Monday, November 17, 2008

SE Asia Day 8 (part 3): Phnom Penh to Siem Reap

After the somber trip to the killing fields, I returned to Sunday Guest House to pack my things.  I had an early afternoon bus.  On the way in the shuttle van to the bus station, it began to rain.  It didn’t really stop the entire day.  Lucky, most of the day was spent on the second-hand bus from Korea (it still had Hanguel signs throught the interior).  During the ride, I got a better feel for the country.
Cambodia is flat.  I mean really flat—flatter than Kansas even.  Kansas is rugged compared to central Cambodia.  If Cambodia were an Irish man, his name would be Flatty ‘Flat’ McFlatterson, the Flat (“Flat” being a little known title in the British Honor System).
If it weren’t for the trees, I think it would be possible to observe the curvature of the earth.
Along the way the bus made a few stops.  At one stop, I bought a bag of pineapple from a little girl, and a sandwich from a young woman at a sandwich stand.  The sandwich was the strangest I have ever had.  It contained mayonnaise, some carrots, cucumbers, and some mystery meat all on a baguette.  The pineapple came with spiced salt like the fruit did in Vietnam.
The second stop we made was at a gas station.  I saw a few interesting sights.  The first was this hand-cranked gas pump.  First, the attendant turns a crank to get the fuel into the glass measuring  container before it is put in the vehicle.  Thankfully, our bus didn’t actually need fuel—it would have taken forever!
Next to this pump was a lawn chair for the attendant.  I think it is meant to inspire the dolphins, palm trees, and fun times of the Titanic.
The roof over my seat began to leak as we neared Siem Reap.  Even though the bus was only about a fourth full, I sat there and brush away the drips when they came.  The bus eventually dropped us off well out of the city.  So, all the passengers were vulnerable to the tuk-tuk drivers who crowded the bus when we arrived.  All of them had photo IDs issued by the bus company.  So, I guess the racket is transparent—the bus company drops passengers off at a station miles from town, and then tuk-tuk drivers pay the bus company for access to the passengers, who they help along the way.
The driver I picked as actually a nice guy and very reasonable.  His name is Cheng and he speaks pretty good English.  I had a place picked out from my Lonely Planet book but agreed to check out the place he was partnered with.  Upon arrival and seeing my room, I was sold and decided to stick with his recommendation.
That night I stayed at the Happy Guest House and got air-con, tv, and a private bath for $12.  I could have had the same room for $6 if I didn’t want air conditioning.  But the tropical monsoon air of Cambodia is a powerful motivator for spending a few more dollars.
The place didn’t have internet, but an internet cafe was right down the street next to a grocery store.  I felt glad that I had found a nice quiet place to relax, and to which to base my explorations of Siem Reap.
Chang, my driver,  is available for tuk-tuk tours of Angkor Wat or for rides around Siem Reap.  E-mail him at  Tell him Josh sent you.

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