I think i left the last blog with me arriving in phnom penh, a perfectly normal name for a city if your cambodian pippa you massive douche. anyway i got there pretty late in the evening around 8 or 9 and headed for a recommended guesthouse on the lakeside. Its always a little bit nerve racking being taken around at that time on you own in Asia because you here stories of people getting taken random places and being made to pay a fortune to get where they want but I arrived at Number 10 guesthouse safely and recieved the warmest welcome i think i’ve ever had. The lakeside has been a travellers haunt for some time and the locals there are absolutely awesome. They got me a beer and some food within 10 minutes and we played poker into the night sitting out in front of the lake with a tuc tuc driver called sam and three finish guys david samu and the other one i can’t remember… im sure he wont mind. The next day david, samu and i headed off to S21 or Tuol Sleng which used to be a primary and secondary school but following the khmer rouge coming to power was turned into a torture prison for anyone considered against pol pot’s regime. Its a very unnerving place with traces of blood splattered all over. Furthermore the khmer rouge took photos of every prisoner there each of which is put up on display throughout the prison. Its very very dark and believe me those faces live with you after you see them. There where children that must have been as young as 7 and mothers with babies. i really was not prepared for it. People would be taken there if they had links to the old regime or, as time past, if they were suspected of trying to overthrow the khmer rouge. having seen that we decided that the killing fields might be a bit much in the same day and so we walked about phnom penh trying to get a feel for the place but it was kind of difficult after seeing that. The next day we headed to the killing fields where over 8000 people were murdered by khmer rouge soldiers. Many of the prisoners at S21 were taken there when they had made their ‘confessions’ to the prison guards. This place was truly morbid with peoples teeth still trampled into the dirt. I cant think of the words to describe it so i think i will just leave it there and if you want to know more i really encourage you to read about it. The crimes of the khmer rouge are something we or certainly i did not know enough about. There is a superb book which (here comes the mention of tears again) you won’t be able to read without shedding tears. It’s called ‘first they killed my father’ and i would rather you read that than this garbage. ill leave the matter with this: Until last week NONE of the leaders of the khmer rouge had been charged with the crimes they committed and the one that was last week is appealling the decision despite the fact he has admitted running the S21 prison.
In any case phnom penh will live long in my memory for different reasons. certainly for the horrors committed by pol pot and his army but also for the guys at number 10 guesthouse. The locals came and drank with us all night every night and i cant say how much of a good time i had there with them. One tuc tuc driver called Mr Hai even sang me a song. I also played a shitload (sorry eve) of chess with them. i managed to win a grand total of 1 game out of about 6 against the locals and that victory tasted sweet! theres much more to say about phnom penh but as usual this thing has gone on too long and i want to write about laos as well to get upto date.
So i booked myself on a bus to Laos that left at 6.30am and as is custom at number 10 guesthouse i was up till 1.30 drinking so naturally i was late for my tuc tuc to the bus. which inevitably meant i missed the bus. In my defence it was the 1st and only time since ive been here that a bus left EARLY and this one left considerably early. Anyway i got on another bus and managed to catch up to my one further down the road. I was amazed this was possible but soon realised why. This was a bus that stopped every few hundred meters picking people up. It meant that instead of it taking 12 hours to get to Don Det in Laos it took 12 hours to Stung Treng 3 hours south of the boarder and notably still in Cambodia. Still it had a stunning view over the mekong and cheap rooms so i went to bed with the promise of being picked up at 8am the next day from my guesthouse and taken to Laos. The bus didnt leave till around 10 and to get it i had to take a moto (a ride on the bac of a scooter) outside of town still it was all good and eventually we made it to don det and in suprisingly good time. so good in fact im fairly sure the bus driver had people he wanted to see in Stung Treng and so the extra night.
