Whilst checking out binoculars and various pocket knives, our taxi found us. A fine example of a 1994 Toyota Camry, complete with multiple stars and cracks across the windscreen, araldited to prevent their growth and with right hand drive – always nice for the front seat passenger in a country that drives on the right hand side of the road, a la the French!
Leaving the market we did not see any form of share taxis or mini vans, nor were there any other cars waiting around in groups as you see at most asian bus and taxi stations so we started to understand why the Visa officer was so insistent that a taxi would take some organising.
So with our large, military hat wearing driver we headed off toward Anlong Veng. The side trip to Pol Pot’s house was lost in translation between me, the Visa officer, the runner he sent to find a taxi and probably whomever made the call to the taxi driver himself. No problem as the murderous bastard doesn’t deserve a spot on any tourist map! Anyway my main reason for visiting that area, to view Cambodia from the Dangkrek Mountains escarpment, was fading due to the significant smoke haze across the sky.
Of course when communication is difficult you really don’t know what is happening and what will happen next. As we passed a sign indicating Anlong Veng straight on and we turned left, I thought that maybe we were going to see some local historical sites. At that point the same sign had next to it 120km to Siem Reap so we were already recalculating our travel times.
And then we arrived in Anlong Veng. We assumed this was as planned for us to have a cool drink and explore a bit of the town. We got out, smelt the air, looked at the nearest café and watched a strange young man jump in our car through the backseat and start putting water bottles next to the driver’s seat. Our bags were in the car so we were a little confused and concerned that any wandering off might leave our stuff exposed to theft. I couldn’t see a half hour stop here giving us any improvement on our impressions of Anlong Veng so we returned to the car ready to hit Siem Reap. As we watched the driver get in things became clearer. The young man climbing around in the car was our new driver, stocking up for his return journey to Siem Reap.
Whilst I am sure we didn’t see all of Anlong Veng it appeared to have little to offer despite several online travel sources suggesting an overnight stop is the best way to enjoy it. There reasoning is that you can then take a day to visit the grave site of Pol-Pot, his former house and the house of Ta-Mok, considered one of Pol Pot’s right hand men. Having since visited some of the museums and read the diaries of people from the time of the Khmer Rouge, I am not sure that any of the perpetrators should have any place or priority in travel guides. The monuments, memorials, museums and diaries are enough of an explanation to the diabolical life of Pol Pot and the executives of his regime – that Anlong Veng was one of their last outposts is perhaps something the town could put out of mind, leaving the grim story to be told by the bones of its victims whilst the town builds a reputation for something more deserved. If Adolph Hitler had a grave would it be open and peddled as a tourist destination? Easy to be judgemental, particularly noting that we originally intended to visit the sites, but traveling through here it is hard not to think long and hard about what the Khmer Rouge did and the effects on Cambodia.
So off we went. The first thing the driver did was buckle-up and he proceeded to drive like a man who valued life – not just his or even ours, but the lives of the people cycling on the side of the road. He was cautious and safe and in Asia that really seems to stand out.
He spoke no English and the few phrases I tried on him in Khmer were met with a confused look or a short response in Khmer that I didn’t understand so the journey was quiet.
The terrain was featureless for the first 50 km, flat plains with rice paddies, palm trees and very, very dry. The most noticeable feature was plastic bags – there appears to be a lack of education on the life span of plastic bags so behind most roadside stalls were growing piles of plastic bags and assorted rubbish. Of course they were blown along the road, filling fields and drains and creating a sad picture of a country growing up so fast and not knowing what to do with the waste of modern society.
We were stopped at a police checkpoint and the driver left the car for a few minutes. One of the young policemen came over and saw Molly in the back seat. He started laughing, knocked at the window and called his friends over to look at her. The whole scene was bizarre as there appeared to be no concern that Molly might not like this type of attention or that any of us might find it odd. In fact no effort was made to interact with us – they just thought Molly looked very different so no one wanted to miss out on seeing her!
As we traveled on the roadsigns had become increasingly confusing. The mile posts started at “Siem Reap – 120km”, that was before Anlong Veng. Then 15 minutes out of Anlong Veng Siem Reap was still 120km. MMmmmm, maybe we detoured to go into Anlong Veng. Then another 15 minutes down the road and Siem Reap was 140km. 10 minutes later it was only 97km so we figured that even the mile posts were getting lost in translation.
Approaching down town Siem Reap we started seeing more and more tourists traveling the country roads in the Cambodian version of a Tuk-Tuk, also known locally as moto-remorque’s. They generally consist of a 125cc scooter (predominantly Honda Waves) with a tow hitch on the pillion seat, towing a 4 seat carriage. Slow but maneuverable they are the transport of choice around Cambodia’s cities for locals and tourists alike.
We arrived at Siem Reap and pulled into the bus station. I pointed at a map trying to explain to drop us in town but it appeared to be getting us no-where so we went with the flow, assuming we would have to get out and then barter for a tuk-tuk into town from the bus station. We stopped and the driver stood out of his door, yelling across to taxi drivers and one came up and asked us which hotel? I lied and said the only name that came to my head that I had seen as being centrally located. And so the two drivers exchanged conversation and off we went. Already in Cambodia for only 5 hours and we had been pleasantly surprised 4 times by the genuineness and honesty of the locals. No attempts to take us to places for their own chance at commission, no side trips, no looking for extra money, just an agreement to a service and then the service is provided. 5 hours was all it took for us to have a very, very positive vibe about Cambodia.