(WRITER'S NOTE: This series of blog posts is about a trip I took to Cambodia to report on a story for the San Angelo Standard-Times that took place between Sept. 27 - Oct. 17, 2011.)
Saturday, Oct, 1, 2011: I woke up this morning to a crowing rooster calling the sunrise. The night before I was offered a simple blanket and a spot on the floor to sleep, which as it turns out, is where everyone else sleeps... together. No plush mattress or fluffy pillow, just a thin blanket and a spot on the wood-planked floor. In just the three days that I have been here I've noticed that Cambodian people are not ones to seek out comfort. Things are kept simple. Almost all of the homes in the countryside are without furniture. Everyday activities are done while sitting on the floor.
With that being said, I woke up with some soreness in my shoulders and lower back, but rested, which is more than I can say for Toro. Apparently, that rooster that woke me up at 7:00 am woke him up at 3:00 am and he never went back to sleep. He may have been still feeling a little jet-lagged. As I strolled out of the room I was in I was met by a few Ooohhhhs and Awwwwws by the people sitting in the main room. I'm somewhat of a celebrity in Sisophon because when I walked down stairs with Lor, Low, and La (the elders of the house) there were four neighbors waiting to see the "big white man" for their own eyes. One of the neighbors said she tried to get a look at me last night when we arrived, but it was too dark and decided to come over in the morning. Everyone was really intrigued by the hair on my arms. There's nothing like having little Cambodian grandmothers run their tiny, weathered hands up and down your arms at 8:00 in the morning because they think you are a good omen for the village. Toro later told me that the villagers thought that my presence would bring them luck.
After I managed to pry myself away from the Cambodian fan club, Toro, Vireak and I went to have breakfast at a local restaurant. This is when I learned that we would not be taking the car to Phnom Penh, but the bus. Yep, right in the middle of spoonfulls of fish-head soup I learned we would be riding the Greyhound, Cambodian style. Now folks, if you've never been on a six to eight-hour bus ride over one of the most poorly maintained highways in the world... do it! It's the best way to see the countryside. But travelers be warned, it's not for everyone. In fact, it's not an experience that most Americans would enjoy.
My fat, American backside barely fit in the seat and the road conditions are bad enough to jar the fillings right out of your teeth. But as we made our way down from Sisophon to Phnom Penh, you are rewarded wiith a variety of countryside scenes. From the water buffalo grazing in the fields, roadside vendors hawking their wares to monks in their orange robes walking down the road, you see it all. Toro was glued to the window, camera in hand. "I'm so glad we did this," Toro said. "It was a perfect experience." I will say the one thing that I could have done without was the Cambodian comedy routine playing on the TV screen.
Phnom Penh is a mess and the traffic is horrible, at lest to a foreigner. When we stepped off the bus we were met by Toro's sister, Sokny, who went on to Phnom Penh the day we got into Cambodia instead of staying with us in Siem Reap. She put a garland of fresh jasmine around my neck and we all piled into what is known as a tuk-tuk, basically a motorcycle pulling a little cart behind it. We made our way through town dodging more motorcycles than I have ever seen to a house owned by Toro's brother who lives in California. I got to meet more family members as we all sat down for a meal. The bus ride was totally worth it.