Welcome to Cambodia.

In a word: potholes. I wonder if that actually is supposed to be two.
Welcome, fellow readers, to Cambodia! A land of dirt, dust, smiles and POTHOLES! Our journey here was nothing short of hilarious. We left Thailand from Chanthaburi by minibus for an uneventful 2-hour trip to the Ban Pakkard/Pailin border on September 3rd. Much to our relief, we had no trouble getting our visas (horror stories can be found here: http://www.talesofasia.com/cambodia-overland-bkksr-reports1.htm), and after a “tip” for the border patrol guy, we were on our way. We jumped on the back of a moped (motodup) with two very smiley men –one with terrible cataracts, the other wearing a Julia Roberts’ Pretty Woman hat for the 50km trip to the city of Pailin. Awed by the National Geographic-esque countryside, I embraced the potholes and sent silent words of encouragement to my half-blind driver, mentally helping him avoid driving us into a ditch.

The one thing Cambodia has to offer right away is dirt. Red-orange dirt. Loads of it. I had read about this. Countless rants from countless travelers. Nothing I could have read though could have prepared me for just how ridiculous the dirt, coupled with the potholes could be. Hilariously ridiculous. Tears streaking my now orange cheeks, coughing uncontrollably, driver laughing hysterically -we pull into Pailin. We jump off, and the Julia wannabe explains in KhmerEnglish that he is going to find us a taxi to take us to Battambang, where we were planning on staying for a few days. Perfect. Turning around, we are surprised to see a whole group of people have assembled around us, laughing and trying to speak to us in broken English. Amused, we take out our tattered phrasebook, and try to indulge them by speaking some no doubt, terrible Khmer. Just as we had gotten past the formalities, Julia is back introducing our “taxi” driver.

This is where the fun begins.

Ami (that’s his name) is adorned in a full hunter green military getup, complete with terrible acne, pants tucked into black lace-up boots, a frown, and a military cap. After drawing the payment required for the trip to Battambang on the dusty window of his rusty Honda, he throws a cell phone in Kev’s face and says, “talk.” While I’m laughing with the other 20 people standing around watching this transaction take place, Kev, looking totally freaked out and annoyed, keeps saying, “what? Uh huh. Yes. What? I don’t…What? 1200 Baht? Yes. Yes….” while shooting me “stop-laughing-if-you-know-what’s-good-for-you” looks. (In my defense, no matter how hard I try, it seems Cambodian men refuse to do any sort of business transaction with women, at any time.) Finally, Kev hands the phone back and the man opens up the trunk. We throw our stuff in, say our “aa gohns (thank yous)” and jump in. Turns out, the guy on the phone wanted to be sure that Kev had actually given him 1200 baht to take us to Battambang. Fishy right? This was not a certified cab, and despite his military appearance, Ami was not a member of the military. Just a guy with some wheels. We were not on the road more than a minute when Ami’s phone goes off. Looking more pissed than ever, he pulls over and starts honking his horn relentlessly. Soon, a man appears at the window, and he hands him some money. No smiles. No thank you. No nothing. Just a debt paid. I think during our 3 hour trip, Ami’s phone went off 6 times. Which meant: 6 more headache-inducing honking sessions, 6 more unfriendly payments to 6 more unfriendly people, NOT on the way to Battambang.

Just after the first debt was paid, it started to rain. Nay. POUR. It’s funny to think back to when I complained about the rains in Thailand. Thailand doesn’t understand crap about rainstorms. They don’t have dirt roads. Or potholes. The best thing about the rain here is that even though the cars can hardly make it down the road without stalling out, and even though there are 10 year olds swimming up to their necks in the streets, there is still dust. There is still dirt. Not mud (although there is plenty of that too), but dust. I can’t explain it really. It’s one of the craziest things, but it’s true. Anyway, so there we are, driving along. Ami skillfully swerving around the road trying to avoid the potholes (well, every 3rd, anywayJ), my arm fat jigglin’ to a song I didn’t want to dance to. NOTE: There are a couple of things that tell a girl she needs to start doing some pushups. 1) driving down a Cambodian road. 2) doing the Chicken Dance at wedding parties. Let me just be clear. I did 20 pushups that night before bed.

So back on the road, we end up picking up a few more passengers. Naturally, with 6 bodies now packing the car, the windows start fogging up. It is still pouring rain. Pouring. The windows must all stay up to avoid drowning in the car. Now, I swear to god, you CANNOT see out of the windshield. The guy sitting on the stick shift is wiping off the condensation every 30 seconds for our irritable, sweaty driver. All you can see are black blobs slowly passing in front of your eyes. Oh! There’s a cow! Oh! There goes a truck! Oh! There’s a kid playing in the water!

We almost hit cars. We almost hit dogs. Chickens. Children. Even though Ami could see no better than my driver with cataracts on the first leg of the trip, he had one thing the first driver didn’t. A horn. Even though we couldn’t see a damn thing, we kept our 30km/hr pace, flying over potholes, gripping the safety handrails to avoid smacking ourselves into a concussion, horn wailing non-stop for over 3 hours, all while watching orange water fly over the top of our windows.

That is, until the car broke down.

Yes, a little transmission problem! That’s all! Stalled in the dead center of the road, everyone piles out of the car to stand by some cows, while a now seriously cranky Ami phones his brother to come pick us up. Luckily we didn’t have to wait toooo terribly long, and soon we were all loaded into his brother’s car. We left Ami with his rusty Honda in the middle of the road. Ha. Poor Ami. September 3rd was just not his day.

