In the morning I was cursing myself for not bringing flip-flops. The Cambodian custom of taking your shoes off before entering a house is much easier when you don’t have to muck about with sandals and Velcro. I was the first of our group awake so popped on my swim shorts and had a “shower” at the rainwater tub; just a big water cistern by the house with a bowl to scoop up the water to rinse yourself down with. Anywhere else the water would have been too cold for me, but here it was quite a pleasant temperature – and nowhere else have I been able to dry myself off after a shower by just standing there (in the garden) and letting the breeze do it!
While I was waiting for the rest of the group to wake up, I dug out my laptop and showed the father some of my photos of Bangkok and Angkor. Then it was time to say goodbye and we boarded the coach for the short drive back to the community centre for breakfast and our morning excursion. Most of us did the trek up to a nearby waterfall while the others took a cart out to see the paddy fields in operation.
The waterfall trek wasn’t particularly hard, but it was extremely hot and humid as we trekked uphill through the jungle. It was worth it though as the 14m drop was so picturesque! After seeing the waterfall itself we spent a while bathing in the run-off pool near its base before heading (via an extremely treacherous, barely discernible trail!) to another larger pool a little downstream. The water was deeper here, but the footing less certain so you had to proceed with extreme caution to make sure you didn’t stub your toe or lose your balance and go flying into a boulder.
The pool was populated by tiny (and some not so tiny!) fish and if you stood still long enough, they would come and nibble at you! I have never had one of the fish-pedicures – even though there were plenty of them on offer in the places we’ve been – so I was a little bit unused to the sensation, especially as I couldn’t always see my feet or what was doing the nibbling. Every now and then a larger fish would have a go and I would imagine myself losing a toe and scream like a girl. Not my finest hour! The water in the pool was deliciously cool though and refreshing after the heat and humidity of the climb, so it was very welcome and I found I could put up with a certain amount of being fish food to enjoy it.
Walking through the jungle we were constantly stepping over lines of ants going about their business. I counted no less than six different types – some of them quite large. I was wary enough of them in my sandals and suddenly rather glad I wasn’t in flip-flops! In fact, given the ruggedness of the trail, I think people should really have been told not to do the trip in flip-flops at all.
After another bumpy ride down the dirt-track road with its dubious-looking bridges we were back on the highway and heading for the seaside town of Sihanoukville a couple of hours away. It was quite the contrast from the rural homestay; a backpacker hotspot with restaurants and beach bars all competing for the large western contingent’s business.
We got settled into the room and Brett headed out to search the tourist shops for a pair of swimming shorts. I spent a while in the foyer using the wi-fi before taking a nap as my resources were pretty low after the restless night.
We had a group dinner that evening in a nearby restaurant. We sat down in the open air but it shortly started to rain so we moved inside to eat… and then moved back out after the food to drink in the fresher air once the rain had stopped. After the other night in Phnom Penh, the men in the party have bonded rather over drinking jugs of beer together..!
This afternoon Lucy, Annie and Tim had been down to the beach to have a look around and rather got swamped by the hawkers. As a result Tim came back with both a fresh manicure and three roman candle fireworks which he went to fetch after dinner and we all went down to the beach to let them off.
Apparently fireworks are quite tightly regulated in Australia and it sounds like most people don’t bother with them, as a result there isn’t much awareness of the firework code…
So when Tim lit the four-foot long roman candle while holding it like a sparkler, there was a certain slow-motion inevitability to what happened next. It was clear, as it started to go off, that he realised he should have planted it first and began trying to do that. Unfortunately the quality of the fireworks was poor; not all of the stars were getting much velocity and one of them misfired into his face.
Luckily – so incredibly luckily! – it didn’t hit him square in the eye. He was left with some powder burns over his left eye and a bit of blurred vision from the scorching, but was otherwise unharmed. To add insult to injury, at some point in the following minutes, someone stole his wallet too so he spent the rest of the evening on Panha’s phone looking up and then calling his bank back in Aus to cancel the cards.
The next day, Tim’s sight had returned to normal. He was also able to borrow money until he could get some more organised so, while it was not an evening I think any of us will forget in a hurry it could, on balance, have been a whole lot worse!