Tuesday, June 17th, 2008...6:11 pm

The bus from Siem Riep to Sihanoukville

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Before I tell you about our wacky 11 hour bus ride, there are a few more things about Siem Riep to share.

We had read about Seeing Hands Massage in our trusty Lonely Planet and decided that was something we had to do. At Seeing Hands, the massages are given by the blind and it’s a great way to help them support themselves. We followed the sign for it down an alley and came upon a pretty decrepit looking building. There were a few blind people and some children scattered about the “yard” and we were greeted immediately and led into the massage building. Apprehensively. The inside was clean though – there were 6 massage beds lined up in a row with clean looking towels and they showed us to a little change room where we changed into very comfy blue hospital looking pajamas.

The neat thing about my massage was that the girl never took her hands off of me. No, it wasn’t one of those wandering hands massages that I also read about in Lonely Planet, she did it to keep in contact with me since she couldn’t actually see me. She was climbing all over me on the table and actually gave me one of the best massages I’ve had here so far. Curtis wasn’t quite as lucky – he said his wasn’t very good. But, we happily paid our $5 for the hour since it was all going to a good cause.

I finished my massage a few minutes before Curtis and when I walked into the change room, I walked in on another guy changing into the blue pajamas. I caught him fully nude just lifting one leg into his pants. Whoops – I apologized and shut the door. When he came out he made a joke about charging for pictures…we ran into him the next day at the Boom Boom Room (again, not what you’re thinking!) and I told him he looked different with his clothes on. I began referring to him as Mr. Naked because after that, we seemed to see him everywhere – although always fully clothed. (The Boom Boom Room is a cafe/clothing store where you can buy music).

Another spot we read about in LP was the Blue Pumpkin which was the coolest concept for a place for travelers ever. Bakery downstairs, airconditioned (very important in this part of the world) restaurant upstairs with free wifi, huge couches to lounge on, tables and a great menu. Everything was white from the tables, chairs and massive L shaped couch to the flowers in the huge vase – there were at least 25 people typing away on their laptops and the whole scene was very futuristic. We loved it.

We also loved Bar Street with the many restaurants and bars to choose from – we spent a lot of time drinking 75 cent pints of Angkor (2 for 1 at Happy Hour), talking to other travelers (I was very excited to meet a couple from Iceland – I’ve never met anyone from Iceland before), eating delicious Mexican food (and drinking those $2 frozen margaritas) and just watching all the activity out on the street.

Couple from Iceland

One night we were at an upstairs restaurant that had great live music when we watched a very drunk guy perform a Michael Jacksonesque dance with summersaults and other strange moves all the way down the street. Everyone he passed was in stitches – I’ve never seen anyone so drunk and still able to stand, let alone “dance”.

And the last thing about Siem Riep I must share was my bizarre bikini wax experience. We had heard about a really good massage place from Mr. Naked where the girls had their hands and feet on you at the same time so we gave it a go and since we were heading to the beach shortly, I thought I might as well get a wax. I’ve had a few in Southeast Asia so far and they have been great – the most painless ones I’ve ever had and cheap to boot.

Curtis was going to get the 90 minute massage (for $10), I was going to get the bikini wax and then a 60 minute massage.

I was in the waxing room all ready for them to start when the power went out. The girls went to find a candle but the power came back on just before my “candlelit massage”. Phew! Although they then produced a “spotlight” lamp which they placed between my legs at the foot of the bed. Nothing quite like having a spotlight on your crotch with two girls on either side, hovering over your hairiness. And the pain begins….I admit that I screamed a few times, they were using some crazy roll on wax stick which reminded me of roll on deodorant – except that the rolling pulled my hair before the hair removal even began. My screams led a few people to peek in the room, which was when I realized that I was lying half naked with a spotlight on my crotch facing the door. Which would have been fine if there hadn’t been a window in the door. Not a very big window, but a window nonetheless. I’m not sure who’s faces were peering through it from time to time but I’m pretty sure that before I left there, all the staff got a pretty look at my nether regions.

