So we are now in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It took a while coming through the Arrival process at the airport, what with absolutely everyone in two planes needing to get Visas, but eventually we came to the exit and, when we saw the hoards of people standing there with Hotel placards and individual's names, we were joking about whether or not our chauffeur would be awaiting us when, lo and behold, we see a green sign saying 'Golden Banana' & 'McIntyre'! Last thing we had expected was to be picked up at the airport as we are not exactly paying the big bucks here. It's a Guest House that we're staying in which, conversely to how it is at home, is usually at the cheaper end of the accommodation scales. Our 'chauffeur' took us out to our limousine - a Cambodian tuk tuk - which delighted us both. They're different from other tuks we've been in as the driver rides a motorbike up front, and it was doubtful to us (but not to him) as to whether or not we could get all our baggage and us on board. We drove past a long strip of large, upscale hotels, then crossed the river and did a couple of little turns that brought us into a very old area, and to the Golden Banana. We sat down at a table in the courtyard with one of the very nice young men working here to go over our check-in and any information that he thought would be useful to us, then he gave us a message that had been left for us by Steve (the Englishman who rode with us to Bangkok) and his friend, Marilyn. Marilyn had kindly checked on our reservation (arriving here a few days before us) and, upon discovering that the staff didn't seem to know about us, she returned to the Guest House later on to make sure everything was okay, and I think that was what prompted our airport pickup.
So we dropped our bags in our cute little cottage room, which is set in a lush tropical garden, then had a quick glass of wine out by the little pool and set off, again in a tuk tuk, to where Steve and Marilyn are staying. Marilyn lives and works in Phnom Penh and we met up with them and their friend, Gloria, who works in the medical field in Siem Reap and had a nice dinner.
Next day, New Year's Eve, we booked the tuk driver, Nat, who had brought us from the airport to take us out and around for the day. Our destination was a fishing village on stilts called, we think, Kompoeng Phlug. Nat picked us up at our Guest House and we rode for about 35 Kms until we were off the main road, on to a dirt road, and eventually came to a halt at a house. This was only a pit stop so that Nat could take his Tuk off of his motorbike, because the 'road' was going to be way too rough to go down there with a tuk. Little did we know! I was asked to jump on the back of Nat's motorbike, and Bruce was assigned to someone else's motorbike (who just happened to appear there) and we set off on a dirt trail that is normally one metre underwater when the Ton Le Sap Lake floods during the monsoons, so what you get left with is a sometimes rocky, sometimes soft sand sort of trail that we bumped and bounced over, me with a death grip on my seat because I just knew that one more bump would have me off the back on my backside. Several times we had to jump off while the drivers negotiated something that looked like Brenda's Monkey Butts (motor bike trials riding group, for those that don't know what a Monkey Butt really is) would enjoy riding and we would meet them on the other side. Several kilometres down this death ride, we eventually came to where we climbed on a narrow wooden boat, driven by a kid who looked all of 12 but swore he was 16. We shot off down a really narrow water way, very muddy looking, with occasional fishermen throwing nets and hauling out tiny sprats, and numerous fish traps (who'd eat the fish from there???) which eventually took us through mangroves until the waters opened out into the fishing village on stilts. Here, we saw more fish traps with pigs occupying the space above - nothing wasted - the pig waste drops below to feed the fish. Sadly, the pigs were rather sunburnt.
We went ashore in the village where we were mobbed by dirty little, snotty-faced kids (who were actually very cute) who wanted to sell us exercise books and pencils. Through Nat, we did buy a bunch of books then went looking for a teacher to give the them to for distribution. Instead, it turned out that the school was closed at that time, so we went to a house where we were asked to sit down and the kids came and were lined up to each receive a book. Nat also bought a bag of candies to distribute to them - he'd like to be a teacher and he was delighted to be with the kids.
Back we came again after our boat trip on our wild dirt bike ride, and this time we didn't jump off at the tough parts. Nat was singing and whooping and away we went! Even Bruce was ki-yi-ing up ahead on the back of his bike and his guy was laughing away. Nat called it "Dancing on a Motorbike". Me, I could hardly pry my fingers loose when we arrived back at the house where, fortunately, there was a toilet! (A decent one, at that!)
Had a nice lunch in a place that Nat recommended where I had my first Khmer food. We asked him to come in and eat with us because he really wants to improve his English and, if he can't be a teacher he'd like to be a tour guide. It costs $2,800 for him to get his papers though, and, unfortunately, he sends a lot of his earnings home for his Mum and younger siblings. His father was killed during Pol Pot's reign so he's had a tough go of it, but his English is self-taught (only since 2004) and he is doing remarkably well at it - he really has to be studying hard.
Back to our Guest house afterwards and a quick turnaround to go out and meet Steve and Marilyn for New Year's Eve. We took tuks out to Angkor Wat, ostensibly to have a drink and watch the sunset, but unfortunately found that the bar didn't really have a view of the sunset. This was our first glimpse of the temple, which we planned to go to the next day, and we were impressed. The bar, however, was a different story. Can you believe that, at our age and stage in life, we were actually thrown out of a Cambodian bar???? Honestly! The owner was a somewhat juiced Frenchman (I swear he was drunk when we got there), who took a hissy fit at a member of our party (and no, it wasn't Bruce or even me). He had left the bottle of Gordon's gin on the table for us to simply pour our own drinks and told us to tell him how many we had. I like that part! They brought us a bowl of ice and some slices of lime and cans of tonic - very civilized, too, I thought. However, when we got up to go he became absolutely furious about something that Marilyn did (she wanted to take one of the tonics for later) and he was yelling at us to "Get Out" and "Don't come back" and "I don't want your money" and stuff like that. We did pay and left, but it was a bit awkward, especially as Bruce left our bottle of bug-juice on the table and we actually went back again in the morning but, luckily, the owner was still sleeping it off when we got there. It was a bit of an embarrassing experience (and an unnecessary provocation to the owner) in my opinion.
Anyway, onwards we went and had a very nice dinner sitting out in the courtyard at Steve and Marilyn's hotel, and we left in good time for Brucie to be fast asleep long before midnight on New Year's Eve - as is his custom.