So don det what to say about it. Its one of the so called 4000 islands and i could see the cambodian mountains from the hamock outside my bungalow. Its a really beautiful place and great for chilling out so i stayed there for 3 or 4 days and ill let you fill in the blanks. From there i was intending to head to Pakse a town not too far north and figure out whether i wanted to go to vietnam or go further into laos until Spike, the male half of my new kiwi best mates spike and sarah, suggested that i go with them to takheak a bit further north to do a bike tour to a huge cave i heard about and was keen to check out. so i changed my ticket (got ripped off as usual) and headed north with them. Now i dont want to sound like im complaining about bus journeys a lot but this one was another (sorry again eve,josh cover your ears!) shitter. i forgot to take a jumper on, a neccesity because they insist on keeping the aircon on the entire journey anywhere you go and so by the end i got off the bus literally shivering for about 20 mins afterwards. the result was a stupid cold. a cold in fucking (sorry) asia the hottest place ive ever been! anyway the bike trip was stunning and on the first day we headed out of town to visit a few smaller caves of which i was amazed by but spike and sarah,who have seen caves in new zealand that are apparently better,were less so. In any case the drive was a winding tarmaced road through various moutainous rocky things. i was way more excited about the fact these bikes had no clutch (my failing point at the uk bike test) but still had gears so i was racing around the corners and getting upto 90kph! then all of a sudden the tarmac decided to disappear and gravel rocks and mud sufficed for the rest of the way to the guesthouse that night. What a bloody nightmare that was but the bungalows we got for the night were absolutely delightful. we’d been told the second day was going to be bad but as a biking novice i thought it would be fine. Nope it was crap and fustrated by the lack of speed i had got all day when we eventually rolled onto tarmac on the road into loksang, our venue for the evening i decided to floor it. Unfortunately this meant that on the way back from some ‘hot springs’ that were actually just a bath with hot water, i decided to gun it past spike and sarah not realising the tight corner up ahead. from what i remember i realised half way round i was either going to skid out or hit the ditch and choose the ditch. what happened next is what ive been told from spike and sarah as i was out cold. they came round the corner to a puff of smoke and an upside down bike lying next to me in a ditch with some local people walking up and having a look at me but not getting involved. Spike checked i was alive and i was and a pick up truck passing from the boarder kindly put me and the bike on the back and took me back to loksang. Sarah came along with me and said i got angry that she hadnt filmed the crash. I have no recollection but in hindsight i kind of am… In anycase all i can remember is waking up to spike entering my room to check on me and me being angry (again) that he had woken me up from a deep sleep. Obviously this is kind of important after youve been knocked out but i was finding logic quite difficult. The next day i woke up feeling ok just in pain from the crash. and we set about finding a mechanic to fix my now deformed bike. Incredibly they fixed a light, replaced a wing mirror, replaced the front brake, and put the bike straight for 75,000 kip or 7.50 pounds! result! the only problem that day was me being too cautious and my foot which hurt a lot when i tried to change gear. Every corner was approached at a speedy 3kph but we got to the town near the cave in time to visit it in the afternoon. I took a bus down there as i was still a bit shaky and had been told, wrongly, that the road there was terrible. Infact it was all smooth tarmac and the bus took bloody ages. still the cave was worth the effort, at 7.5km long it seemed never ending and was full of stalegmites or tights i cant remember which the ones coming down from the ceiling are… due to it taking a while to get through it and back i made the bus back to town very late indeed and when we got to town they couldnt understand where i wanted to be dropped off. having got on at the bus station i said there to which they responded ‘no bus station closed’. evenutally they understood i wasnt intending on taking a bus and i got back. to find spike and sarah had got bored of waiting and decided to go and get food. I was still feeling nautious from the crash so i wasnt hungry and could hardly blame them. they biked it to the cave got back a good hour before i did maybe more. the final day consisted of a gargantuan 145km drive back to the main town takheak and to my amazement i didnt crash the whole way and the bike rental only charged me another 9000 kip (90 pence) for another wing mirror because the other was still in the ditch.
overall it was a brilliant trip and gave me the biking bug which is why i rode from changmai to pai in northern thailand yesterday. another awesome ride! about which ill probably write in 2 or 3 months along with the rest of Laos. Unfortunately this will be the last blog i actually write in the mekong region as i leave in 4 days to hong kong.
im off for a pad mama! over and out.