Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Day 59 - Seven guys in a car. (Cambodia)

Our new friends Daniel and Chrissie from Germany and Caro from the Netherlands (who we met when they challanged us to a foosball match in a bar and then beat us 5-1) were heading out to a nearby fishing village on Sunday, so we decided to have a rest from Angkor Wat for a day and join them for a roadtrip. So we unpacked the boot and piled three in there to fit the seven of us in the car - you know, do as the locals do.

We headed out to Chong Kneas, a village that we believed to be a bit off the beaten track, not exactly sure what we were actually going to. Sure enough it was no where near any sort of beaten track, so we drove along the  potholed and rocky dirt track for a few kilometers before reaching the end of the road where we parked and went for a wander. All the houses and buildings were wooden and built on stilts, arranged seemingly haphazardly around a large number of fishing boats. Because it's now the dry season we missed out on seeing the village floating though, as it would in the wet season. We wondered what it would be like to have the opportunity to re-park your house every six months. If you don't like your neighbours can you just make sure you float away from them before the end of the wet season? Perhaps they sometimes play tricks on each other and pretend they're all going to park on the other side of the river this year. Then that guy would have to swim across the river every time he wants to do anything.

On we went in search of Me Chrey, another village that was a bit bigger but supposedly still accessable by car (most of the ones in guidebooks etc are only accessable by boat). With no real map or directions we did our best to find the village, but nobody along the way had any idea where this place was. Realising we'd gone much too far we decided to drive into a country club we came across to ask for directions. As with the casinos in No Man's Land, we were faced with the bizarre contrast between here and a few meters over there. We left the un-made road packed with locals on rickety bicycles, scooters stacked up to twice the height of the rider and unwashed children playing in the gutters. At the entrance to the country club we passed a immaculately uniformed security guard who ushered us in, where we drove along a smooth, newly laid road, through a perfectly groomed golf course, until we reached the magnificent building staffed by several perfectly manicured and well dressed Cambodians. Ben put on his golfing hat and entered the lobby to ask for directions, causing much hilarity from both our party and the line of staff watching us. Thankfully one of them knew where Me Chrey was, and sure enough we had gone too far. So back we went.

There was a market near the turn off so we stopped to ask for some more directions and have a quick look around. It's the kind of market where they don't get many (or any?) tourists, and we had the best fresh spring rolls with the most delicious sauce I've ever tasted for only 500Riel (12.5c) each.

The road we'd been told to take was made of bright red dust which in contrast to the bright green of the trees and fields, dotted occasionally with a wooden building, some cows crossing the road or a child playing in the mud, was one of the most stunning natural sights we've come across yet. The road did deteriorate quite drastically though and after a few kilometers we decided to switch to four wheel drive - for the very first time on this trip. Three people in the boot is pretty tight, so we'd been leaving the back door folded down for some extra leg room, but the road became much too uneven so all limbs had to be folded back into the car and the door closed. Eventually we reached what we thought might be a village, but it was only a couple of houses and the ladies outside directed us further along the road. On we went, the road becoming ever narrower and muddier, the foliage on either side closing in and coming in the windows as we drove. But there's no way we could to a u-turn when we could barely even fit the car on the track, and we weren't overly inclined to drive into the tall grass in an area known for unexploded landmines. Surely we would arrive at the village soon. As we approached a very small clearing, two kids on bikes coming the other way told us, when asked, that we couldn't drive any further. So as a group we pulled a very tight three point turn (one driver and six directors/checkers of unexploded landmines), and headed back the way we'd come.

We never found the village we were looking for, but we had a darn fine day bonding with our new friends whilst taking Trevor for some off-roading and enjoying the Cambodian countryside.

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