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XXXI: Khmer Khameleon

Last day in Siem Reap

sunny 37 °C
View RTW 2013 on WorldWideWill's travel map.

I was grateful for another late morning start, templing is hard work and 8 hours' sleep is just not enough recovery time! Once again we drove away from the Angkor site, this time South East along the highway to reach the Roluos group of temples. Within minutes of leaving the relatively sedate roads of Siem Reap I felt embarrassed about my earlier rant about Thai driving - Cambodia takes the crazy to a whole new level!


A minute on a Cambodian highway is the best snapshot you can have of the madness that is this country's road network and transport system. The average 6-lane dual carriageway is used by no less than 12 streams of traffic, all going in independent directions and carrying loads that not only violate any and every manufacturer's weight restriction but also confound the uninitiated spectator. Motorbikes are king and mule here, and in any given minute you can expect to see one loaded with everything from a 10ft-high stack of recycling bags to half a dozen pig carcasses. How these engines don't implode I have no idea. The larger vehicles are no better, and our highlights of this short journey included a minibus with two mopeds strapped to the open tailgate and a people carrier packed so full of bananas that they were bursting out of the windows and the passengers were forced to travel at 70kph on the roof! The preferred vehicle for rural loads is the tractor engine driven much like a domestic lawnmover, which we saw pulling loads heavy enough to worry an HGV driver.


Of course with such chaos, no matter how well the locals negotiate it, there is always catastrophe and when an accident occurs it's usually pretty serious. We passed three accidents in a short stretch of road, all involving a helmet-less motorbike driver and a fairly serious injury as well as severe damage to the bike and its crazy load. Cambodia is no place to self-hire, and even a tuk tuk feels exposed on the main roads. It is easy now to see why Siem Reap bans tourists from hiring motorbikes, please don't try and bend this rule!


The temples at Roluos were, frankly, a bit of a let down. My birthday had been the best day hands down, and the three temples we saw this morning were poor relations to the stunning architecture and scenery we had already seen. Our morning was saved, however, by the local kids here. Roluos temple children have a level of hyperactivity unknown to the Angkorian hoardes, presumably due to an excessive intake of bonbons (their teeth are shocking) from the buses of tourists that were being dropped off every minutes to shrieks of excitement from dozens of tiny faces. Felix and I took the opportunity to allow Supiret a little more sleep than the meagre ten minutes we had given to the first temple and sat taking pictures of the children and their tourist frenzy. Before long there was a lull in the bus deposits and we were mobbed, but instead of throwing a handful of Maoam sweets in the air and making a run for it, Felix wanted them to earn the treat. I sat transfixed on the faces as they slowly learnt that only saying "Can I have a sweet please" would release Felix's tight grip on the packet, and he was strict - "You give me sweet... please?" just didn't cut it.


Two more temples came and went without incident or piqued interest, the only highlight being another run-in with the kids - this time one made me a ring made of leaves and refused my offer of a sweet because he said it would damage his teeth! I was impressed and gave back the ring - no amount of dental care would earn my dollar today. The mango girl accepted the bonbon option but it backfired when her friend spied the exchange and told me that if I didn't give her one too then I wasn't handsome! We'd already starting moving off before I could answer her but the damage was done - that was the moment I started wearing mascara.


Felix and I did our favourite thing once we returned - had a "lazy afternoon"! Another baguette lunch just about fueled a brief attempt to shop for souvenirs in town but the challenge of finding decent postcards was too much for me (largely because I then realised how good the $1 deal from the Angkor kids really was!). At 7ish we met up for dinner again along with Erna, a friend of Felix's from his trip in Laos. We stopped for a few $1 draught beers on Pub Street and were joined by two more new friends from Felix's hostel, both travelling during a break from study in Hong Kong. It felt great to be with a large group again and the personalities more or less fitted together as we bonded over travel talk. The short search for food ended at the Red Piano, famous for its association with Angelina Jolie (you'll have to look it up, all I saw was a cocktail with her name on it) and we all ordered from the traditional Khmer food menu. Felix and Jieyi are spice fiends and F made a point of telling the waitress that he would be highly disappointed if the curry didn't make him break into a sweat. A deal was made: "You no cry, you no pay"! Three of us were laughing moments after the curries arrived as J had burst into uncontrollable spice-induced tears and Felix was making very little noise at all - looked like we were paying. I was quietly content with my "mild" Khmer curry, which was honestly one of the best curries I've ever tasted.


It was sad to say goodbye to the new faces after only a few hours, but we swapped emails and made the usual wishful comments about maybe bumping into them later on the trail. Tomorrow F & I leave for the capital.

Posted by WorldWideWill 11:15 Archived in Cambodia

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