Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hanoi to Phnom Penh

Not all of my trip from Narvik to Singapore is by train. There used to be passenger trains in Cambodia but the wars and general neglect have eliminated them. There are plans to restore train service but I would not hold my breath.

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After saying goodbye to the mother of the house where I had been staying, I took a taxi for a couple of dollars to the travel agency just down the street from where the bus would leave.

I had arrived a few minutes early and noticed a fridge with ice-creams for sale. I tried this thing which turned out to be ice cream in a plastic container that you squeezed to get the ice-cream out.  Weird but it worked.

Seats on the Mekong Exchange bus were pre-allocated. Mine was 7C so I got an aisle seat next to a very pretty young Asian woman. Across the aisle were two older Aussies. Most of the bus was filled with what I thought were Cambodians though there were a few westerners. The bus started off into the traffic on time at 8:30 am.

A young hostess distributed water bottles, a box with a small bun with a sausage inside it and two forms for Cambodia. One of the forms was a visa application, there other the typical dual entry / exit form. The visa application no longer needed a photograph since our photo and fingerprints would be taken at the border. I filled in the forms and handed them over to the hostess along with $25.

The young lady next to me pulled the curtain so that the sun would not shine on her so I couldn’t take photos. It looked like she was trying to sleep. Behind us, some Asian snored loudly. It took about an hour for the bus to get out of HCMC and then we were on a dual carriage way heading for the border. For perhaps a few minutes, I could see open fields but then the road became lined with shops and houses. The road became busy with scooters, trucks and other buses. We trundled along about 40 mph.

I talked to the Aussie for a while. He was from Sydney and his wife was from Northern Ireland and she sounded like it. His job had taken him all round the world and they had lived in many places. Asia was very familiar to them and they had been to Phnom Penh before, but this was the first time by bus.

After another hour we reached the border. We all got out of the bus with our hand luggage into the heat and humidity and walked into a building where our Vietnamese exit from was collected. We handed our passport back to the hostess, got back on the bus and we rolled forward a hundred yards to the Cambodian immigration. We exited the bus again into a building without air conditioning. The hostess organized our visas and then handed us our passports. We lined up in queues and as usual I got the slow one. Each person was photographed and finger printed (all fingers). I was the last to get back on the bus.

The bus then stopped for 30 minutes a couple of hundred yards into Cambodia at a restaurant place where you could but food and drink. The Aussie bought me a beer and I reciprocated. 

The bus in the background.

We cross the Mekong River on a ferry. It looks like they are building a bridge.

We got back on the bus and headed off down a very bumpy road. It was obvious immediately that Cambodia is quite different from Vietnam. It is much poorer, the people look different with eyes that look like horizontal slits as if they are squinting in the sun. Many of the houses are on high concrete stilts.

The young lady next to me suddenly came to life and started talking to me. She was a flight attendant for Asia Airlines and looked just as beautiful as the advertisements would make you believe. She was Vietnamese and was going to PP to visit her English boyfriend. She did not have anything good to say about Cambodia, PP, or Cambodian food. She enjoyed her job with the airline and really loved going to Sydney which she preferred to all others including London and Paris.

She warned me not to drink the water in PP and I told her that I had been told that beer was the answer to everything. I suggested that she should even clean her teeth with beer and she had a good laugh at that. She pulled back the curtain so I did manage to get some photos.

Poinciana Tree. They really look good here.

The bus arrived near a market in PP. I collected my bag, found a tuk-tuk, agreed on a price and set off for the Russian Market where my Airbnb was situated. The ride in the tuk-tuk was fine and it was interesting to see how he maneuvered in traffic. We passed the infamous S-21 school where Cambodians were tortured during the period of the Khmer Rouge and it looked awful. 

We arrived at the market and the locals pointed to where I should go. I went down an alley, climbed some likely looking stairs and came to a locked gate. I called out Hello and my French hostess arrived and let me in. She showed me to my room, gave me a cold beer and introduced me to the covered area above their apartment that overlooks the market.

Photos taken while I was riding in the tuk-tuk.

The covered area above the apartment. There was a nice breeze that made the 99 degree heat and humidity bearable.

Roof top of the Russian Market.

I roughly measured this room top to be 80' x 40' or roughly 3000 square feet.

Vegetables for sale.

After ‘chilling out’ for a while, I decided to think about dinner. My host had indicated an area in the market where the food was good and also pointed out a street on the other side of the market where I could find a travel agent to sell me a ticket for the next stage of my trip to Siem Reap. There was also a supermarket.
I walked down through the food stalls she had suggested and then over to the supermarket where I bought a large bottle of water, some peanuts and a cold beer. On the way back I had dinner at one of the stalls. It was some sort of large omelet looking thing that had ground meat and shoots inside. It was quite delicious and cost $1. A large bunch of lettuce came with the meal but after eating just half a leaf I remembered that I should not eat uncooked food because the water is bad in PP. So far I have not had any ill effects from the lettuce.

Just before I finished the meal, a huge clap of thunder startled everybody and it poured with rain. Fortunately, the food stall had a tent top erected so I stayed dry.  After the rain stopped, I headed back to the bnb and spent a leisurely evening cropping photos that I had taken during the day. Unfortunately, the internet worked with my phones but not with my netbook so the blog had to wait until Siem Reap.

Sunset in PP which occurs a bit after 6 pm. The sun goes down quickly in the tropics.

Night scene outside the market.

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