Day 8. Chau Doc to Phnom Penh: 2 kms in about 5 hours

Posted: April 5, 2015 in Dahon Touring 2013
Tags: ,

Saturday January 19, 2013, 2 km (1 miles) – Total so far: 425 km (264 miles)

Today we leave Vietnam to re enter Cambodia again in as many days. The bikes and us will be on a boat ride up a tributary of the Mekong and then on the Mekong itself back to PP. I was wondering why this had to be so planned, but with a Singapore passport such minor diversions just to experience a cruise on one of Asia’a mightiest rivers was going to be worth it.

With a non Singapore passport, or at least a non ASEAN member country one, it got to be quite costly. Two in our party paid A$160 each or so for their pre paid visas.

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While on the cruise we got to meet a nice French girl Stefanie who also joined our dinner party tonight. She had about 5 months left on her passport’s validity and was going to have some trouble entering Cambodia, again. With our leader Alvin’s advice, that hiccup was easily solved with ‘forgetting to remove’ a dollar bill when she showed her passport at immigration.

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 The cruise was pretty uneventful, except at the start when we arrived with a dozen bicycles plus luggage. At times like these it’s fun to see the reactions of the locals manning the boat. These ranged from plain blase to jaw dropping shock. It’s also wise to go with the blase guys, as they’re quite used to people traveling with bikes and their quirks.

Then comes the quirks of the bike owners. Expensive bikes stacked and tied down tightly against one another on the roof of a bouncing boat make for very nervous tension. Some bikes had to repacked and shifted so that not much paint gouging was going to happen. Right.

The rear of our boat had an open seating area of about 6 seats and some rails. Under the steel floor boards was a huge cargo area where the larger back packs, Samsonites and panniers were stored. Very nice.

As I was too lazy to haul my bike up to the roof, but not lazy enough to bring it into the rear deck, it had the privilege of being folded and tucked into a corner of the rear seating area, free from any paint gouging and sprays of water from the Mekong. One thing that it was not spared from was the incessant 2nd hand smoke from a couple of German folk who indulged for 5 hours, like their lives depended on it.

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It seems also that bikes travel free on the roof or on the rear deck. And we had almost a dozen. After reading another journal that someone had paid 50% of the fare or US$12, for his bike, I can only conclude that the poor fellow had been had big time.

It’s also a good idea to pack some food for this early morning departure, if you haven’t had breakfast. There’s some overpriced snacks at Vietnamese immigration, which was mostly a floating barge. Our crew did not dish out some sandwiches and a drink till we cleared Cambodian customs and immigration even further upriver. That was a bunch of shacks in a nice shady village setting. Time check was close to noon.

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 Today we also technically left and arrived at different border crossings by boat, and not to be outdone by that we also rode 2 kms in 2 different countries. Such mind numbing thoughts drift through one’s head when cruising up the Mekong for a whole 5 hours. Don’t get me wrong the ride was better than expected and in glorious weather. There was even a spanking clean toilet on board but as I had no runs, I used it only once.

Cambodia is developing at quite a rapid pace too. Upon nearing the foreshore of PP, the amount of construction that greeted us seemed immense. As it was we already passed by a couple of multi span bridges across the Mekong, under construction out of town.

I was not looking forward to teeming traffic in PP, but the mention of having lunch at a Singaporean or Malaysian restaurant got most of us perky again. That and the promise of a long awaited North Korean experience at dinner.

We had a party of 15 for dinner. That meant multiple dishes spread out on a very long table. That also meant a convoy of cyclos that brought us down some very dark lanes till we saw the bright lights of the Pyongyang Koryo restaurant. It looked more like someone with really big bucks renovated a huge villa into a restaurant, with some luxurious townhouses at the rear. To complete the look there were a couple of high gloss black limos parked in the driveway. A Mercedes and a BMW.

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I get weary whenever a song and dance accompanies dinner. That’s when dinner or it’s quality can take a nose dive. In this place rumours that our wait staff were also highly trained assassins, were quite rife.

Nothing was further from the truth although one of them with deep set eyes elevated the term ‘killer looks’ to a whole new level. In a different time and place, she would be a dead ringer (pun intended) for a pre school teacher with very well behaved students, I bet.

The food was spicy but delicious, although we were not allowed to pour our own tea, as any of our outstretched hands would bring one of the girls scurrying to our table.

They were so attentive, clearing plates too fast, you can’t help thinking that you had to eat at a faster pace. Beads of sweat were also coming down some of their foreheads, and to add to the arctic like temps, one of the girls turned up the airconditioning to full blast, calling her friends to stand in front of it.

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Soon the reason for the rush became clear enough. As fast as the cutlery was cleared, the same girls appeared from the kitchen to do their song and dance routine northern style. Like a bad dessert, each performance lasted a few fleeting minutes, not that another extra few minutes were being looked forward to. They were just going through the motions for the privilege of being posted out of the north to some exotic locale like Cambodia.

While we looked in amusement, a bunch of Korean men, most likely from the north were getting a bit rowdy and kept cheering and jeering for more. It was like Madonna was in town for a private party.

We gathered from one of the girls who managed a smattering of English that they were out on a 2 year posting from the army, they rarely left the building and living quarters, and that they were definitely not assassins. Rumour also has it that one of the girls from a different batch, managed to ‘escape’ from the compound, leaving the rest in the lurch and sent back to North Korea with the requisite punishments.

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Before we left many photos were taken, some with smart phones, and I wondered if the girls were for real.

Things must have loosened up quite a bit. Cameras and phones had to be surrendered at the door some time back.

The smiles and cheers of glee upon seeing their images on a phone confirmed that what we take for granted, was still something of a novelty to them, answered my question. Then one of them became teary. It was as if her captured image would be leaving the compound, back to a hotel and then flying off, away from her prison.

We were even walked to the front door and waved goodbye like long lost friends, but only never to be seen again.

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