Day 19 Phnom Penh

27 Sep



Heavy rain through the night means the flooding is even worse. Mixed reports suggest the ferry quay is unreachable, and as it’s a public holiday it’s not clear if busses will be running, so I order a taxi to the capital. The taxi is the obligatory Toyota Camry, ubiquitous in these parts, with the obligatory box of tissues on the parcel shelf. Formula one legend Gilles Villeneuve used to say his theory of road driving is to just go for it, and there will always be a gap. Taxi driver has the same idea and guns it down the middle of the road, scattering cars, trucks, mopeds, pedestrians, children and animals. He barely slows to hand some cash to a waiting traffic cop, seemingly just normal around here. After one particularly near miss on the wrong side of the road on a blind bend, he puts his glasses on. Sadly, being able to see impending death doesn’t slow him down. Ahead there are animals in the road and an oncoming truck. We squeeze through a gap so tight it leaves the side window smeared with water buffalo snot. The guy has a death wish, and is coughing so hard I can’t decide whether I’m more likely to die in a crash or from bird flu…

The landscape is under water, so is a lot of the road. Driver ploughs on. I glance at the speedo to see we’re doing 90+. I decide not to look again, but do keep my eyes on the road. If a water buffalo or a moped rider comes through the windscreen, I want chance to duck.

By some miracle, we make it. He needn’t have rushed, as Phnom Penh is not much to look at in the rain, and very quiet because of the holiday. Some delicious satay in the Foreign Correspondents Club, overlooking the river, creates a better impression, and I settle in to enjoy the food, the drink, the view, the obligatory gob-shite American, the obligatory ethnic hairstyle backpackers, and a surprising number of what I can only believe to be sex tourists accompanied by local girls half their age and immeasurably more attractive…

Day 18 Ta Prohm

26 Sep

Day 18 Ta Prohm, originally uploaded by Big Al!.

A tuk-tuk ride along flooded roads takes me to the ruined temple of Ta Prohm, overrun by jungle and tourists in equal measure. Take your own path through the maze and soon you’ll be alone with the sound of monkeys and exotic birds, just you, the ruins and the ancient trees enveloping even older walls and buildings. In the steam and shade of the jungle, it’s easily the most atmospheric and photogenic of the Angkor temples, although I haven’t seen the outlying areas because of the floods.

After the temples, the most striking thing about this area is the poverty, and yet you still hear backpackers from rich western countries haggling over a two dollar tuk-tuk fare, or quibbling over the four dollar price of a souvenir. I don’t care how much you’re trying to stretch your budget, just look around at the way people live and get a sense of perspective. I just donated a small amount of money that I’ll barely notice, but it’s enough for the cycling from poverty charity to buy two bikes for local children to be able to get to school. Compared to what I spent for my own pleasure on this trip, it’s nothing. Backpackers please take note. It’s really not ok to be so tight in such surroundings.