3 January 2013
It’s strange when you wake up in the morning to the sound of a rooster crowing (at 5 am) in a room without a TV, without a clock, without any creature comforts. And then that night you go to bed in a 5 star hotel in a massive city in a soft bed with delicious pillows.
Yes, from the backwaters of Kep to Kuala Lumpur in a day.
Our start is an early 7:00 am pick up (the wake up made earlier thanks to the previously mentioned rooster, who “woke us” for a full hour). Apparently our return trip to Phnom Phen airport includes visits to a couple of temples. We have a driver and a guide in yet another Toyota Camry!
First stop is on the banks of a man-made canal (Takeo Canal) that goes all the way to Vietnam, approximately fourty kilometres long. We get loaded into the “fast boat”, a fibreglass “tinny” with an outboard and before you know it we are racing through a massive flood plain in the Angkor Borey district, 45 minutes of endless paddy fields and a small number of fishermen.
The fishing is unlike anything I have seen before. Men standing shoulder deep in the muddy fresh water, with a rake like tool, scrapping the mud to catch these weird fish that look like baby eels. All day they do this for a few kilos of fish! We ask our guide to stop along the way and the fishermen show us their catch. They are so happy to have this brief exchange with us and the guide. Their smiles are infectious.
We eventually unload onto a steep muddy bank. We walk through a small village, where pigs wander the dirt street; small children come up to us and stare in wonder at Janet’s painted toe nails. It is depressing! These people are so poor. They have large pots that they collect their water in during the wet season and this must last them for the dry season. They wash in the canal. There is no running water for drinking and little power. Most prepare their meals over wood fires.
Up the steps is the Phnom Da, a bombed out 13th century temple. Bombed by the Americans during the Vietnam war (Vietnam is very close) and then desecrated by the Khmer Rouge; it is a sad sight. There is another temple 100 metres away this one is older and in slightly better condition. Declining a visit to the local museum it’s back into the boat for the 45 minute return journey.
Then off to Tonle Bati to visit another ancient temple, this one is pretty good, but the visit is brief as we need to get to the airport.
At the airport we of course pick the check in line that has a half wit in charge. Seriously that guy must have checked our passport and moved it from one side of the desk to the other about a dozen times.
Then we pick the guy who must have thought he was working for the US border security. He glared at me for a full minute before he painfully checked my photo and finger prints. Yes, you get a retina scan and a full finger print when you enter Cambodia. What a joke! They do all that and then don’t even pick up that H has another person’s exit papers stapled in his passport. The “passport Nazi” takes forever to process H, I’m beginning to think that he is about to get escorted away and I’m going to have to contact the Australian Embassy. But he finally lets H through. Phew!
H makes friends with a french girl in the departure hall, who is from Rheims. One of our favourite places. She has a Malaysian boyfriend who joins in the conversation and gives us the drum on KL!
Onto the plane and into Kuala Lumpur. No visas required, no finger printing, no retina scans. Straight through, easy peasy. Air Asia has been good so far!
KL airport is a full 1 hour drive (on the highway) to central KL and to avoid being ripped off by the taxi drivers you buy a prepaid voucher for MR 75 (less than A$25). Breaking a few land speed records we arrive safely (no potholes yeah!). I think our Cambodian driving experiences have totally desensitised us to manic driving.
The Grand Millennium Hotel is located in the heart of Bukit Bintang aka shopping heaven. Check in, shower, change of clothes and we hit the street heading for the famous Jalan Alor, a back street crammed with hawkers stalls with plastic tables and chairs jutting into the street. We select the busiest one we can find (always a good sign) and chow down on some great prawns, noodles and baby gai lan – all washed down with more beer. MR90 (divide by 3 = bargain). It’s hot, it’s humid, it’s crowded, it’s noisy, and it’s fabulous. This place is pumping from 5 pm to 5 am.
Exhausted by our long day we grab an ice cream and head back to our bed (the first that is not as hard as a plank) to the sleep of the dead.