Today was an early start, in western terms at least, not really for Cambodian nationals to be fair, so 6.00 a.m. breakfast as I needed to be packed up and ready to leave at 7.00 a.m.. As it happens, I woke early anyway, but jet-lag had really kicked in, I felt like I was seeing everything through a tunnel.
I had noodles and mixed veg for breakfast. It was good, and my body has so little idea of what time it was it didn’t feel ‘wrong’ as such to start the day. I missed out on the fruit compost, though a traveling companion tackled a pomegranate bought at the market the other day and as she peeled it open breaking apart the flesh it exploded all over her in a shower of delicious flesh coloured pink seeds. It was fantastic to behold, and quite a party trick if only it could be recreated. Here’s what I could have had:
So we took an air con bus to Battambang. It was a looooooooooooooong coach ride, but scenes through the window on the way were interesting. I’m still at that stage of eye-popping astonishment. Everything beyond the glass is unfamiliar, from the street wiring, to the shop fronts, to the traffic, so much to process and understand. Of course it’s impossible to take shots along the way, but I took a couple pre departure and en route.
I am fascinated at the labour that goes into putting up the marquees that block the streets seemingly everywhere. Have I already mentioned about the guys up the ladders? I don’t think I have. Check out the photos. One of them just outside the hotel in Phnom Penh, was astride the ladder, when he needed to move it to another spot, he sort of ‘jumped’ with the ladder, or took long sideways strides with it, manoeuvering on the top of it as if he was operating a pair of stilts, quite amazing. It sounds really dangerous, and probably was, but he did it with such accomplished ease it wasn’t scary to behold though not one I’d try at home. Same with the wiring. Although that does scare me to be honest. I try to ignore the occasional sparks and phuts that emit from power sockets whenever I plug something in… and don’t get me started on the obsession with plug sockets in bathrooms. There are more in many wet rooms than in my hotel bedrooms. Just saying!
As we passed the riverside, there was an amazing spectacle of a wedding procession gathering at the river front as we left Phnom Pehn (the white marquees are for weddings as there aren’t generally big enough spaces to use as wedding venues elsewhere other than by shutting the streets and bunging up your own tent we are told). It was a drive by so only a glimpse. But there was a long line of immaculately dressed people wearing matching outfits, queueing in pairs together. I expect I’ll find out a bit more these along the way. However, the key points made by our guide en route, were that on your wedding day you are king and queen for the day, so you must have a multitude of attendants who process with you to demonstrate your status I suppose. Weddings are huge and expensive affairs, paid ro by the parents of the groom. One of our guides later told us he was from a large family, with many boys, his parents really hoped he’d be a girl, so they would not have to pay for his wedding, and gave him a name which is traditionally female to boot. He laughed as he related all this, so hard to know to what extent it is all in earnest, but the bit about concern around how to pay for a wedding certainly is. They can go on for days (three traditionally, though one and a half is more usual now) and host vast numbers.
Along the way we saw rice fields, and water buffalo wallowing which is a classic sight. Even though some areas were really urban, you still see apparently random cattle, dogs and chickens roaming around. There had been rain, and flooding of streets and road works left some people marooned on the forecourts of their shops. Gazing across what were effectively moats. Some had put stepping-stones from their shop or home fronts to the main road, or improvised with planks of woods. Others gazed across mournfully, they were going to get wet or stay put. I wish I’d been able to snap the garage forecourt which was completely inaccessible, with a deep trench around it, filled with water. It was still open, were vehicles to levitate across, or would they do a sort of petrol run with bottles of fuel? No idea.
At one point, we saw an over-turned truck which had shed a load of eggs everywhere (‘no eggs today!’ exclaimed our guide with a smile), to be fair, I’ve seen surprisingly few accidents. I find it hard to believe they don’t happen all the time. Then again, drivers seem to have extraordinarily good spatial awareness, accurately manouvering trucks, tuk tuks or four by four vehicles through spaces with barely a hair’s breadth to spare. I like to think they have good spatial awareness, maybe they have just become desensitised to the ever-present possibility of imminent death by crushing, or maybe they just no longer care.
Our guide told us some of the history of Cambodia as we travelled. It was a bit confusing and overwhelming. At one point, we passed through his home town. He told how at 17 he was recruited to the army but his father paid a huge bribe to get him back and sent him to live with relatives in Phnom Penh. Everyone here has a story.
Lunch stop had squat toilets. They are fine to be honest, and the ones I’ve encountered have been generally clean. There is a bit of a knack, but doable. No toilet paper down the loos – a bucket is provided to put your tissues in. Local people use the hoses I think. If that is your preferred technique, the western thing of using paper and then leaving it stinking in a bin on display must seem particularly gross must it not? I’m still fascinated by simple things: road sign adverts; impromptu shrines that are ubiquitous and in the most unlikely of places, like the one shoved up next to a washing machine. We had lunch at a regular spot en route where local food was available very cheaply. I didn’t eat, there wasn’t anything vegetarian (though they did offer to do something for one of us) and I still have a bit of a jippy tummy, and there was a strong smell of fermented fish paste or something which, trust me, is not conducive to tucking in, whether you are a fish eater or not. Others were very happy with their food choice though, so I’m probably just an over-cautious picky eater!
So eventually, we arrived in Batttambang, where I have a room with no windows, weird. We were warned about this, and the room is ‘fine’ otherwise. Very alien though. I’m relieved I wont have to spend too much time in it. It’s OK if you don’t think about it, but if you do, it’s quite panic inducing. Ho hum.
So, Battambang, and new adventures. Bring it on!