Dearly departing – the long road back to Phnom Penh

I am very sad to be coming to the end of our Intrepid Trip, but I am very happy to be leaving this solvent infused hell-hole of a hotel.

I was woken really early by a toxic combination of building work the other side of my bedroom door and solvent fumes seeping under my door.  Not the fantasy of a hotel finale on a group tour.  I wanted to escape it, but the only other option was really the foyer, and that is a fug of cigarette smoke issuing from the adjacent Casino.  Blurgh. I cheered myself up by leaving a really scathing review of the hotel on Trip Advisor.  I’ve never done that before, I always only leave good ones, but I am obviously small-minded and flexible enough to make an exception when the occasion demands it!

Oh well, went down for breakfast past the poor guys working on the relacquering of furniture, or whatever it was they were up to.  It’s bad enough just walking past, but they are working in close proximity to those fumes, for hours on end, and with no protective equipment. Really shocking.

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We rendezvoused in the foyer around 9.15 to board what was described as a ‘public bus’ but was really a tourist shuttle bus from Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh.  It was ‘public’ only inasmuch as we had a couple of other passengers share it with us, but it didn’t seem to have any locals.  It amused me that the bus had wi-fi of sorts.  It was a Giant Ibis bus for future reference, and once we had clambered on, and the poor bus driver had nearly amputated his finger trying to wrestle a wayward seatbelt out from under one of the seats, our next stop was the actual bus station.  Here another couple boarded.  This caused a ripple of excitement to pass through our group!  One was a hipster, man bun and trendy T-shirt and everything.  I’m currently being trained up in how to be a female hipster with a tip a day by one of my traveling companions. So far, I know I have to be snobbish about coffee, drink out of jam jars and use charity shops a lot.  I also need to make some cut off jeans.  Well, it’s a start.  Here, a ‘hostess’ handed round flattened pastry snacks, a minimalist bottle of water and a towelette.  The photo above was taken at our lunch stop by the way, I thought I’d better include a snap in case you, dear reader, have no idea what a mini-bus looks like.  Always happy to help out like that.  You are most welcome!  Here follows a picture of our snack, for the same reason.  I try to be educational in my posts…  I am still wearing my monks blessing friendship tie thing.  I am a bit scared now that bad things might happen if I lose it.  Oh well, will cross that bridge when I come to it.

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The journey wasn’t too bad in a long and cramped sort of way.  Hilariously, we were told initially it would be three and a half hours.  I don’t know in what parallel universe that would be true, it was more like six hours.

There were stops along the way.  The first pee opportunity offering up immaculate squat toilets, but ones that were raised, which was a balancing challenge when you are stiff from being in a bus for hours on end.  After this, our guide revised his estimate of the journey time to ‘hundred per cent, I guarantee we will be in Phnom Penh today!’  Fair enough, and reassuring too, safe arrival at the intended destination doesn’t always feel like a given in the Cambodian traffic.  At some point I will do a separate post on traffic, or not.  The gist is that traffic drives on the right, unless there is room on the left, or even if there isn’t.  Horns are sounded frequently, but not necessarily aggressively, it is more like a ‘here I am‘ warning.  I quite like watching the sights through the window, we saw a tuk tuk being squashed between two massive 4×4 cars at one point, how it emerged apparently unscathed I have no idea.  I was also very taken with this sign on the back of a petrol tanker giving a number where you could give feedback on driving.  Honestly, I wouldn’t know quite where to begin, but that’s fine, because I can’t get my phone to work properly within Cambodia anyway (though bizarrely, I have managed to phone home a couple of times, it just doesn’t like texts or maybe Cambodia to Cambodia calling. Very bizarre).  Great that our driver got nice and close tailgating so I could get a great shot!

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I also was taken with the cattle transporter options.  I’ve seen this quite a lot, but not had a photo potential opportunity before.  Although it looks a bit unorthodox and the beasts potentially vulnerable, through not being covered.  I guarantee it is a more humane alternative to some of the jam-packed transporters you see in the UK moving animals with no air, ventilation or light.  I have no idea how they get them on or off though, and I do concede if the vehicle were to overturn, it would get messy.

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Our ‘lunch’ stopping off point was at a really great place.  Called, imaginatively, ‘The Stop Cafe/ Rest Stop’.  Beautifully presented, immaculately set out, super-speedy service and best cup of coffee I’ve had since arriving in Cambodia.  We had 25 mins and I wasn’t really hungry, so went for just an iced coffee and a mango smoothie.  Yum.  It was imaginatively designed too.  Engine parts being used as a table base and old cog wheels surrounding the bathroom mirror – which sounds like it out to be tacky and shit (as does most upcycling), but actually looked cool and creative.

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The loos were super clean, and accessed via a garden at the back.  En route, you pass a fish tank made out of an old telly, which again looked great.   If you try this at home, make sure you unplug the TV first.  Also, maybe not advisable with a flat screen telly, or if you did try that, get very thin fish.  Pencil fish perhaps, or sticklebacks at a push.

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The downside of the loos was that someone was being violently and noisily sick in one of the cubicles.  Whilst I felt sorry for the poor person retching within, it did rather detract from the otherwise restful ambience!  Great sign though, one of my favourites, once should indeed always bust some moves when under a hand drier.

BAck on the bus having compared aches and pains.  A surprising number of us have neck and shoulder pain, which we now suspect is a consequence of the murderously uncomfortable deck chairs from yesterday.  Oh well, done that now, don’t have to do it again.  The horn sounded and within less than a minute we were on and off after a speedy head count.  It would be quite easy to be left behind here if you didn’t have your wits about you.  But on the plus side, a great place to be marooned, and as the check pre-departure was headcount as opposed to ticket based, it would be pretty easy to steal on board the next bus and let someone else have a turn in being left behind.  I’m sure there’s a fable on those lines.

Onwards, more roadside sights.  There was a lorry laden unbelievably high with what must have been cut rice stalks (it looked like hay, but that isn’t a thing here).  Atop it were people hitching a ride.  It pulled up next to one of the many roadside stalls that scatter the road to Phnom Penh.  Cash was thrown down, and water bottles hurled upwards, to avoid unnecessary clambering up and down the vertiginous sides of the load.

Eventually, we reached our penultimate destination, which was the Giant Ibis office in Phnom Penh.  It appears chaotic, but there is always a system.  Our luggage, which had been piled high at the front of the bus, presumably where it would cause maximum dispersal across the occupants in the event of a crash – was passed on and in to the coach depot office in a human chain, and then we were allowed to alight.  The photo below also features a shot of the dried banana ‘ribbon’ that contains over thirty bananas thinly sliced, and dried in the sun.  $1.  Bargain – but only if you like bananas an awful lot!

My it was hot!  Another bus appeared to take us back to the cardamom hotel where our little adventure started.  It seems like a lifetime ago.

We were all a bit jaded by the bus ride.  There was some talk of heading to the Russian Market, which is a tuk tuk ride away.  I was ambivalent. I  felt it would be good to go explore with others – I might need to get there tomorrow to get missing things from my new abode.  However, I was also light-headed and knackered.  Plus, there will be loads of opportunities for me to go in the next few months.  In the end I demurred.  Well, we have our final night out later, rendezvous at 7.00, and I want  to be fresh for that.  We have been reminded that we must write down our emails with exceptional cleanness, so that our guide can email us the evaluation link.  Intrepid are really hot on this, guides are expected to get 100% response rate, which seems harsh, as it might not be within their control, but I think our guide may achieve this as we all have the message loud and clear.

Right, that’s me done, need to have that pre-supper cleanse and lie down.  Maybe more later.  Maybe not!

 

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