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Dinosaur Bones

10 Mar

So today we got to hold real dinosaur bones! And get a sneak preview of some very large, very impressive, and as yet unidentified skeletal pieces from a dig a few miles away last month, still in the red rock that holds them. (No photos, sadly, for reasons of academic privacy.)

It’s a rather eerie feeling, encountering something so old, so close. A surprisingly delicate chunk of the hipbone of an as yet unidentified carnivore, it looked as though the creature could have been alive within my lifetime, yet weighed cold, dead and heavy in my hands. Continue reading

Cambodian Food

27 Feb

Fresh-picked spring onions, CambodiaThere is an old Khmer saying which runs roughly as follows: “Eat anything that has four legs except a table, eat anything that flies except an aeroplane, and eat anything that travels by twos apart from a bicycle.”

It is sentiments such as this which give Cambodian food a bad name. And, especially since we have just had our first (unscheduled) encounter with the dreaded fertilised eggs in Saigon, it seems a little unfair. Continue reading

A Tryst Arranged

24 Feb

One quiet evening, Francois’ brother played Mendelssohn on the balcony of our Phnom Penh guesthouse, and he played it well.

Francois is a writer, two young children, separated. The brother is an artist and musician, living in Cambodia, getting by. The kids are skiing with their mother. He is in PP with a friend.

It is a little after midnight, the brother is long gone, and Francois and I are talking French on the roof terrace, as the staff sleep behind their screen.

His friend, he tells me, is déficient. He cannot read. He cannot write. He needs help to cross the road. Continue reading

I Heart Cambodia – Part 3

23 Feb

A fraction of the moat at Angkor Wat

A fraction of the moat at Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat. The icon of a nation. One of the wonders of the world. Tens of kilometres of bas-relief. Acres of lawns. Sacred pools which drained a thousand reservoirs.

I am grubby, gobsmacked and tired just from looking at it.

Z is incensed. “Just think how many houses they could have built on this land,” he says. “And that stupid king just goes and builds a temple to say, ‘I’m bigger than you.’ Religion is rubbish.” Continue reading

Best Train Journey Ever? #1: The Bamboo Train

23 Feb

Z making a faceZ will contentedly nap on motorbikes, ride the tailgate on pickups, sit on the edge of a boat and stand up in the back of anything that will have him.

But Battambang’s Bamboo Train, which leaps and rattles a few inches above rails so warped that they wobble into the distance like a child’s first attempt at perspective, is officially “quite scary”.

Cambodia’s railways are in about the state you’d expect after decades of civil war and a peace dominated by the endemic corruption known in the old days as bonjour. No passenger services. The very occasional freight train.

And one of the world’s great train rides in the form of the Bamboo Train. Continue reading

Dolphins on the Mekong

22 Feb

Kratie, Cambodia: Sunset over the Mekong

Kratie, Cambodia: Sunset over the Mekong

I was eighteen when I read about the pink freshwater dolphins on the Amazon. I’ve dreamed of seeing them ever since, and Z and I will do this later on this journey.

In the meantime, though, we stopped in Kratie on our way back from Ban Lung, Ratanakiri, to see the Irrawaddy dolphins on the Mekong, and avoid a repetition of our experience on the way up.

The Kratie pod cluster around 15km upriver from the town itself. We took a sampan out to see them from the riverside there, the driver paddling the boat so quietly that the huffs and snorts and squeaks of the dolphins echoed across the water.

The freshwater Irrawaddy dolphin is an endangered species, but this pod was full of life. They surfaced, puffed and played in groups of two or three, one pair arcing so close to the boat that we could see the expressions on their faces. Continue reading

I Heart Cambodia – Part 2

22 Feb
Children in Jungle Vines, Ta Prohm

Z and a child hawker take time out, Ta Prohm, Cambodia

It’s still uncomfortably early when we debike and hit some blessed calm at Kbal Spean, the River of a Thousand Lingas.

The mile-long path to the top of the hill has been swept clean as a village yard, and cheeutal roots form an elegant latticework, almost like natural stairs.

Ascents of grey, slabby rocks feel almost landscaped, and looping vines create natural swings and hammocks.

Z is in his element. I am in the throes of wondering at the marvels of travel and the joy of life — more specifically, I am pointing out a promising Tarzan vine — when my flip-flopped foot meets a rock and it all goes a bit Keystone Kops. Continue reading

I Heart Cambodia – Part 1

19 Feb

sun starting to set over angkor watZ and I are sitting in pitch blackness on the laterite stairs overlooking the lake of Banteay Kdei, Cambodia, between a sculpted Khmer lion and the light of a Chinese guy’s tripod, some unsightly period before 6am.

Tourist lore dictates that, when experiencing the grandeur of the Khmer god-kings, and the Angkor sights, one sees a sunrise. Holding to the belief that sunrises are best experienced without busloads of fellow travellers, I have picked Banteay Kdei as being less crowded than Ta Prohm.

“You wan’ buy flute?” asks a boy, who is probably in his early teens, for perhaps the fifteenth time.

“No, thank you,” I say, for probably the thirteenth time. “I do not want to buy a flute. I no want flute. Thank you.”

The per capita income in Cambodia is around $2000. When you take the elite out of the equation, it means most people earn very much less than that.

“I make you good price! One dollar!!! For your baby!” Continue reading

Doctor Fish

17 Feb

Pedicure with Cleaner FishDowntown Siem Reap, your starter for ten for the glories of the Angkor era, is tacky as hell.

Yet, while a banner boasting “the most frozen margaritas sold in Siem Reap” does not exactly entice one to imbibe, the constant offers of tuktuks pall rapidly, there really is a street called Bar Street and the central market really does sell landmine T-shirts, it is a beautiful thing to have a cashpoint on every corner in the 200 square yard action zone and to know that the pharmacy will stock more than iodine and gauze.

End result? We did the doctor fish thing. It was Z’s idea. Continue reading

Rules and Regulations

17 Feb

David is building an airfield.

He has five planes waiting to go, two in Thailand, two en route, one awaiting release in Sihanoukville. So he spends most days in the guesthouse restaurant, one hand on his mobile, the other on his laptop, waiting for the results of his bakhsheesh to kick in.

Continue reading