As it happens, I slept really badly. My metabolism seemed to be running fairly hot, so I reasoned my body was still fighting off whatever had laid me low earlier. As a result, around 03:30, I was wide awake and not feeling likely to sleep again any time soon. I got up and decided to put the time to good use. I spent a couple of hours more working on my photos, choosing the ones to publish and cropping them/adjusting light levels where necessary and then writing-up my backlog of notes into a couple of blog posts. Because of my enforced downtime, I’m a few days behind, so it was good to make headway with the backlog.
After completing that and leaving the remaining photos queued to upload, I felt both clearer headed and fatigued once again, so got in another hour of sleep before the alarm went off. We hadn’t left ourselves much time for packing and breakfast – particularly given the Cambodian penchant for slow restaurant service – but it worked out nicely so that we had just finished eating by the time our departure time ticked around.
We walked through the morning sunshine to the local bus station to board another public bus. It wasn’t quite ready yet though, so there was more hanging around and enjoying the experience of the mini-market area what was working on the waste ground next to where the buses stop.
Today, with a clearer head, I was more alert as we drove – and also conscious that the bus driver was happily texting and taking calls while he drove. It didn’t concern me as it might elsewhere though because really the Cambodian Highway Code, while “informal”, is quite relaxed. It’s a slow-paced, co-operative affair. Speeding doesn’t seem to be a problem, so it didn’t matter so much that the bus’ speedometer wasn’t working. There’s lots of horn-blowing but none of it seemed to be aggressive, it’s more precautionary/informational for other vehicles. While there are road markings at the more significant road junctions, there doesn’t seem to be any formal right-of-way observed. As far as possible everyone tries to accommodate everyone else. If a pedestrian stands at a marked crossing, no-one will stop to let you cross. Instead you just set out across the road and, so long as you don’t make any sudden moves, the traffic will flow easily around you.
Today’s DVD on the bus, a B-movie called “Mr Vampire II”, has to count as the cheesiest vampire movie I’ve ever seen! It was hard to be certain exactly what was going on, as I don’t speak any Khmer, but given the stock characters/caricatures and some over-the-top acting, the gist of it was all pretty self-evident: A bookish professor and his two side-kicks unearth two bodies dressed as old Chinese Mandarins and take them back to the lab where one of the side-kicks is left alone to start work, inadvertently wakes the vampires and does lots of slapstick fighting for his life.
Somewhere along the line a little boy vampire turns up and gets befriended by a little girl and eventually by her group of friends (All very ET-esque!) There’s also a handsome young man and his slightly mystic friend (think a younger version of the old guru guy in Karate Kid!) The handsome guy is trying to prove himself to a pretty young girl and we follow these three groups of characters and some bungling policemen through various set pieces to a kind of happy ending (the mother and father vampire get killed and the little boy goes to live with his friend’s family.)
Oh, and did I mention that, despite immortality, super-strength and near invulnerability, the vampires can only move by hopping around, kangaroo-like? It’s hard to believe this film never won an Oscar…
We took a break at a rest stop about halfway through the journey. It was much like the others we’ve been too, but today there was deep-fried tarantula on offer. Panha bought a couple and offered them around. After my experience with the cricket a few nights ago, I was quite keen to give it a try, but I’d already taken a stroll around the stalls and seen that all the snack foods on open display were swarming with flies. Given my recent brush with dodgy digestion, I decided discretion was the better part of valour and I’ll save deep-fried tarantula for another day!
Phnom Penh, when we arrived, was much how I remember Bangkok eighteen years ago; quite congested and with the air full of exhaust fumes and where today the Thai capital is crowded with skyscrapers, here they are still working to finish their second. It took us quite a while from reaching the edge of the city to get to our accommodation, the Fancy Guest House, so it was with a sense of relief that we climbed the four flights of stairs to our top-floor room!
Brett and I headed out again shortly thereafter in search of lunch. I spotted a stall for Hello, the mobile network I bought a SIM-card for in Siem Reap, which I hadn’t been able to get to pickup Internet service. They said I needed to call the customer service number, which I duly did and was pleasantly surprised to get a message in English. When my call was answered (really very quickly compared to any of the networks in the UK!) I explained the problem and the guy said to give it five minutes and reboot. I did, expecting he’d tweaked something, but there was no difference afterwards. I called back and got the same advice. When I explained the problem again and told them I’d already restarted my phone, they faffed a bit and then cut me off. I tried a third time and exactly the same thing happened.
If you’re travelling in Cambodia, don’t get a Hello SIM card for your phone; their customer service is useless. It also seems that Hello have now merged (been taken over by?) Smart, another network, which may have something to do with it, but whether that means things will change for the better or worse, I couldn’t say.
After eating, Brett went for a nap in the room, while I headed out with six others for a thirty-minute tuk-tuk ride to the Cambodian Television Network’s studio across town. We were there to watch some free kick-boxing matches. The ring was set up in the open air under a tin-roof. I bagged a spot beside one of the TV cameras at the top of the bleachers with a reasonable angle down into the ring. We managed to catch three matches before we had to leave and I ran off a little over two-hundred shots while we were there.
The fights were pretty intense. The first, and obviously more junior, pairing was a bit one-sided but the later two matches were entertaining and really quite full-on! It’s easy to see how people get so worked up about the sport. We passed several bars on the way back which were televising matches and they were as packed as a UK pub would be on a cup-final day.
The trip back to the hotel was through the rush-hour, an experience that can best be described as a gridlock of endless motorcycle helmets served in a miasma of exhaust fumes!
Panha had a restaurant lined-up for us all this evening. We started with an orientation walk past a restaurant and shop run by a foundation which is sponsored by our tour company and on down to the Royal Palace on the river front. The restaurant, Touk, was also on the river. We had a table on the al fresco first floor and it was Happy Hour when we arrived so most of us ordered cocktails (which were actually a bit weak)! The food was good though; Khmer cuisine again.
Despite the rather spacious seating arrangement (lots of large tables-for-two pushed together) everyone made an effort to socialise around the table. A couple of the group were struggling with bad stomachs; Lyn, Tim and Ed & Claire all left shortly after the meal. The rest of us stayed on chatting and drinking. Pete and Marc had ordered a jug of beer and offered me a glass (to help them finish it). I ordered them a pint each by way of thanks and shortly after decided I’d have one myself. The waitress misunderstood my order though and brought a me a large jug of beer. Well, it would have been rude not to share… and the evening rather livened up!
Brett and Lucy played an interminable game of pool with Monica and Ana and when they were done, London (me and Pete) challenged Toronto (Marc and Amelia) to a match too. In the end London won, but it was a fairly close run thing (and we would likely have won sooner if I hadn’t been playing!) In the meantime the tour guide who’d been with the other Intrepid group in another part of the restaurant (who we’d met briefly after the Welcome Meeting in Bangkok) was chatting with Lucy and Annie and they’d ordered a hookah with some menthol concoction to try. They were passing around the pipe and Brett and Marc both had a few drags.
Around 11pm things were beginning to break up. The younger members were keen to go on to party elsewhere, but I was about ready to turn in – especially as we had another earlyish start in the morning. Brett want on to a club with a few of the others while Pete, Ana, Marc, Amelia, Julia and I walked back to the hotel.
Having intended to get straight to bed though, I found I was wide-awake when I reached the room, so I spent a while doing what packing I could. I then turned to the laptop and managed to get a post written, illustrated and published before Brett came back at around 1am. By then I was getting tired myself, so in the end we both headed to bed around the same time.