It would've been nice to have stayed on in Phnom Penh a couple more days at least, but time was starting to run out and I was eager to see Cambodia's biggest draw, Angkor Wat. Tyler was off back to China and Bruce was staying put, so it was just me and Shaun on the bus to Siem Reap. It wasn't an eventful journey for a change, though this was entirely a good thing.
Later on, when I was in Laos, I spoke to an American girl who said that she'd been delighted on arriving in Siem Reap because there were immediately a gaggle of tuk-tuk drivers offering their services, "a return to civilization" she said. My reaction can't have been more different. Twenty or thirty people shouting at me at once and blocking my way is just about my idea of hell (or at least one of its outer circles), fortunately close behind there was the owner of a guesthouse who had a piece of card with my name on it. This had been arranged through the OK Guesthouse, on the principle that one good place to stay would know about another. The principle turned out to be a little flawed, for a couple of reasons. It wasn't that the place was hugely expensive, but the fact that everything cost at least twice the price in Phnom Penh was a little strange, and what with Angkor turning out to be $20 per day these two days ended up being two of the most pricey in the trip. For some reason they also elected to keep on all the lights and open the windows upstairs, which meant everyone got bitten (though there were quite a lot less mosquitoes in Cambodia than I'd been warned.)
The main problem, though, was my basic stupidity. In 2005 I managed to cut my chin open in Portugal, and my first action on arrival at the guesthouse was to fall over on the slippery floor and land on my chin, reopening the cut. For a moment I thought I might have broken something but then the worry shifted to a concern that I'd have to have it stitched up again. Most travel guides advise that if you get sick in Cambodia you should go to Bangkok, a good day's journey away. The bleeding stopped after a little while, but it looked messy for over a week.
Our only full day in the city was spent, of course, visiting the ruins of the ancient city of Angkor. This is one of these cases where pictures are better than words, so here we are:
Approaching by tuk-tuk.
Getting up here was a bit of a task - each step was less than a foot wide and about two feet high. There were signs saying "climb at your own risk" and so on. Glad I made it up there though.
These trees infested parts of the site like huge alien fungal growths.
...and finally Angkor Wat itself:
The site closed at 5pm so I was unfortunately unable to see the famous "sunset over angkor" thing. A shame, but I was tiring anyway, and Shaun had flagged an hour or so before. It had been well worth seeing.
My next stop after Cambodia was Vientiane, the capital of Laos. Laos does share a small border with Cambodia, but sheer logistics meant that the most convenient route was via Bangkok. Getting from such a major tourist site to the tourist capital of the peninsular couldn't be that much trouble, right? I'd been warned that the stretch of road from Siem Reap to the border was bad, but nobody warned me about the bus. In contrast to the air-conditioned coaches you generally need in such hot places it was a run-down city-bus, perhaps 30 years old, full of backpackers whose bags had no place to go except the aisle, where the blocked exit and entry, and the back shelf, where they constantly threatened to fall and injure the people beneath.
If this wasn't enough then the condition of the road had to be seen to be believed. Significantly worse than a dirt-track, it consisted mainly of piles of sand ostensibly there as part of a building scheme, though work seemed to have stopped years ago. At one point we were blocked entirely by a lorry that had fallen over, the other side of the road being blocked by a pile of sand. After half an hour of waiting in the increasingly unbearable heat some of the passengers climbed out and shifted the sand with a small shovel and a plank of wood. None of the 20 or so people standing around apparently had any interest in helping.
Rumour has it that a certain Thai airline is bribing someone not to finish this road in order that they can make as much money as possible on their flights to Siem Reap from Bangkok, currently going for around $200.
Once we'd crossed the border and boarded a luxury air-conditioned coach I had a bit of a nap and woke up a few hours later in Bangkok.
All paid employments absorb and degrade the mind.
- Siem Reap, Angkor and a few buses