Thursday, 17 December 2015

A Speedboat and the Pearl of Asia ( an afternoon in Phnom Penh)

I asked for a wake-up call at 5 am but the excitement woke me even before that.

I'm taking a boat today.  Instead of the bus.  They even make me a continental breakfast at 6 am, even though the restaurant does not open until 7.

BUT, inspect this picture closely.  The receptionist who assembled this probably never had a continental breakfast in his life, so he assembled it by looks. The yellowish stuff in the little container is butter as it should be.  BUT the red stuff in the little container (and on my toast) is NOT strawberry jam, as it should be.  

It's KETCHUP.   

At least he got the colours right ;-)

The car that the Express Boat is sending to pick me up (US$ 34 for a boat ride across half the country AND pick-up!!!) is half an hour late, so I have time to take some pictures.

The car finally shows up and I realize that the roads in Siem Reap are even worse towards the Lake than they are towards the airport.

As soon as the car arrives at the boat terminal it is swarmed by food sellers. There is only one departure today and I feel bad  that they aren't selling  anything out of their laden baskets with yummy-looking stuff. But I  already stocked up  in a market.

We step through a gate-shaped building and there it is:

In the driest dry season, there is not enough water here for the boat to run

Really not much more than a cheap boat and a powerful weed eater

Now that we have reached open water, the captain GUNS the engine.  Probably a bad time for these co-passengers to try climbing onto  the luggage rack / top deck.

I  had no idea Tonle Sap Lake was sooooo big.   At some point I can't see the shore in any direction.

Here is a selfie (NO Stick ;-). Note the hat. I bought it yesterday in Angkor for $7  so I wouldn't burn my head to a crisp.  I've been pulling it down on my head repeatedly  to make sure the wind doesn't tear it away.  In about 20 minutes I see the opposing boat getting closer, stand up  quickly  to get a shot, aim, snap, and there goes the hat.  I'm on a speedboat in the middle on Tonle Sap Lake.  Time to say good bye to Mr. Hat. It served well for 24 hours ;-)

You might have noticed that the water of Tonle Sap Lake is BROWN.  There is a good reason for that.  During the dry season, Tonle Sap Lake drains through Tonle Sap River into the Mekong.  During the rainy season, the river reverses flow direction because the rain-swollen Mekong uses it to pump its muddy waters into the Lake.  The lake's water volume varies by a factor of 80 !!!! during these changes.  This tells you that 79 out of 80 parts of water here are Mekong water.   And at some point I can't see the horizon in any direction ;-)

The hatch in front of me leads to the engine room.  This boat is Soviet-built and it somehow embodies that raw power of the old USSR.   I'm sure what sits below me is a TANK engine!

The engine roar is both deafening and invigorating.  Imagine standing on a 2 meter high platform with 100 Harley Davidson riders revving their engines below you. I'm sure that no-one is remotely able to hear my shouts of Oh Yeah !!!

It feels a bit like I'm on a Russian Submarine ;-)
Here comes the moment when I lose the hat. My boat is the same as this one but this one has more luggage and NO ONE is outside. HOW STRANGE!  A group of Chinese tourists?
BROWN water and the oncoming boat
On one of my get-out-of-the-sun trips to the passenger cabin below deck I fall asleep.  When I wake up, we are no longer in the open lake area.

Yet another oncoming boat but a smaller one. These passengers know how to travel. On Top!

The sky is HUGE and the green is GREEN !

Kids wave at the passing boat. Adults wave at the passing boat.  They have nothing to sell and there is a speedboat passing the at least twice daily. And they still wave.  After an initial culture shock at this view of unbridled friendliness to utterly unknown foreign human beings, I start waving back vigorously.

I find confirmed what I had noticed in a video on 
The SKY is just HUMONGOUS here


His world and my world are VASTLY different.  But he waves at fellow human beings.  I wish Germans would think that way about refugees

The river continues to narrow

houses seem to become more solid

The captain must not only avoid running down the fishing boats but he also keeps his eyes out for the plastic jugs that indicate where their nets end so that he doesn't starve a family by negligence.

