Had a nice, browsing sort of afternoon in Siem Reap on our last day there. We went up to the market in the old town but Bruce couldn't take too much of that, so I sugggested he go back to the Guest House and relax. He's still not feeling quite like himself and has a bit of a cold now, too, so after he left I had a lovely browse in the market, where I also got my nails painted. Not your average beauty salon - it was a dark little corner of the market that sold shampoo and the like, but there were four young ladies sitting on tiny stools on the floor with all their polishes and stuff in tupperware containers beside them. I decided to blow 4 big ones and get both my fingers and toes done! :)
I also had a lovely dinner at a place we'd spotted in the afternoon - I say "I" because Bruce only had a salad because he really wanted to go to a local restaurant for tom yam soup, but I really had my heart set on the advertised special of beef tenderloin with foie gras sauce and polenta because it's been ages since I had a bit of meat I could really get my teeth into, instead of little bits of mystery meat chopped up in Korean/Lao/Thai/Cambodian food. Couldn't believe the deal I got! Not one, but two thick, juicy filet mignons, cooked to perfection and very tender, plus the sauce, polenta and roasted baby potatoes for only $7.75. Lucky that Bruce hadn't ordered anything but salad because he was then able to help me out with the meat. (I'd also had a delicious shrimp cocktail to start......) As we were sitting up there on the upstairs balcony, Steve and Marilyn hove into view, so we waved and they came up to join us for a drink. Steve knew that Bruce has been having internal plumbing problems for a couple of weeks now (there's not many secrets on a bike trip), and he asked Bruce in a nice, plummy, well-modulated English accent, "Are you farting with confidence yet"? I just about fell off my chair laughing when the penny dropped!
Took a bit of a walk around the nightlights of Siem Reap after eating and there were literally hundreds of really interesting look restaurants in little alleys, all very busy. I feel we sort of wasted opportunity the first three nights by not visiting the old town until the last day, but there you are.
Up really early in the morning to get the fast boat to Phnom Penh. We were told we'd be picked up at 6am, so got up at 5, and were having breakfast by 5:30. The bus finally arrived around 6:45 then drove around and around in illogical circles picking up passengers from other hotels while regularly passing the same spots we'd already gone by until the bus was full to over-flowing. We then took off down a pretty rough road (following a channel (can't really call it a river) that was heading out to the mouth of the estuary going through some of the poorest looking villages we have yet seen. We finally arrived at the boat and, as we disembarked the bus, we were mobbed by vendors with baguettes and bananas and water - it was really very difficult to reach the boat with all the jostling and shouting and crowding going on, and we could only hope that our baggage was following us on board. The ferry is a long, low, enclosed sleek object that finally departed around 8am (it was supposed to leave at 7), but with all the crush and rush going on I was unable to get a photo of it at its departure point. It sat in shallow water just off a mud bank which we had to walk over and onto a narrow wooden plank to board. We found the roof of the boat already jammed with passengers but Bruce headed up there while I went inside the cabin where I found a nice, soft, comfy seat, because it was already pretty chilly and I figured it would get downright cold up top once we got up to full speed. That thing was like a jet boat - really powerful and it kicked up a huge bow wave. It must have been doing at least 25 knots or even more - we could have towed a whole crowd of skiiers behind us.
We only had two "stops" en route to Phnom Penh, a journey which took just on 5 hours. The first time, the boat just sort of slowed down a bit near a village and then another, smaller boat drew alongside while a couple of people jumped off ours into the smaller boat and another couple came on board ours. Neither boat fully stopped. The second stop was totally unscheduled. One of the guys sitting on the roof (mostly tourists by the look of it) lost his back pack overboard, so the captain performed a very fast, high speed turnabout (I thought for sure we'd lose some of the topside passengers and I had my camera all poised but no such luck), and as the boat came alongside the (fortunately) floating backpack, one of the crew members hung over the side and scooped it up through a handle with his foot. It was totally waterlogged but, luckily, not lost. Guess we all know what the first thing was that the owner would be doing on arrival at his lodging, hm?
