Anecdotes from Cambodia

Cambodia is one of those countries that's on everyone's list. It's steeped in history with the Khmer Empire (one of the biggest to establish in South-East Asia) originating from Siem Reap in the north west of Cambodia.

It's a place that suffered inconceivable atrocities for so long and yet has some of the most welcoming and friendly people you'll ever meet.

Our time there was full of anecdotes that still make us smile.

 

Fun at the border

We crossed the border into Cambodia overland from Vietnam. On the Vietnamese side of the border it was pretty straight-forward and very communist, think lots of bureaucracy! You pass through a few people who look at you... then your passport... then you.... then your passport, before you move on. The Cambodian side was a lot more amusing.

After you cross the border you come to fours huts. At the first hut you fill in a form and hand over your money (at the time it was US$22). For this, you're rewarded with a shiny sticker.

Hut number two makes you fill out the same form again. This is then stapled into your passport (they clearly don't study it too clearly as Cat's paperwork was stapled into my passport).

Hut number three is a health check. This involved handing a dollar to someone to poke at you and declare you well enough to enter the country. This was no in depth check as Cat had been suffering from a pretty nasty flu and passed without the blink of an eye. 

Hut number four was just a guy who waved you through. And then you're in. Welcome to Cambodia.

 

Spiders for dinner
 

It's always interesting to try the local delicacies at a new destination and Cambodia had it's fair share of unusual options. 

If you have ever wondered what a big hairy tarantula tastes like then look no further. Our very brave friend decided she would give it a go, first they brought the live tarantula out and offered her the chance to hold it - I personally found this a little macabre as she was about to eat it. When the dish came out there were not one but three tarantulas lightly fried.

The verdict? 'Delicious, just like ready salted crisps'!  

 

The best $10 we ever spent!

Quite a big claim but I think it's fair to say this one will be hard to beat. We visited Angkor Wat for the first time at sunset, as everybody does, and spent a few hours happily poking around the temples and were disappointed when it came to closing time. As everyone left in droves we hung around until the last possible moment, wanting to soak up every last second. 

When we were just about to leave we were approached by one of the guards, we thought he was about to reprimand us for still being there. But no, he offered us the chance for a further hour and a half at the temples WITH NO ONE ELSE THERE, for a mere $10 (he tried to get $20, but as always we haggled).

It was every bit as good as you might imagine, one of the most magical nights of our lives. 

 

The adventures of "tub kid"

Being followed by people asking us for money was a fairly common occurrence in Asia. Normally this meant people on the street trying to sell you things or tuk tuk drivers following us for 100m trying to convince us that we shouldn't walk.

However, the award for most persistent goes to Tub Kid. Tonle Sap is a village built on stilts in the middle of a lake. Getting around requires boats or rafts, so we felt we'd have a break from any hassle.

No one had told Tub Kid this, who upon seeing us jumped into a metal bowl, grabbed an oar and headed straight for us.

10 out of 10 for persistence Tub Kid, we applaud you.



The wandering tuk tuk driver

On our second day in Angkor Wat we negotiated with a driver to spend a day visiting the various temples. We were dropped off for sunrise and spent a few hours looking round the main temples before going off in search of our tuk tuk driver and the next location. 

After about half an hour we realised he was no where to be found, then a few people said they'd seen him go with other passengers. I guess maybe we bargained too hard! We didn't mind though, there are far worse places to be stranded. 
 


Not your average happy hour

Yep, this bar's happy hour lasts 10 hours and starts at 9 in the morning!
Mind you, for $2 for a jug of beer... 

 

Lost tuk tuk drivers

In London, taxi drivers take pride in passing "the knowledge" a stringent test to prove how well they know London, and can navigate without the need of a map or sat nav.

In Cambodia, it's the other way round. You should swot up on your geography before getting in a tuk tuk as it's highly probable that you'll spend half an hour getting somewhere that should be five minutes away. In an attempt to reduce the time spent going in circles, we ended up navigating for most of the drivers around their home city!

In the land of the tuk tuk, the man with the map is king. 

 

Road signs with a difference

In Kampot, we initially thought that there was an odd obsession with the mundane. On every roundabout or crossing there were statues (well, plastic statues) of ordinary things such as durian fruit, lions, elephants, buddhas and even salt workers.

We soon realised that these were actually road signs, as sadly illiteracy rates in Cambodia are high. When asking for directions, we'd be told "go straight past the salt workers, left at the durian fruit and it'll be 10 metres away from the lion."

 

The Bamboo Train

Outside of the hotspots of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, Cambodians have become ingenious at drawing in tourists. The town of Battambang probably wasn't on many traveller's itinerary until the bamboo train became popular.

On a piece of track on the outskirts of town, someone decided that attaching a panel of bamboo to some wheels would be a great way to transport goods before there were roads in the area. It would have long been defunct if it weren't for some clever people realising it would make a great tourist attraction.  It's fair to say it's unlike any other experience you'll have in South-East Asia.

You're given a driver to fly across some very bumpy track (remember you're on a bamboo panel with no shock absorbers or suspension, so you feel every bump). Sometimes you come head on with another group, forcing both parties to stop and have a rock, paper, scissors contest to determine who stands up and picks up their "train" to let the other through.

Once you've gone down the same straight track for 20 minutes you stop by a wooden hut which conveniently sells drinks and then 20 minutes later, you're back on the train for the return journey.

It may not be comfortable or even sound that interesting but it was a surprisingly fun way to spend an hour or two!

 

Yet another crazy currency situation

Granted, the Vietnamese Dong takes the prize for Asia's worst currency to get your head around (check out our blog about it), but Cambodia's Riel isn't too far off. At the time of writing US$1 got your 4,000 Riel.

However, even the Cambodians have lost faith in this, so they've switched as much as possible to using US dollars.

You don't expect to go to somewhere like Cambodia and find that ATMs dispense crisp US dollars. It becomes even more confusing when locals often charge in mixtures of Riels and Dollars. 

 

Durian Fruit

This could have been anywhere in Asia but it just so happened we decided to give it a try in Cambodia.

Durian is a fruit that is banned from most hotels: the smell is pungent and can last for days. We once got a hotel room for half price when we walked in and knew that the illicit fruit had been eaten there! What you'll put up with for a cheaper rate...

So what did it taste like? That's easy, like cheesy sick, perhaps with a side of onions. It had to be done once but we can honestly say, never again!


Have you been to Cambodia? Do you have any anecdotes from your time there? Let us know in the comments below.


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