Updated: Nov 12, 2018
Well my trick with our ‘smalls’ worked & we set off from Battambang reasonably early to avoid the heat of the day. Navigation was far less of an issue here than in Thailand, because from Battambang there really is only one road & it’s pretty dead straight most of the way. Not the most entertaining riding but you have to keep your wits about you. If you fail to take note of what’s in your mirror for more than 5 seconds, the next thing you’ll hear is a deafening hooter as a fast driver ploughs his way through. It actually isn’t just motorbikes that have to keep to the right, it’s all slower traffic, but they simply don’t recognise a faster bike here! As well as the mirrors, you have to keep a wary eye ahead in case someone decides to overtake & pull out just in front of you. This happens quite frequently & as a bike you have to stay right on the edge as the road becomes a two lane one-way highway. And for the occasional bend, inevitably two cars or buses will come hurtling round together, hogging the entire road, so again, off to the side you go. Sounds mad? Well, it’s quite exhilarating actually. Don’t tell Simon I said that, I think he’s still at the “they don’t understand bloody normal road rules” stage! :)
We stopped at a fabulous Wat, within the grounds of a school and monastery. With a lily pond, a lake & amazing architecture, it still astounds me how much craftsmanship goes into constructing these Wats. It still saddens me, however, that after all that effort, they then singularly fail to maintain anything & the building was inevitably going the way of all Cambodian buildings... Some very gruesomely real statues reminded you of the circle of life - see the gallery!
Our only other stops on our 5 hour straight but bumpy ride were for water & food. We found a great local restaurant for lunch, hidden behind a petrol station! They didn’t speak a word of English, so one plate between two became two meals & a cancelled milk shake order for 2 when we discovered they did actually have beer became two shakes & two beers! Ah well, the koi carp they had in a long pond next to our table were magnificent! On one water stop, I photographed various ‘craft’ that were passing on the road. There I took the photograph that heads this blog. At first, I thought there were 5 people on the bike, but then I noticed one extra with his head looking the other direction because there wasn’t enough room for him to turn his head. 6 on one moped! It was school pickup time & this is a common sight. Mopeds here are the utilitarian all-purpose vehicle that has taken over from the bicycle. They aren’t a luxury or leisure item, they are adapted & used to within an inch of their lives. Kids here start riding held in their mothers arms & from the age of about 3 hang on unassisted. No wonder they are so at home on the crowded streets.
Riding into Phnom Penh was a bit of an anti-climax for me at first, until I realised we were just at the start of the long outskirts ride. As we got closer to the centre I began to feel unexpectedly emotional. I have long wished to return to the first major city I knew growing up, but had no idea what nostalgic feelings it would engender when I actually arrived. From the age of just under 6 to nearly 8, I was effectively brought up by a Cambodian lady called Tiba (and her Vietnamese husband, Yan). I rolled in the mud with her kids, she taught me how to kill a chicken for dinner but also how to care for & respect animals. I wish I could find her, but alas I don’t even know if she survived the tumultuous years following. I strongly suspect her husband was caught up in the Vietnam war when it reached Cambodia’s borders, but I have no real way of knowing. And the city has changed beyond belief, but especially from an 8 year-old’s memory!
The Cambodian people are welcoming, kind & gentle & their French colonial past has left a legacy to this day of language & adopted culture. Having said that, we treated ourselves to a slap up meal at the best French restaurant in town - La Residence - & when we went to order in French discovered that none of the serving staff understood us! However, they certainly understood the cuisine. It was superb, for about the same price as a reasonable meal out in Auckland, so that was ok for us & very expensive for here.
We walked there from our hotel, which is modern, simple & extremely good value & includes a rooftop swimming pool & bar. Unfortunately, tall gin & tonics are US$5 each, instead of US$2 each in Battambang! I wrote most of this blog beside the pool & then promptly lost the lot with a slip of the key! Still getting used to working on the iPad in much smaller spaces, so apologies for the occasional typo or grammatical error (thanks, my darling wife for pointing them out!) but I do go back & fix them when I’m told or later spot them. In disgust, I gave up & went for dinner. Walking was an experience as there are no really reliable pavements & the mopeds are literally everywhere. They will come up on the pavement if it means they can get through. And crossing all but the very biggest roads is a chicken run - you literally have to hold your breath & your nerve and go! So after our meal we took a tuktuk ride back. Very pleasant leaving someone else to negotiate the mayhem. So now it is nearly midnight & I’m just finishing.
I’ve worked out that adding extra photos to the gallery requires a very good internet connection, which I currently have, so the gallery will be up to date tonight but I can’t guarantee every night... I’m sure you understand. RiKsRovingRant Gallery is live.