We are very happy with our current lodging. We're in a guest house called the Manor House and, like the Golden Banana in Siem Reap, it is gay owned and operated and very well maintained with great service. We sat and chatted with one of the owners as we had a bite to eat on arrival. (No restaurant service in the Guest House other than breakfast, but we ordered from a menu and they phoned out and the next thing you know lunch arrived from somewhere.) Kim is an Australian Cambodian who landed in a refugee camp in Thailand following the Pol Pot rule. He was close to death himself (from malnutrition) and he had already lost 2 younger brothers and a sister before he was shipped off to Australia where he eventually became a citizen. Now he owns this guest house in Cambodia, but he still is an Australian citizen and goes home regularly. He renovated this place when he bought it a couple of years ago and they've done a fine job with it. He's a humanitarian, too. We went out this afternoon with a tuk driver to visit the Palace, and it seems that Kim found the tuk driver was homeless and sleeping in his tuk at night, so Kim has given him a place to sleep here at the Guest House, and he eats with the employees and stores his tuk safely here. Now the driver basically works from the hotel taking guests wherever they want to go while he is improving his education.
The Palace was an interesting stroll but the one in Bangkok, quite similar, overwhelms it in our opinion. Cambodia reinstated a king in 2004 but it's mostly ceremonial, it seems. Still, I'm sure most Cambodians see that as being good progress after what they've been through.
Our second day in Phnom Penh saw us heading out in our tuk tuk with Mr Sopheap (sop-hey-ap) at the controls once again. I love the way you can rent these very comfortable tuk tuks for the whole day and just go wherever you want to go while the driver waits for you to do whatever it is you're doing. He stopped at a little stand just outside the main part of town and bought us masks to wear because of the all the dust blowing around (and fumes) - very thoughtful. (I've told Bruce he should wear his in our room until he's finished with his cold - I may clip mine over his ears after he's asleep if he doesn't put his own on!) :) So, after going to Korean Airlines to talk about changing our plans (I'll talk about that later), we then went to Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, a positively disgusting place that was originally a high school that, during the Pol Pot years, became a prison and interrogation facility that 'processed' over 17,000 people, of whom less than a dozen survived. Everyone else ended up in the Killing Fields - men, women and children. It's a powerful place to visit because the prison kept extensive records including thousands of photos of its victims which have now been posted on displays in rooms that once held prisoners for torture before killing them. After getting the 'backgrounder', we then headed out to Choeung Ek - the Killing Fields - about 15 kilometres out of town. None of the old buildings remain - they were all torn down and you can't blame the people for wanting to do that - but there is now a huge stupa (tower) memorial with ten stories of skulls stacked there, and large indentations in the ground show where mass graves were exhumed to re-bury the bodies respectfully. We had walked around the area for a while when, although I wouldn't have known them for what they were, Bruce pointed out to me that there were little pieces of bones embedded in the ground all over the place as we walked ................ It's a very sad place - another prime example of the seemingly limitless capacity of man's inhumanity to his (or her) fellow man.
On the way back into town from there, we stopped off at the Russian Market (phsar Toul Tom Poung) where, amongst all the usual fish, meat, veg, souvenirs etc. you can buy fabric then go to a line of tailors and seamstresses right there in the market and have your fabric made up into something very nice to wear.
We were just now sitting by the pool at our nice little guest house as I was writing this when Marilyn showed up unexpectedly, having returned from Siem Reap today. She's very adventurous - she rides a moto (small motorbike) in this incredibly daunting traffic. Anyway, she's invited us for a drink at her Phnom Penh home tomorrow evening so we shall see her there. Did another Post Office run, too. Another package, this one of 3 Kgs. Very impressed with Postal Services here (at the moment - I'll confirm that when we receive our stuff), but it's wonderful how you just take your unwrapped stuff to the Post Office, they find a box to fit it in, wrap it in brown paper and tape it heavily, then all you do is address it, et voila! (Memo to Canada Post............)
We've changed our itinerary a little bit. We've decided to fly directly from Phnom Penh to Hanoi, do all our touristing in that area first (Halong Bay, hill tribes, etc.) then get public transportation south before finishing Ho Chi Minh City, rather than go to Saigon first and head north. Well, that's what we were thinking an hour ago - I think it's changing as I write. We're trying to improve our flight options back to Seoul at the beginning of February by departing from Saigon rather than Hanoi and also feel that it might be better to be in Saigon at the end of January (during the Tet New Year) rather than Hanoi. Will advise as life unfolds.