Sunrise over the Mekong
After an early rise to catch the sunrise it was all hands to packing. Journeying by public bus we travelled from Kampong Cham heading towards Phnom Penh. Once more we were all to the front with a mix of locals and tourists to the back. The journey was broken by one rest stop at the now becoming familiar roadside service food hall. This particular stop had been anticipated because here we would see a local delicacy: fried tarantulas (read more on Wikipedia if you want the recipe).
Soon after getting off the bus a woman came round offering to sell us a spider; she had them all piled up on a plate, a round hill of crispy black legs. Pete bought one and seemed to enjoy eating it, though I think to start with he enjoyed some of our reactions more. A few tried a piece of leg but there are some things I’m quite comfortable in not experiencing, thank you very much.
Fried Spider anyone?
In addition to the spiders there were the usual fruits and also a small stand with the more traditionally western crisps and biscuits. There was one other unusual dish available, a plate of large brown crickets, again fried. They looked more edible than the spiders but no more palatable to me.
The rest of our trip was without incident that I recall. We arrived in the bustling city of Phnom Penh to find ourselves truly in a different world; one where we were out of nature and instead beset by motorcycles buzzing past like flies populating a run-down city of tall buildings, dodging around people and the mass of buses. We were actually in the central bus area and this was a time we were grateful to be with a group, it would have been difficult to find a bus or in our case a direction, the bustle being completely disorienting.
As a group we headed off towards a tall building in the middle distance, a shopping centre. Here we would have a few hours to relax, find something to eat and maybe do a little shopping. We would then be getting another bus to take us to our home stay at a community on the way towards Sihanoukville.
Let loose in the shopping centre we slowly made our way to the top, seven stories or escalators up. We took in the view over the city and then had a burger meal in the very American fast food chain next door. Over the other side of the top floor was a roller disco with local adolescents going round and round to loud music. The Angkor Temples this was not.
The rooftops of Phnom Penh
Having eaten we made our way downstairs, checking out the stores available. There wasn’t really anything to interest us and we were back at the ground floor with an hour or more still to kill. We took some time at an Internet cafe and then sat down with Linda and to have some ice cream. Everyone came together and after a few people tried out some of the massage chairs on display we were back out to the bus station. This time it was a smaller bus, just us and our luggage.
The trip became interesting once we turned off the main road and headed into the countryside. Driving along narrower roads and after a while dirt roads we eventually pulled up outside a community centre. We were in the middle of a forest, the community centre a place for those living locally to come together and also a place where visitors such as us can be given information on the local region, food can be prepared and served and an area for entertainment.
There was an option to take a walk to a waterfall further up in the hills which a few of the keener people took on. Keryn and I stayed behind and relaxed while chatting, but not before a bit of a kick-around with a football and another of the funny plastic hackies. The world was nearly put to rights by the time the walkers returned and it wasn’t long before we were being served a simple but tasty dinner. Most of the people cooking our dinner didn’t really join us, other than to serve the food. Our driver was there and a couple of the local men but the woman, for the large part, kept to the background.
Earlier in the day we had stopped off to buy soft drinks and a few beers. A couple of dusty bottles of wine had even been found hiding on the shelves of one store so they were bought as well. This didn’t really suffice and over an evening of drinking, drinking games, dancing and chatting we went through many more beers with a number of dimly lit motorcycle journeys made back down the dusty road to find a store to fuel our need. At one point the guys even came back with the owner of a store who had been invited out to share a drink.
Fire, Tom and Pete
The evening wore on and we ended up having half the group head off to bed at the home stay, the rest of us staying out. We eventually made our way to the home stay as well, a couple of the guys on motorcycle and the rest in the van. We pulled up at the fenced complex, a local farming community with a few buildings on stilts and not much else visible in the darkness. We were assigned a building for our sleeping quarters and all stumbled into the mosquito net enclosed rest areas. Nick and I managed to end up on one pallet with no mattress and just a woven mat for comfort (I wasn’t going to try and figure out where Keryn was, probably fast asleep). For me it was quickly to sleep, a rest required after the long day.