Anyway, the guesthouse we sought out was owned by an Aussie and his Khmer wife, who promised to be an open book for all the Cambodian questions one could ever think of. That sounded great to us, as we could hardly pronounce “hello” correctly at this point. Too bad he turned out to not be all that cool, and mainly seemed to be working us at every angle for more money. Just the same, the rooms promised A/C, which was quite welcomed after our hot and humid trip there. Just as bed is starting to sound nice (around 10pm) the power goes. Within 15 minutes I am literally dripppppping with sweat. I have slept in many a non-air conditioned room since we’ve been here. No problem. In fact, I can count the number of times we’ve had A/C on one hand. Trouble was, the man neglected to put screens on his A/C room windows –which was perfect considering we are in the Malaria capital of the world. Since we were too cheap to get Malaria pills at home, it wasn’t a risk we were willing to take, and our window stayed shut. So, I resorted to getting up every 15 minutes in attempts to cool myself down with a cold shower. It is so dark I truly can hardly feel my way to the bathroom. It’s kind of scary. I get Kev. There we are. Laying on opposite sides of the bed, refusing to touch each other, window closed, in pitch darkness, sweat pouring out of every crevice on our bodies. Disgusting is the only real way to put it. After an hour of incessantly trying to ignore the heat and will myself to sleep, I am just about there. Floating above my body, aware that I’m still awake, but barely. It is at this point–3 in the morning, 5 hours since we lost power–that the worst possible thing happens. The manager’s 10 month old baby starts crying. Nay. Not crying. Wailing. The wailing of an over-tired kid who is so hot, and so sticky, and so uncomfortable that they couldn’t embrace sleep if they were knocked unconscious. I’m sure our parents can remember such a cry. Nothing you can do will make them stop. They just have to cry themselves into an even greater exhaustion until they fall asleep again. And that’s seemingly, just what his parent’s decided to let him do. 2 hours later, he finally stopped. 5-something in the morning, and a million cold showers later, I set myself back to willing myself to sleep.

The next morning, we woke up starving. Thankfully, the power had turned back on around 6:30am, so we got a couple hours of good, non-sweaty sleep. When we walked downstairs at 10am, we encountered quite the sight….
So an archaeologist, an English teacher, and a land mine bomb technician walked into a bar…

Sound familiar?

Long story short, we ended up partaking in a wonderfully drunken birthday celebration for a 68 year old British English teacher. The bomb technician worked for the government, and bought us COUNTLESS (read: too many) drinks. As it turns out, his truck had just run over a land mine an hour earlier, on the way to our guesthouse to buy his friend some drinks for his birthday, blowing it to pieces. He acted like it was a pretty common occurrence. Not too shaken up about it, crazy enough. Although we tried to fend them off, the man proceeded to buy us more “doubles” than one should ever drink, let alone at 10 am on an empty stomach. It was an awesome time. Story after story. Hour after hour. I kept pushing my drinks to Kev (he kept taking them every time I got up to pee or talk to anyone) and needless to say, by 5pm we were drunk. Very drunk. Kev though, was a little more than very drunk. It was hilarious. He maintained this goofy grin on his face for close to 4 hours, and kept babbling on about, “how great of an experience this was,”as only he could. For some reason, unbenounced to me, he decided to involve us in a late-night poker game with some of the regulars. Still drunk, he lost his money within 5 hands, while I managed to stay in for an hour or so before losing. Overall, it honestly was a really fun, if not a terribly unproductive day.

And now, we’re in Phnom Penh. I’m exhausted. There’s a lot to write about here, but I’m just too tired to do it now. I don’t understand why I always decide I should write a post late at night on this damn ipod. You’d think I’d learn.

On an entirely random note, I bet I almost step on 10 cockroaches on any given night. They’re everywhere. And big. Easily as big as a small gerbil. Not that I mind really. At least they’re not spiders.

Also my Crest toothpaste has about one more use left, and then it’s time for the no-brand Asian stuff. Again, it’s not a big deal, just weird to think about having been here long enough to have gone through an entire tube of toothpaste. And toothbrush, for that matter. My toothbrush is in rough shape. But that guy was in rough shape before I even got here. I like them broken in. Like, bristles flattened to the plastic, broken-in. That’s the best way. Plus, if you use it down that much, it makes getting a new one that much more exciting. Teeth brushing has always been a big thing for me. I like clean teeth. Over here, I find myself brushing them 3-4 times a day (which I know isn’t even good for them) because of all the dirt flying around. It seriously feels like the Wizard of Oz. Yes, if you can imagine the dust storm in the Wizard of Oz, coupled with rain, you can imagine Cambodia. By the end of the day, you’ve been crunchin’ on dirt particles for 10+ hours. For the orally fixated, it’s cheaper (and maybe healthier) than cigarettes or gum, I suppose.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I think my toothbrush may have brushed its last tooth. Tomorrow may be the day for a new one.

Hope the roads aren’t dusty where you are.
Miss you all.

One Reply to “Welcome to Cambodia.”

  1. sooooo i must say that is one of the craziest stories….and it’s only one day of your trip! i swear linds….this would be your type of “day” over there with the crazy taxi trip to the A/c room only to not so much give any A/c…..and babies crying once you finally think you’ll get sleep, ha! i bet it wasn’t funny to you at the time but i must say that Ryan and myself were very entertained. Dude….the most important comment i have about this post is:

    i.cannot.believe.you.didn’t.take.MALARIA PILLS!

    oh my my, what will i do with you? 🙂 love from back home – leslie and ryan

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