After visiting the temples and stupas of Siem Reap/Angkor Wat, which I will elaborate on at a later date, we headed on down the road to the capital Phnom Penh. And thats where we ran into trouble…
We were booked for an eight hour car ride which was fine by me – I find car travel is very relaxing but Barbara really doesn’t like it at all. Notes to self – carefully check itineraries in future for potential SNAFUs.Then we discovered that the road between the two largest cities in Cambodia is in a permanent state of construction and/or repair so it was really an 11 hour ride over appalling conditions. We also discovered about 8 hours into this marathon that our driver and guide after dropping us off, were expected to turn around and drive straight back! Completely unacceptable way to treat people and while I presume they made it safely – we don’t actually know that. The agency will get some words from us to be sure both on the safety of their staff and that knowing the condition of the road an alternative route should have been proposed!
Anyway an adventure even if inadvertent. We stopped to admire an 11th century bridge which is still in use – for motorcycles not cars and watched a bunch of boys playing in the water with an old boat. Kids are the same the world over – if they are allowed to be kids it doesn’t matter what language they speak, clothes they wear or the colour of their skins, fun is fun and can be had anywhere!
We also stopped to visit some – thankfully deserted – temples hidden down one of those ever diminishing dirt roads. There was a one armed caretaker who helped me puzzle out a grouping of medallions, a French couple with their guide, two Cambodian women praying at one of the temples and thats it! The site is still hidden in the trees and so was coolish, tranquil and a delight after the hordes at some of the Siem Reap sites. It also had craters left over from bomb blasts and off limits areas with land mines but that is a story for another post I think.
Back on the road again with a stop for lunch while the driver attempted to repair an interesting “whup, whup, whup” noise the front end started making – I did mention how bad the roads were right? That potential problem fixed, we headed out into the great Mekong Delta.
The land there is flat with emerald green rice paddies stretching to the horizon. Caramel and cream cattle and dusty black water buffalo wander freely. Sometimes you catch one heaving itself up out of the water and it will look as if it had been lacquered black. The horizon is dotted with the neat round heads of Sugar Palms and the shaggier ones for coconuts and bananas.
People live in stilt houses, they are cooler, protected from the monsoons and most of the daily activities take place underneath in the shade. Hammocks swing gently with babies and old folks, women cook and boil down the palm sugar in huge black kettles and the men make rush mats or work on their nets. Not an easy life but one completely in tune with the seasons of the land.
On one of our bathroom breaks I wandered into a market, was approached by a bunch of kids which isn’t at all unusual but these ones were hawking tarantulas – by tossing them on your shirt. I am very much afraid I deeply disappointed them by NOT shrieking and running around like a chicken with its head cut off! I actually like the bigger spiders – easy to see and these ones were harmless. I also discovered that this particular market sells mostly insects and bugs to eat. Grubs sautéed with morning glories, curried frogs, deep fried spiders (see above) and grasshoppers, and the piece de resistance – giant cockroaches done in a spicy chili oil. I could probably manage most of those but I definitely draw the line at eating cockroaches – especially when they are about the size of the palm of my hand! Again I suspect I was a major disappointment to the kids – also see my comments above.