During the entire 6 hour journey all of the passengers spent most of their time outside of the luggage rack, with the occasional trip inside to use the bathroom or get out of the sun for a bit.  Except ONE COUPLE. They are in their 60s or 70s, speak German and it is obvious that the wife is  from around here somewhere (OMG that sounds bad ;-).  They spend the entire trip inside, but it looks like the wife is magnetically attached to the window panes, so hard is she looking outside to absorb the scenery. Her husband on the other hand, does not waste a single glance outside, but for what seems like HOURS intensely studies some travel guide book he brought along.  In retrospect I realize that this boat trip and the glimpse it provided of the life of regular Cambodians was one of the foremost highlights of my 3 weeks in Asia (Thank you for the tip, Man in Seat 61!) and yet there is a man who doesn't even look out the window.

I am reminded of what Gandalf says in The Hobbit:  The world is NOT in your charts and books.  It is OUT THERE !

Finally, the increasing quality of the houses on the river bank lead to a logical conclusion:  A city must be near-by.

High-rises?  This must be Phnom Penh!
After over-paying for a Tuk-tuk to my hotel (Always use Google Maps to check distances; I could easily have walked!), I check into my hotel.

Every time I am in my room (LARGE room with a LARGE balcony overlooking a contributory of the Mekong River, I am drawn in those streets.  Again I can't explain it.  This  city seems more vibrant than Hanoi, for example, but maybe it's only that I haven't seen any of it yet. Or the fact that I am aware that this is the end.  Tomorrow I will be in Hanoi (in retrospect an overly optimistic thought), where temperatures are 12 degrees Celsius cooler; Hong Kong will drop another 3 degrees. and then it's time for the drop down to barely over freezing.

Whoever allowed this to be built dead center of the view from my room at the confluence on the Tonle Sap and the Mekong Rivers should be shot

How often does one see an Iraqi flag?

French Colonial style

Everyone feeds the pigeons in front of the royal palace.  So when you walk you have a cloud of flutter rise to the heavens. It adds a certain je ne sais quoi ;-)

At first I thought it was  a 900 Riel note ;-)

I need a cigarette lighter. My old one followed my hat into Lake Tonle Sap.. There is an older couple running a store  right next door to my hotel and I buy 1 lighter and 1 pack of Cambodian cigarettes. The bill comes to less than 1 $US, I get 300 Riel change. It's not only their honesty that impresses me (300 Riel are 7 US cents and in Angkor I never got change) but also the fact that on my 3rd day in Cambodia I finally hold my first Cambodian money in my hand ;-)


Since I'm in Cambodia and there are SO many people without FEET ( Fucking Landmines) my 300 Riel are gone quickly.  So, do the bank stocks that YOU own have investments in weapons manufacturers ?????

I end up  in one of the street cafes that doesn't have a single item of Khmer food on the menu. No wonder, Phnom Phen seems to be a party town for Westerners. Ray Charles is shouting "one more time", "Georgia", and then "hit  the road Jack" from the speakers and it works well. TukTuks  advertise drivers who  speak German and English. 

Pigeon-mania in front of the Royal Palace

Along the way to dinner I hear 'Tuk Tuk' advertising more often than in my entire stay in Cambodia so far.  I also notice the very high frequency of mixed couples. Well, you know, white older guy Asian younger woman, but as the much older one in are relationship once I have to say "Who can judge love?" . 
Architectural shot as a sly way of taking photo of couple sitting on curb
Dinner at Ta Boo, a restaurant I picked out on an earlier walk, is fabulous.  I look through the menu but it's so extensive that I can't find what I'm looking for. So I ask the owner whether he has Fish Curry and White Wine, he nods, and that's it.  The food is great (Don't eat here if you don't like peanuts, they're everywhere) if a bit under-spicy. They do that for Caucasian customers and next time I'm sure to ask for Khmer spiciness ;-)  Then comes the bill.  Fish in Red Curry + 2 glasses of white wine. US$ 8.   I double check whether they charged me for my second glass of wine and they did.  

I have no idea what the reason could be
On the way back I hear Tuk Tuk only twice, but some guy on a motorcycle is offering "Lady. Young Girl".  Thank you all you FAT UGLY WHITE TOURISTS to have created that market.  I hope you go to HELL and get the most uncomfortable spots assigned to you.  Moral-less PIGS.

What's worse is that I just say No to the motorcycle pimp.  Why didn't I should out "Arrest him; he is pimping child prostitutes!" ????

The view from the room ;-)

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