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Holiday In Cambodia

January 26, 2005 Leave a comment

The Sex Pistols said that…

Well, here we are in Phnom Penh, and the feeling is… dodgy. There are no ATMs in the entire country, and most of the streets in the city don’t seem to be paved. It reminds me of Vietnam in a way, complete with hassling by moto/cyclo drivers and vigorous tootling aplenty. The only thing that’s missing is the ominous feeling of Government everywhere. In Cambodia, it feels as though there is no system of anything. Almost lawless. We’re safe though, so don’t all start freaking out.

I just discovered that I have only 2 weeks until I depart. :( But we’ve still got a few big things on the agenda, namely a visit to the huge Khmer temples around Siem Riep. There are a few things around Phnom Penh we’ll look at first, things I think will fully smash me around. I’ll try and write about those if it’s possible.

So far we’ve had an interesting time of it. Bus ride at the crack of dawn from Trat (Thailand) to Koh Kong (sort of limbo between Thailand and Cambodia). The border crossing was the most chaotic yet, with about 20 Westerners trying to cross the border and three billion taxi and bus drivers competing for their business. We filled out a declaration stating that we didn’t have SARS and paid a 100 baht processing fee, got 17 different stamps on the passport, a cab to the ferry. The ferry was due to leave at 8:00am and there’s only one a day. We left the border checkpoint at 7:53. The driver stopped and said we could get money changed, baht to riel, but the ferry won’t leave for another twenty minutes, I promise. Jen changed US$100 into riel and got a block of cash back which made her look like the perpatrator of a bank heist.

Picture 127

True to his word, the ferry hadn’t left. About 4 hours later we were in Sihanoukville and battled another 16 million tuk-tuk/moto/cyclo drivers at the wharf, had passports checked again and got another cab to the New Paris Hotel. A grand old big clean cheap place. This country has a reputation for having a heavily armed citizenry, so Jen and I decided to start taking a “gunshots heard” tally that night. The score so far: a rather surprising 0.

Tonight we’re staying at the No. 9 Sister guesthouse at the lakeside on the recommendation of Liam and Cerri who I met in Vietnam. I’ve managed to locate all the places Liam mentioned to me so far and they’re all as wikkid as he suggested.

Cambodia feels very much like a dodgy place. Phnom Penh is the capitol of dodge. Brett, you should be mayor of this town. They have a music shop here which will rip, mix and burn CDs for you. They’ll also do MP3 format, mini-disc, whatever. DVDs too, I think. All for about US$1.50 a disc. Or you can swap your tunes with them.

That’s about it for right now y’all. Have a good Australia Day for those in .au, I’ll catch you later.

Take care ey!

– Paul C./Karsoe

“Tootle Him With Vigor” – Near-death experiences on the Roads in Vietnam

January 6, 2005 Leave a comment

“I know you won’t break the rules; there aren’t any.”
– Dr. Dealgood, ‘Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome’

If you ever need a sharp reminder of your own mortality, take a quick jaunt on Vietnam’s roads. And if you don’t invoke the name of a deity at least once, I’d be very surprised.

There are 3 factors involved in driving in Vietnam:

1. Maximum speed.
2. Use as much of the road as is deemed necessary.
3. Sound the horn at every available opportunity.

The third one, for me, was one reason for me thinking that this is the noisiest and most intense country anywhere.

A very good piece of advice (and also among my favourite examples of mangled English) comes from a dodgily translated brochure for a car rental company in Japan.

“When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.”

This is something the Vietnamese drivers have taken to heart. It’s considered very courteous driving practice to indicate your presence to all & sundry (I doubt this includes neighbouring countries, despite common opinion). This is done by “tootling with vigor” as you approach someone. Hence, even the smallest of towns can end up sounding like downtown Manhattan. The ubiquitous Honda Dream motor scooters aren’t too bad, but with a thousand of them it can be a bit daunting. They, at least, have a relatively subtle “beep beep” horn. Some of the larger trucks & buses sound as if they have the entire brass & woodwind section of the London Philharmonic Orchestra installed behind the grille.

My first night in Vietnam was spent sleeplessly in the town of Dong Ha, where the north-south running National Highway One intersects with Route 9 to the Laos border. Dong Ha seems to be the major venue for World Championship Vigorous Tootling contests, which start at about 5am and seem to abate at roughly 10:30pm. And it’s the same *everywhere* in Vietnam.

The tootling can get very vigorous indeed when overtaking occurs. Watching vehicles overtake in Vietnam is a very fun & exciting spectator sport, provided that you are at a respectable & safe distance. For this purpose, I recommend Mars.

If you’re unfortunate enough to actually be in one of the vehicles involved in such lunacy, this is when things start to get rather religious. especially if the overtaking is being done on a blind curve going up a steep mountain road while it’s raining. And it will be. Has been, even. The overtaking vehicle sounds it’s horn *constantly* while passing, and any oncoming traffic in the other lane will pull off the road as far as possible without any actual reduction in speed. Unless the oncoming vehicle is bigger than you, in which case your driver will jump on the brakes and duck back behind the vehicle he’s trying to overtake. This will be done at the last possible nanosecond, giving you ample time to count the number of bugs on the windshield of the truck you nearly had a head-on with.

And the truly frightening thing? They say it’s safer than flying…