossible to think or talk. I could feel myself getting irritated and wound up by them, not the thing to do, so just followed Stef as he kept walking around the bus politely trying to shake them off.
A brief respite arrived in the form of another bus and off they went like a swarm of bees to hound a whole new bus load of people. At the same time a chap arrived from our hotel carrying a sign for Mrs Algen, very apologetic that we had had to wait for him even though we explained several times that the bus had arrived earlier than we had thought it was and it was not his fault. He drove us out to the City River Hotel and I finally managed to orient myself on our map in Lonely Planet. It was yet another case of a bus not stopping at any of the bus stations they have on their map so it was just as well we hadn’t put ourselves at the mercy of a tuk tuk!
Our hotel is a new looking, smart but also somewhat characterless affair. We’d booked in for a double room but tonight they only had the suite available which they gave us for the normal room rate of US$50. It has a large dining/conference table, a large leather settee, comfy bed and good bathroom and even better it has HBO on the TV, a film channel we have come to love! As we were freshening up the phone rang to say that Beuk, the guide Tim and Erica recommended to us was downstairs.
I think we both instantly warmed to Beuk. We were met by a warm friendly smile and he came across as a very knowledgeable guide who spoke good English. He clearly knows the history of the Angkor sites and we both knew that we were in for a couple of very intensive, interesting and informative days in his care. He created a very positive impression on both of us. There are simply loads of different temple sites that you can visit, some close by and easy to get to but others more remote. NASA satellites have scanned the area so they now feel they know where most of the temples are but I am sure that more will still get uncovered in the coming years.
Ideally we would have planned our temple tours to follow the chronology of the history, the characters involved and the building process but with only three days to play with that simply isn't possible to do. Even so we have a packed agenda of places to visit and if nothing else we will get a good taste of this unique part of the world.