In the evening after my last email, I got a lesson on making Cambodian fried rice in the kitchen out the back, from one of the lads – ‘Destiny’ he calls himself. Not long after we started cooking, a Tokay gecko started up. Much to my frustration, I couldn’t find him to photograph him. He sounded like a big one too. So noisy yet so hard to find. As I was taking my generous pile of fried rice up to our room, the manager walked by. ‘Goodnight’ I said. ‘I am drunk – goodnight.’ said he. He’d been at a wedding all day…
Onto having a lazy day the next day – meaning we’d almost run out of Cambodian money so we couldn’t do much shopping. Well, I confess to having done a little bit. What was I to do? Cambodian rial are worth nothing anywhere else so it seemed silly to take it out of the country again. As far as I was concerned, I was just being sensible. After unburdening my wallet a little, I wandered around on the internet on the foyer computer, catching up with things. I had to laugh – the letters had worn off the keyboard so some enterprising person had twinked them back on again. It’s very informal in Cambodia it would seem, even in the ‘posher’ of hotels – you’ll be sitting there emailing away and the staff will wander up behind you and say ‘What are you doing? Who you talk to?’ Bless their friendly lil’ hearts.
Come the evening, I went out onto the verandah and heard ‘sister! Keeweee!! Come and play us some music.’ It was the manager out in the front yard, gently soothing his hangover with a case of Angkor beer. I told him he’d have to pay me in beer if I got my ukulele out, and he agreed. I don’t actually drink beer myself, but it came in handy for Ursula who had run completely out of Rial and was probably quite thirsty after a long day of doing nothing.
The manager (we call him Buddha Guy because he’s somewhat rotund and very jovial) is quite a sociable being and before we knew it we were surrounded by beer, food and quite a few of the locals that he knows. In fact, anybody walking past us within a mile or so’s vicinity was in dire danger of being invited in. We had a great old time going through my song book and singing the same songs over and over again. They really loved ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon because it features in the movie ‘The Killing Fields’ apparently, and Hotel California ended up being forever altered so that the chorus will now (in several people’s heads anyway) always say ‘Welcome to the Side Walk Never Die’. As they explained, the hotel is called ‘Side Walk Never Die Hotel’ because they claim it will be there for as long as Angkor Wat stands. We said to them that Angkor Wat will probably never fall down, and they said ‘Precisely. Angkor Wat is the heart of Cambodia – it will never die.’
They told us to help ourselves to the many kinds of food that turned up, and we had a few slithers of the first meat dish, which they told us was beef. A bit later on we suspected that we’d actually eaten dog. Then we were assured ‘no, it is duck!’ In saying that, they showed us another dish altogether, containing duck feet and a ducks head complete with beak, sliced right through the centre. Judging by the conversation centring on Cambodian cuisine, we went back to suspecting that we had actually eaten dog and thanked our lucky starts under our breath that we’d only had a few slithers. Actually, I’m not really sure I want to know for sure… Oh, and Ursula got all brave and ate a cricket, which turned out to be rather nice, she said. They had apparently been fried, salted and seasoned. Sadly I was far too busy filming the goings on to try one. Oh well…
We wound up going to bed at about 10 am, and everything had pretty much quietened down by then. We were pretty rapt that we’d seen the sunset finally, after all the rain, and even several stars – at least three. I think I actually saw more frogs on the verandah than I did stars in the sky, but let’s not get picky here.
In the morning, the taxi – most unfairly I thought – arrived half an hour early. Fortunately we’d had breakfast and were almost packed. So we tore out the door, yelling goodbyes and thanked Buddha Guy (still redeyed and seeing double I think) for his wonderful hospitality. Onwards to Thailand.
There were four people in the front of the taxi – two in the passenger’s seat and two in the driver’s seat. From our point of view in the back, it looked like we had a two-headed taxi driver. With us in the rear was a mum with her gorgeous baby girl who had big brown eyes and a hat with rabbit ears sticking out. We drove past rice fields, stands on the side of the road selling gasoline in what looked like Coke bottles, people planting rice, brahman cows and water buffaloes, rice fields, lines of cricket catchers, Wats and temples, a funeral, rice fields, oh, and we got stopped by the police. They checked the many stickers on the windscreen out, the driver got out for a while and it’s entirely possible baksheesh changed hands, then he turned up again, got back in and we carried on. I don’t think the driver was deliberately trying to get us killed while passing other vehicles in silly ways, but through careful observation, I’m pretty sure that he was just naturally talented at it .The speed limit on what are laughingly called Cambodian highways is apparently whatever you want it to be. We looked out the side windows so as not to actually look death in the eye as it careered towards us and listened to the same cd four times by our counting, then gradually the taxi emptied out until there was just us. We were still alive – success so far!
Astoundingly, we made it to the Cambodia/Thailand border then had a contrastingly boring time waiting in line for a good hour or so to get through Passport Control. After that, along the bumpy, muddy tarmac and into the office pertaining to the minivan people. It was now about 11.45 and the guy there assured us that the van would be leaving at 12.30pm. So, 2.30pm rolled around and we finally got moving, in rather a nice van stuffed full of luggage and exhausted-looking backpackers from various and assorted countries. Now this is the sort of Asian timing I’m used to, which is why it so took me by surprise when the taxi actually turned up early in the morn. I wish they’d just be consistant, for God’s sake. I could have had another free coffee at the Side Walk Never Die!
Approaching Bangkok a few hours later, a huge rainstorm broke out and we could hardly see the cars in front of us. After a while, the van driver who spoke not a skerrick of English, pulled over and insisted we disembark onto the side of a completely unfamiliar Bangkok Road. Yeah well, we love you too mate!
The ensuing ‘conversation’ with a taxi driver – that’s the politest I could put it – and we agreed that he would take us to our hotel for 400 baht and he would pay the tolls, which apparently amounted to 70 baht. ‘Takes 40 minutes’ he kept saying. Ursula gave him 100 baht for the tolls, and he paid the first toll then handed her the change. We said ‘No way! You hang onto that for tolls and taxi price!’ It was somewhat transparent that his plan was to use Ursula’s 100 baht then demand 400 baht at the end of the ride. He also kept asking for the other 300 baht. ‘Yes, you’ll get that money when we get to our hotel.’ It finally dawned on him that his tricks weren’t working and we got to the hotel – after about 15 minutes, I might add – then had to haul the luggage out of the taxi ourselves because suddenly his arms were broken. Welcome to Bangkok!!