Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Cambodia - Don't always do as the locals do

Mike trying the local delicacy... yes that is a deep fried snake...!
Being rudely awaken at 5.30 in the morning by high pitched screaming, amplified to 1,000 Watts via rockband size loudspeakers is not my idea of a good start of the day. Cambodia definitely isn't like Myanmar, as had been suggested by another traveler, who must have had his eyes and ears closed when he traveled through here. According to the hotel manager it was 'something' religious, his whole demeanor making clear that he didn't agree with it. It didn't really bother me, as no matter how you look at it I'm a visitor in this country. Normally I'm a firm believer in 'do as the locals do' but in this case I felt my lack of singing qualities wouldn't add anything... 

Welcome to dusty Cambodia!
We had already been ear-blasted for hours the night before by the same stuff from the same gigantic loudspeakers, and made a sigh of relief when it finally stopped in the wee hours of the morning so that we could get some sleep. When it started again at 5.30 am I was... let's just say: ready to leave! The night before hadn't been that good anyway. Phnom Penh is a mess. Walking in the city for an hour was enough for me to vow never to come back again as it's full of people who don't give a toss about anything. Some say India is a mess but I'm much rather in Delhi than Phnom Penh. Smiling seems to be illegal here as the locals all have this grim, sad look on their faces, not unlike quite a few western cities I've been to. Even the food we ordered was in style with the rest, ie terrible. 'Slaughterhouse refuse' grandpa would call it but sold here as real Khmer curry. We've had Khmer Curry before, which luckily wasn't even remotely like this.

Attempting to leave before the city went mad again, we found ourselves on the bikes at 6.30 am, which by the looks of things was at least 3 hours too late... I guess the 'singing' had woken up everyone else too! Driving standards here are on par with point-and-shoot while quite a few vehicles smoke so bad that we wondered if they had an engine or a bbq under the hood. Others were so full of people that we couldn't see who the driver was, which didn't matter as he couldn't see anything himself either... The things we saw in just one day are enough to write a book about... and remember we are used to quite a bit as we have just been through India! 

Looking at all the near misses, the impossible and thus failed overtaking attempts and the amount of people having to veer off the road to avoid cars, trucks and buses coming towards them on the wrong side of the road, was staggering. I had to veer off the road myself to avoid a truck who pulled out while I was overtaking him, seeing me dive for cover just made him shrug... It kind of paints the picture about riding in Cambodia, nobody cares one bit. We had been warned about this by the very friendly Customs guy, and he wasn't exaggerating when he said we had to be very careful as it was much worse than Thailand (which hardly has a good reputation itself). 

The landscape was nothing to write home about either, in short: we were happy to be heading for the border. The last 10 percent of our ride was manageable, mainly because there was hardly anyone on the road in that small section... while at the same time the landscape improved a little too. There were even some hills to be seen! It didn't last long though... We stopped 12 km before the border, aiming for a border crossing early in the morning. Riding into town a big Honda motorcycle dealership caught my attention, looking for brake pads again for the Yamaha rear. The rear disc is ruined by now and is therefore 'eating' brake pads, but no option to replace it as we can't get one anywhere unless we want to wait for 10 days and pay more in shipping and customs charges than the disc is worth. It'll have to wait until Oz and in the meantime we'll keep feeding it brake pads :-) The pads are nothing special, used on various scooters and the CBR250R, so should be in stock. The answer though was 'no, don't have'... without even looking. I explained politely that I needed brake pads for a Honda scooter but again the reply was 'no, don't have'... Right, next bike shop then, the owner of that one couldn't be bothered to have a look either... The third bike shop offered me 5 dollars for the worn out ones I had with me as a sample... Guess we'd better try again in Thailand :-)

1: Carnet stamp-out. 2: Passport stamp-out. 3: Bike temporary entry permit. 4: Visa 5: Customs
Crossing the border was easy. Just as entering had been but a lot less chaotic. They were a bit suspicious as to why we had entered Thailand 3 times by now, probably wondering if we were doing visa runs or something. Once we convinced them we were on our way to Malaysia all went smoothly (we crossed into Thailand a while back, before you needed a mandatory guide and a stack of paperwork) 

When's the last time you saw an elephant being transported? You can't see it in the photo but it's keeper is in there as well. The elephant seemed to enjoy the ride, cheerfully waiving its trunk around and moving from side to side (which had the rear wheels of the truck lifting...
The contrast couldn't have been greater. Suddenly we found ourselves in a much more modern country. Luckily there's still the madness which makes being here worthwhile though. We simply love Thailand. The northern part is, scenery wise, more to our taste but it's still good to be here. The Thai are so full of life, so energetic. Obviously that doesn't always work out well, especially when on the road, as we witnessed the bloody remains of a traffic accident which costs a motorcyclist his life. The Police was there but the body lay uncovered on the road in a pool of blood, perhaps they used him as a deterrent?

We spend quite a bit of time looking for a campground in a national park we had heard about. The coordinates were wrong... which had us ending up in someones garden! As it turned out we were some 30 km off. Locals pointed us in the right direction... where we found an empty campground! Apart from the local cat, we had the place to ourselves. The views over the mountains was amazing! We tried to pay the camping fees, as displayed on the board, but they refused to take our money... Tried again in the morning and again they wouldn't take it. Heading for the border with Malaysia we decided to have one more stop in Thailand and indulge in a little luxury while waiting for friends to catch up... and ended up in a proper bungalow along a lake. Funny thing is we never looked for it, we just looked for something cheap where we could stay a day or two and this was the cheapest around :-)