Early start. Up at 6am, checked out of the guest house and a tuc tuc to the minibus. The route from Phnom Penh seems to be busy with lots of locals piling on this minibus with all kinds of boxes and packages to take with them. We are packed in tightly with no nook or cranny left spare.
It doesn’t take log for Phnom Penh to disappear, being replaced with rice paddies. I get the feeling that I’m going to really enjoy this side of Cambodia much more than the bustling city. The rainy season has started so the landscape is vivid green and glistening. It’s absolutely beautiful. The Tarmac roads give way to dirt roads and the concrete buildings to wooden ones on stilts. Children are running around playing or in the local schools and animals are free to roam.
Most of the land is farmed. There’s a mixture of smaller, local farms which people must use to help themselves become more sufficient, and gigantic spaces dedicated to a single crop. Rice paddies are the most notable because they can reach as far as the eye can see without obstruction. Massive stretches of road are lined with trees which are all planted in dead straight lines with equal spacing between them. There’s a lot of tamarind in the area so I wonder if that’s what is growing, but it’s impossible to tell as we bomb past.
This driver does not hang around. He hurtles down the bumpy roads, pounding his horn at any bike or truck in front, weaving between vehicles and narrowly dodging big trucks which would wipe us out. It’s best not to look. As we get more into the countryside, and the Tarmac fades, the locals put on their seat belts as if they knew something was coming. Eek!
One thing that particularly strikes me as we hurtle through Cambodia is the stark contrast between splendour and disrepair. It’s not uncommon to see a large house which is ornately decorated and immaculate in appearance next to a shack. A small wooden shack which leans to one side and houses a large family. Furthermore you also see large wooden buildings which appear to have been “let go” a little; the paint is chipped, multiple repairs have been made and corrugated iron used to fix holes, but on the roof might be a beautiful statue in gold and bright colours, plus detailing and decorations on the roof in bright gold. It doesn’t really make sense to me. It doesn’t add up.
Anyway we arrive in Mondolkiri after around 5 hours and hop off to be greeted by a local guy speaking flawless English and asking us our view on “Brexit”. We remembered that it would be around 6am UK time and results would be announced so we rushed to the nearest place which advertised WIFI and checked the news. Britain is to leave the EU. This was all we were talking about for a while so sat with a drink and mulled it over while the rain hammered down and trapped us inside. The daughter of the owner took a particular interest in us and came over to chat with us and show her toys which was sweet.
likiOnce the rain calmed we walked across the town to a guesthouse that we had been recommended, despite warnings that people hadn’t heard of westerners staying there. Turns out no one spoke English there but we fumbled through, not wanting to have to stay in one of the local westerner places. Nice room too, and cheap!
We got ourselves sorted and headed to lunch. We chose a small place which sold a few simple options of whatever they were already cooking. Again, they seemed very confused that we would choose to eat there, not at one of the big restaurants. But in my opinion the food is better, and it’s way cheaper!
As soon as our food arrived it was attack of the flying monster moths though. They dive bombed our faces like fighter jets until we were reduced to squirming, squealing embarrassments. We shovelled our food into our faces at lightning speed and threw the money at them to escape, nearly tripping over two dogs going at it in the doorway. We headed to a bar to have a quick drink and organise our trip for tomorrow then caught a ride home on the back of a motorbike as it was dark. Except these tiny bikes don’t appear to cope well with three fully grown adults, swerving and toppling as soon as we set off! This was all made a little funnier by the fact our driver spoke no English, and is no Cambodian so instructions and communication were severely hampered. After righting ourselves we got back on and continued the treacherous ride home. We are spending all day on these bikes tomorrow. Genuinely kind of scared!