Monday, September 28, 2009

Cambodia part 1

So long, June and July. Summer vacation in Japan is just August. I suffered half of my month to sit in the Board of Education office. There, we can work without actually having to work. And that is the worst part. Summer in an office is unfortunate. Summer in a workless office is hideous. August is time for travel, and so for the second half I did.

For previous travel I have had to start with at least two train rides to Narita airport in Tokyo. This time I rode the bus to the newly opened Mt. Fuji Shizuoka Airport. From there I hopped to the much larger Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea. I hung out for a few hours, got excited about finding the Minnesota based coffee chain, Caribou, then I caught a plane to my ultimate destination, Cambodia.

I arrived on August 16th, at about 10pm. In my online booking I had arranged for the hotel to send a taxi. After waiting 40 minutes, I found my own ride. The driver took me to the hotel, but they were full, and seemed confused by my reservation. The driver then took me to the hotel’s “other location.” They were also confused by my reservation, but at least they had room. I went to bed in my windowless room. Rough start.

My travel companion, Jackson was not set to arrive until the 18th. I had a full day to myself, so I walked through some markets and neighborhoods of the capital Phnom Penh. Cambodia has laws, but limited enforcement. All of the street signs and traffic signals were little more than soft suggestions. The only law I saw steadily observed, was an unspoken rule similar to the food chain. Pedestrians made way for bikes, bikes moved for motorcycles, motorcycles for tuk-tuks, tuk-tuks for cars, and cars for trucks. I came closer than is comfortable in testing this hierarchy. It is engineered into my brain that cars will stop, or at least slow for pedestrians. It took a local yanking me out of harm’s way to shake this instinct.

Before Jackson’s arrival, I confirmed his reservation and taxi with the hotel. The taxi still failed. Despite the hotel’s failings, the area was quite accommodating for travelers. Many the buildings hold a strong French influence. A lasting mark of the country’s colonized past. The easiest thing, is finding a decent meal in a country that strives for the international spread of its neighbor, Thailand. Eating was always an agreeable event, and quite vegetarian friendly.

The day after Jackson arrived we took a bus to our next destination Siem Reap. The bus was no common vehicle. It came equipped with a karaoke system and wireless microphones. Upon setting out, the two guys in front of us sang Hero by Enrique Iglesias. That was the only song sung on the six hour ride, and I am ever so thankful for that. Whether it is a polite warning or a threat, it is common for the bigger vehicles to honk as they approach others on the rural roads. I will stake money on the fact that our driver beat a random pattern into the bus’s hideously screechy horn at least once every 30 seconds. The countryside was lovely.