We were told by our guide at the start of this trip (in a phrase that amused me hugely, whilst understanding completely that it was undoubtedly somewhat lost in translation) this is Cambodia. You must not have high expectations!
Well, today was pretty full on. Let me outline to you the plan for the day as put to us, and you can decide which of the elements of this smorgasboard of delights you wish to dip into.
Said my slightly awkward farewells at Siem Reap, gushing goodbye from my new best friend the waiter. I handed over my letter of recommendation in a carefully sealed envelope to the reception staff, explaining it was to thank the manager for my stay in their lovely hotel. I subsequently saw it being solemnly delivered to the back office, so that was mission accomplished. All would have been fine and dandy, but for the fact that I then couldn’t find my camera, and had to sprint back to my just vacated bedroom to retrieve it. Already a small army of staff were cleaning it. No camera in sight – it had been in my bag all the time. Curses, awkward retracing of steps and extra farewells for nothing. It was like ‘The Lord of The Rings’ you know, the film that goes on for not just hours, but seemingly days, and keeps giving you false hope that it’s the end only for another bit to be added on. To be fair, it’s probably a bit like reading one of my blog posts, but you don’t have to pay to do this, and no-one will tut at you if you try to look away, whereas they can be quite peevish if you attempt to leave a film early. Well, that’s my experience anyway.
We were warned today would be a looooooooooong drive to the homestead, but we would be going via a temple,, and then we could also take in an optional ox-cart ride. I wasn’t over-keen on this, but our guide explained that it would be a really good thing to do for the local community. It is their way of raising money. The ride is $5 a time, and a proportion of this is set aside to go to a communal fund that pays for expenses that are shared. It might be for example medical expenses, or a low-interest loan. It was a way to support local people. Plus, it was a way to tour the local village and get to see a sunset over the paddy fields. Oh, OK then.
Later we would get to meet some local children to interact with them, teach them some English maybe play soccer! Oh gawd no, I was inwardly cringing at the thought of this. It smacked a bit of children as tourist attractions and I wasn’t comfortable with the idea at all. However, fair play to Intrepid, they are an ethical company, and we have been warned about child safe issues so let’s just go with it. They were sound on being anti elephant rides and advising against buying postcards from children who really ought to be in school. Hmm, we shall see…
Honestly, it was quite a relief to just sit in a bus and be transported for a bit, it’s been so full on. I am massively enjoying myself, but it’s like being perpetually on fast forward, with little time for reflection. I don’t want to miss out, but I probably do need to pace myself a bit, I might opt out of the next optional activity that comes up.
Even bus journeys here are fun though. I like watching Cambodia unfold through the windows of the vehicle, and my there are sights to behold!
At one toilet stop we saw a hen that made me think of Cheetah Buddy and her little trio (ish – it’s complicated) of hens back in Sheffield. The mother hen and her chicks were isolated in an improvised cage of upturned chicken wire basket. Cardboard provided shade and there was water within. The little chicks could move in and out, but the hen was within. There were a number of roosters roaming, bald necked from fighting. I think she was well out of it. It looked rough and ready, but did the job.
For lunch we stopped at an unexpectedly grand rest area Prey Pros Rest Area, where there was a riverside restaurant and souvenir shop. We could order lunch whilst seated on a platform that jutted out over a river teeming with fish and lilies, albeit not ones in bloom. I was fascinated by the dangling bags of coloured water festooned from the beams overhead Reminiscent of the little bags you used to get goldfish in if you won them at the fair in days of old. Apparently, they are to deter flies because of the reflection of the sun on the water. I’m not at all convinced but it is an interesting notion.
There was precisely zero on the menu that was vegetarian. Fortunately, our guide was on hand to translate. Me and the other two veggies (though one is more accurately a ‘fussy eater’ vegetarian because she doesn’t like the texture of meat, she will eat fish, bugs and tolerate meat stock. I’ve never met a ‘fussy’ eater with such an adventurous palate before!) ended up having noodles with egg and veg without the pork with which it normally came. What arrived had a suspiciously greasy texture to it. I’m nervous about eating two much unfamiliar food still, having suffered a bit earlier in the week. I did order some peach tea though which was fantastic, really delicious, and a high point of drinking experiences to date. So far admittedly the competition for that spot has not been great. Coffee here is distinctly ho hum in comparison to Vietnam, and all drinks are just sugary to the point of syrup. It makes my teeth vibrate just remembering my first (and only) encounter with a lychee soda in a can. One of our number did a very nice line in menu explaining, which was reminiscent of a primary school teacher reading a story I felt, so worth capturing the moment for posterity in case she ever considers a career change from whatever it is she does now, which is not teaching.
Sated, just the little matter of the loo top. Just so you know toilet etiquette here was that on entering you were given some tissue by an attendant. Having performed your, well, ‘necessaries’ shall we say, on exiting your cubicle you were pointed in the direction of the taps and the soap and handed another fragile tissue for the purposes of hand drying. This was somewhat futile, as all the tissue here basically disintegrates on contact, but it was a nice gesture. YOu are then faced with a LARGE tin lidded box, in which you are encouraged to leave a tip. I don’t know what the going rate is, probably 1000 reil. I haven’t got the hang of what local currency is so just put in whatever notes I had that weren’t dollars. The attendant was pleased, and I was none the wiser, so that was OK.
Back on the bus. I took the opportunity to ask our guide whether it really is rude to show your toes – I’m fretting about the dress code when I start at CWF. He seems to think it’s absolutely fine to do so, though it may be a matter of uniform? It is not fine to point your feet at someone’s head, but frankly, I’m not that much of a contortionist I could carry that feat off absent-mindedly, so maybe I don’t need to worry.
At last, after more hours on a hot bus, we arrived at our home stay. I’ll do a separate post about that. Lets just do first impressions. Huge place, raised up high on stilts. We were in homestay 4 – several families offer this in the community, and Intrepid rotate between them to share out the cash. We were warmly welcomed with tea, and a quick tour, before being introduced to our local guide who would take us from here.
The location is stunning, rural, and lovely and peaceful. The accommodation is more spacious than I’d imagined, with mattresses set out each with their own mosquito mat. Basic certainly, but lovely.