We have just arrived in Phenom Penh, Cambodia. It was one of the longer journeys we have taken in the past few months, with a full 16 hours on a bus from Laos. We arrived, blurry eyed, to be greeted by a sign at our guesthouse, which kindly reminded us of the prohibited items ... but this time I spotted something new!
No Hand Grenades ? Right. I'm glad I have got that one straight.
For one of the few times during my trip, the bus we took was ahead of schedule, by a full hour. That was, until disaster struck, thanks to the wet season here. Most of the roads are not sealed, which means they get quite muddy at this time of year. And its been raining allot. So much so that on a particularly muddy section we literally slid off the road, down a small slope to the side and into the quagmire that passes for the side of the road. We were stuck.
So, everyone out the bus. Those those brave enough took their shoes off and started pushing as the bus driver tried his best to get the show back on the road. Thankfully a handful of locals joined the action and we spent the next hour trying various maneuvers to get the bus out. I was a little worried about someone falling down and getting trapped under the bus. After-all, there were several tonnes of bus slithering about in thick mud with a bunch of pissed up locals and foreigners trying to push the poor machine back onto the road. Yes, most of the local lads that joined us had the smell of rum emanating near their vicinity. Probably at least a bottle judging by the way they were acting ... In the end we had to resort to chains, which the bus driver located from some kind residents in the local village. A bit more pushing and somehow we managed to get the bus back on the road. A quick wash off in the nearest rice paddy and we were off just under two hours later.
Phemon Penh Traffic
Crossing the Cambodia border from Laos was also a rather corrupting experience. First Stop, Laos departing immigration; Here the border guards asked for 10,000 kip (that's US $1.20). Why ? we were told its 'a fee' for crossing on a Sunday. Right. We paid and wondered off towards Cambodia.
Next stop, the Cambodian H1N1 health check; This chap promptly demanded $1 for a health check. We asked for a receipt. He said it costs $20 with a receipt, at which point it dawned on us. We told him where to go and that he was corrupt. He asked for our Yellow Fever certificates. We gave them to him. He threw them back at us and off we trudged.
Next stop, the Cambodian VISA office; We were charged $23 for a VISA, which we found out later was only $20. Doh.
Final Stop , the Border Post; Here they demanded $1 to stamp our passports. This time we told the border guard straight away, "No way, you are corrupt". He stamped our passport and grunted. I was amazed to see this level of blatant corruption, openly trying to cheat tourists. Every border official is on the take for as much as the can get, even the Health official!
Prior to coming to Phenom Penh, we spent our last day in Laos on motorbikes around Pakse. We were tempted after our fantastic experience on "The loop" and could not resist another day out on bikes in rural Laos. Pakse is surrounded by the Bolaven Plateau, which means lots of waterfalls, coffee and Tea plantations. We are now well and truly addicted. Mercifully the traffic in Phenom Penh is exactly the antidote we needed. Its the most crazy, disorganised, selfish and erratic driving I've every experienced. No respect for lanes, lights, other drivers or whats around you. Its a free for all and there is no way on hell we ate hiring a bike in central Phenom Penh!
Waterfall on the Bolaven Plateau
One cannot come to Phenom Penh without visiting both S21 and the Killing Fields, two poignant reminders to Cambodia's past horrors during the rule of the Khmer Rouge. It was quite upsetting to see, especially the bones and clothing that litter the topsoil of the paths around the killing fields. The attached museum was packed full of the history and one point got me really thinking. Vietnam was the only country to act and end the rule of the Khmer Rouge. The UN and the rest of the world sat idly by and let it happen, even to the point that some 10 years after the regime was toppled by the Vietnamese, the UN still recognized the Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government of Cambodia. Yet the Khmer Rouge committed one of the worst cases of human genocide this century.
The UN has allot to answer for its inaction. Surly that's what the UN is for ? Will we find similar museums in Burma in 20 years time ? Will the UN have acted against the Human Right violations in Burma ?
We are off to Siem Riep and Ankor Wat in a couple of days. I am looking forward to seeing Ankor Wat and seeing how it rates compared to Hampi and Bagan.