Friday, 1 June 2012

Day 69 - Otres Beach, friendly policemen, factories, and cows. (Cambodia)

We've found ourselves back in Phnom Penh this evening. It wasn't exactly what we planned, we just slept in too long this morning (and sort of didn't want to leave Otres Beach in a hurry) and couldn't make it as far as we would have hoped. We'll only be staying the one night though, and getting back on the road in the morning.

We just spent three days on Otres Beach, relaxing, swimming and meeting other travellers, as one does in such a place. What made our experience of Otres Beach so special though, was learning from the owners of our guesthouse about the plight of the local Khmer community and some of the aid projects that they and some other ex-pats on the beach are involved in. I'll write more about this later on, but in the meantime I would highly recommend that anybody planning on visiting the area would make a trip to Otres Beach.

On the way out of Otres Beach we drove through the golden lion roundabout (it's a roundabout with a statue of a golden lion in the centre) in Sihanoukville. We found out later that this spot is renound for random police blocks, one of which we experienced. Of course we were waved over, at which point Denner (who was driving) was asked to step out of the car with his driver's licence. And then he was asked for his International Driving Permit. The policeman was pretty disappointed to find that we had all the necessary paperwork, so he decided that Ben should be fined for not wearing a seatbelt. He was happy though for Ben to "make friends with him to make the fine go away", but of course Ben wasn't having a bar of it and we drove off bribe free.

Driving into Phnom Penh this afternoon we realised it was rush hour. At first we thought the screeds of people waiting at the side of the road and piling into vans and trucks were kids knocking off school for the day. But then we realised that the area we were driving through was industrial, and these people must have been ending their day's work on the factory floor. We could barely fathom the sheer number of people (of which the vast majority were young women) streaming out of the factories, lining both sides of the road, and squeezed into and onto an abundance of minivans, utes and semi-trailers. I don't know much about the type of lifestyle that factory workers in Cambodia would lead, but I'm fairly confident it would be slightly less luxurious than what I'm used to. And yet all the faces I managed to catch a quick glimpse of, were smiling.

As well as the regular traffic obstacles of cars, trucks, bicycles, scooters, potholes, children, street vendors and funerals, we have had to avoid a few cows here and there whilst driving through the countryside. Usually it's just a matter of slowing down a bit (or not, whichever), giving them a honk, and then driving around. What makes it tricky though is when you're on the already cluttered roads of suburban Phnom Penh, and there are about eight cows, none of whom are remotely interested in removing themselves from the road. Even the skinny Cambodian breeds are quite hefty, and so they seem to be the only thing that every other vehicle will actually stop for. And then it got me thinking about my road crossing method. Seeing as even the big cars stop for cows, maybe I should dismiss the "pretend you're a car" method, and replace it with the probably more effective "pretend you're a cow" method.

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