I have been dreaming of seeing Angkor Wat and today -when we leave Chau Doc, Vietnam and take a speedboat to Phnom Penh, Cambodia- I will be two days closer to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. In between there is much to see and two immigrations to go through.
As we are leaving the hotel we spot a little girl apparently alone, but actually waiting for her dad. She’s on a bike with her own little rattan “throne” in front. We all start waving at her and she timidly waves back. Dad comes out and takes the veil off her face. She stares at us and is probably wondering what the fuss is all about!
After the bus drops us off we still have to walk through a market to get to the boat. We pass by a temple with inscriptions in Vietnamese and Chinese: Chau Phu Temple. You would think at this point I would be tired of temples and markets but I still find them fascinating, each generating different emotions in me every time.
Though small, it is a thriving market the one we go through on the way to the pier. A crate of chicks reminds me of a Spanish children’s song that goes: “Los pollitos dicen, pío, pío, cuando tienen hambre, cuando tienen frío…” (The little chicks say peep, peep, peep, when they are hungry, when they are cold…) These must be really hungry ‘cause their pío, pío is loud and strong! Somehow it saddens me and I look away.
The lanes are narrow and motorbikes and people coexist in them. I’m so enthralled by these huge grapes that I don’t realize that a bike narrowly misses me (or I it).
And yet, on my next photo none of the craziness is reflected.
We go through an alley and my inner voice goes “water ahoy!” (I know it’s land ahoy but I wasn’t up for arguing with myself.)
And had I not had breakfast, I could of gotten it at the boat that offered a hot meal to all.
A houseboat floats by and my thoughts float with it. I wonder how it must be to live like that.
I have a few minutes to ponder this as our boat gently advances to a fish farm that we are visiting. But before that, we shall pass and visit a floating wholesale market. Another boat offers us a burst of color along with its wares (somewhat like a 7/11 on the water). A good indication we are entering the market.
Each boat has a long mast that has, instead of a flag, the fruit or vegetable they are selling waving at the top.
Here’s the coconut boat.
Want to guess what this one sells?
We leave the market with another blast of color from a boat.
A few minutes later we arrive at the fish farm.
I try to pay attention, I really do, but the smell from the fish paste so commonly used in almost everything here is so overwhelmingly nauseating that all I’m thinking is getting on our new boat that will take us to Cambodia. Not that I haven’t smelled it before but it was always intermingled with other scents. Alone, and in mass quantities, it is hard to breathe.
Relief as I take a huge breath upon boarding the boat that will take us to the Vietnam exit border and the Cambodian immigration. I had wondered this morning how it must feel to live on the water and I’m getting a taste of it now.
I have learned to be patient and smile my way through every immigration process but the Cambodian immigration control is unique.
A curious local (as usual it is the people that draw my lens).
After leaving the boat and walking for a bit there is an immigration control like no other.
I get the usual “Paraguay?” question but with it comes a smile and a look. And just in case you don’t believe it actually is a border crossing here are some officials to prove it as we head back to the boat. This is not the plank we take back to our boat…
Back on the boat our trip leader entertains us.
I relax for we still have about two hours till our arrival to Phnom Pehn, Cambodia.
My stomach growls, my eyes blink open, and I spot land.
Thaly, our local guide, and our first and only female guide on our journey, welcomes us at the dock. This is a bustling, metropolitan city. We check in at the Almond Hotel where we have lunch. At this stage of the game most have a hankering for familiar tastes so they serve us ice cream for dessert! We are all like little kids verbalizing our delight with many “yummms and ahhhs”.
Off to the Royal Palace.
As we cross the gates the sounds of life outside seem to decrease to nothing. Isolated perhaps by the tall walls that surround it. What it doesn’t isolate us from is the brutal sun.
The king is in residence, indicated by his flag waving high.
I know I should be most impressed by the Throne Hall
-that we are asked not to photograph even from the outside looking in. In fact, today we can’t go inside at all. But aside from the Baccarat crystal chandeliers that are certainly captivating, it is the Moonlight Pavilion that holds my eye.
We head towards the Silver Pagoda set of buildings. The walls are painted with the Khmer version of the classic Indian epic, the Ramayana.
I sit and contemplate how manmade beauty is framed and enhanced by nature.
Life outside the walls has not stopped.
We go back to the hotel to freshen up and go back out for our ride in a remok (the Cambodian version of a tuk-tuk) along the riverside to our restaurant. We are served Cambodian food which, as in all of Asia it seems, includes curry something. We taste fish amok (steamed fish with herbs in a banana wrap). I am not warming up to Cambodian food as much as I have to the rest of Asian food.
Tomorrow we will have a somber morning walking through The Killing Fields.