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Travels with Pavel: 13-14 February 2005

At the village of Kampi on the way to Kratie, the Mekong came into view with the setting sun reflected in its slow waters – a sight for tired minds and bodies beyond the point of feeling any discomfort. We were on the return leg from Banlung  and the hot, dusty, bone-jarring ride cooped up this time in the inside of a Toyota Land Cruiser instead of bouncing around on the tailgate of a pick-up was infinitely more dreary than any of our trips so far. Unlike the trip into Banlung in the cool evening air, we were left more dead than alive at the end of it. There was a boy barely into his teens, I think, and Man Friday to the driver, who was perched on the top with our luggage and a standing moto. How he survived the ride is a mystery to me. Pavel, meanwhile was a sight to see, caked in dust at the back – and so I guess, was I.

The boat ride we wanted from Kratie to Phnom Penh didn’t exist. It went only up to Kampong Cham and cost US$5 to US$8 per person, depending on who you spoke with and we were seriously short of money. So we settled for a 10,000Riel big-bed room at Star 2 Guest House – the half a dollar extra was for the TV that came with the room. Pavel helpfully pulled out the plug in a bid to convince the mercenary proprietress to keep the rent to US$2. No such luck! So I went to sleep watching Zee Music.

Earlier just when we thought we were likely to starve for the night, we found food, meat and rice – a little of both – for 700Riel each. Tickets to Phnom Penh by bus – the last two seats for US$5 each – finished off the last of our American currency. Talk about a well-planned trip – I’ve become too used to riding my luck.

The morning of Valentine’s Day was not much fun at the back of the 7:15 bus for Phnom Penh. It was cramped even for me and I can only imagine Pavel’ discomfort. The high point of our trip was that with 500Riel (we were now into three figures in Cambodian currency), Pavel and me shared a fried spider – finally! Once we plucked up the courage to do it, we were left regretting we didn’t have enough money to have a spider each to ourself. The spider was quite tasty really. With another 500Riel we bought three appams with sugar, coconut rinds, etc, etc, whatever you call it back in Kerala, tasted just like home. This country really is a lot like home, right down to the music videos.


I am really hopeless as far as my sense of direction goes. That or I simply don’t pay attention to where I’m going. As soon as I have 20 metres clear in front of me, I start dreaming, I miss turns, forget all about time. And I was supposed to meet Pavel in a nearby Internet cafe, but I ended up way, way off from my destination. I finally hired a cycle rickshaw – City of Ghosts style – me in front, cyclist at the back. The few times I’ve had the experience with the cycle-rickshaw wallahs in Delhi, I’ve never even attempted to bargain with them. I feel terribly guilty of being transported around literally by the sweat and toil of another human being – I usually walk if I can help it. This time thought, given our own straitened circumstances, I negotiated the price down to 300Riel. Wasn’t really necessary. I ended up paying the US$1 the guy asked for, the guy was sweating in the heat and he asked with a smile close to desperation.  Not much chance of me leaving any kids of mine a decent inheritance, I guess.

Saw Team America at our guesthouse – talk about taking the freedom of expression, too far! But funny movie all the same.

Travels with Pavel: 5 February 2005


For a 7:40 bus we were picked up at 7:35 and with three stops in a space of 150 metres, we are transported to the bus station not a kilometre away where we are left to our own devices by the driver who does nothing but point at a bus with a line of tourists already in front of it. And so comparing Khmer character for Khmer character on the bus with our ticket, we figure out that it’s the bus we’re supposed to board but it’s too crowded and we switch to another bus of the same company which the driver tells Pavel is departing in 10 minutes. Well, as soon as the first one leaves, the time increases to about an hour. Mystified, Pavel leaves his seat to find out from the driver what’s happening but returns soon enough with the acquired wisdom “nobody wants to talk to me.” Meanwhile, we hope nobody will evict us from our seats which we’ve comfortably occupied towards the middle the bus instead of our original numbers at the back. Phnom Penh is six hours away, or so they say.


Lunch break. Mashed meat with a complicated name that as usual I didn’t even attempt to remember. Instead, I ask the girl again, “chicken?” which promptly sends her into hysterics against the nearest pole.

This place also sells deep-fried spiders as a culinary delicacy. Sukhon in the Lonely Planet, Suk Heng is this place. 一樣嗎?


We arrived at Phnom Penh sooner than expected and quickly found ourselves a room at Same Same But Different which the Lonely Planet describes as “same same and the same.” It’s an ok place, so far and overlooking the Boeng Kak, Pavel and me stretched our legs and talked about various things through a long walk through the city and dinner. Saw the Wat Phnom and Wat Koh and the confluence of the Mekong, Sap and Barsac rivers – the Quatre Bras.

Pavel at the Same Same But Different guest house

Saw an Indian couple at Wat Phnom and a very bored looking Indian youngster apparently waiting for somebody by the Indian flag on the promenade at the Quatre Bras. Contrary to the common impression that Indians are outgoing – the come-up-to-you-curious-and-smiling-all-the-time types – Indians out of India can’t wait to get away from other Indians soon enough. Or maybe that’s an attitude of city-slickers generally.

Today’s topics for conversation between Pavel and me included the attitude of “these southern peoples” particularly the Greeks with their siesta times, and that consequently they were likely to be left behind in economic development even by the newly-joined EU members from Eastern Europe as they had been already, by Ireland. Hmmm… us Malayalees/Keralites, we are a “southern people,” too. And I’d quite agree that we’ve been more or less left behind by the rest of India as far as industrialization and economic development were concerned but on the bright side, we got lots of greenery to show for it. And Mallus like Greek shipping tycoons have always made their fortunes under any flag but their own.