When it was finally over and I went to join Curtis in the massage room, he said that even he heard me screaming. It’s pretty bad when a hearing impaired person hears your screams from a different room with two closed doors between you. After my little torture session of hair removal, my massage was great.

And now, onto our bus ride.

We took an 11 hour bus ride from Siem Riep to get to Shinoukville which is on the south coast. Included in our $16 bus tickets was a pick up from Rosy’s at 6:40 am. The shuttle bus was running late so we ordered a pot of tea and just as we finished our first delicious sips, the bus pulled up.

The shuttle was filled with backpackers – we were their last pick up. They took us to the bus station where we boarded a double-decker style bus. The luggage and a small bathroom were on the first floor and the passengers sit on the top floor. When we boarded we were handed small bottles of water and sterilized cool towels – a nice touch.

The bus was air-conditioned and had the usual curtains that you see on all the buses in Asia so it was comfy to get more sleep on the journey to Phnom Phen.

We stopped twice along the way for brief opportunities to buy some food, etc. and on our second stop when I got off the bus, I was surrounded by women selling fruit, cooked bugs of all sizes, frogs, small birds with their heads still attached and the best one of all – cooked tarantula spiders. These were located next to a box of live tarantulas which were crawling all over the girls who were handling them. I couldn’t resist asking how much the cooked spiders cost – only 25 cents!

Tarantulas

I bought a bag of pineapple and some corn on the cob before retreating back to the bus to get the camera and Curtis. We ventured out again into the chaos trying to get some photos in the crowd. One girl kept trying to bargain me down to buy her bugs (I wasn’t participating in the negotiations, she just kept dropping her price in an effort to get me to buy some). I tried to explain that I don’t eat bugs – but I’m sure she didn’t understand.

Frogs for sale

We ventured over to the spiders again – despite the heebie jeebies at those huge hairy things – we were drawn to them. One of the girls held one out to me – I backed away while a shiver wracked my body. She told me they were good and they might have been, although I didn’t see anyone purchase any, but there was no way I was about to find out. The thought of putting one of them up to my mouth was more than I could stand to imagine – never mind biting down on it! Curtis felt the same way and we grossed each other out when we were safely back on the bus by coming up with all sorts of spider scenarios until we couldn’t stand it anymore.

Spiders for sale

Our bus stopped to help a truck change their tire and the delay must have made us late arriving in Phnom Phen because as soon as we got there we were whisked to another bus for the onward journey.

The road from Siem Riep to Shinoukville is great. Nicely paved, it’s a smooth ride. The scenery is amazing. We passed many farms with great water buffalos, cattle, pigs and chickens. There were vast stretches of flat greenlands dotted with occasional palm trees, small towns filled with people at markets and housing that ranged from tin shacks to wooden houses on stilts. As we got closer to the coast, there were mountains covered in lush trees, which reminded us of Costa Rica.

At the bus depot we were bombarded by people handing out pamphlets for their guesthouses and restaurants. The tuks wouldn’t budge from a firm price of $6 (which is way too much. A tuk around town in Siem Riep is $1) So we each took a moto (us on the back of a motorbike with our backpacks in front of the driver) for $1 each. Much more reasonable. About half way to the guesthouse we had requested, my driver started trying to tell me that he knew a better place, a cheaper place. I was onto his game of course because all the guidebooks warn you of this. Curtis’s driver was up to the same tricks except that he was pretending he didn’t know where ours was. They even stopped outside of the one they wanted us to stay at and Curtis firmly told them to take us to ours, that we would decide if it was too expensive.

I was shown a fan bungalow with a view of the ocean for $12. Not too expensive at all!

After we settled in, we went to check out the beach. Turns out we are in a beautiful bay on a white sand beach.

Sihanoukville

We wanted to check out some other guesthouses and compare them to ours. We found Cloud 9 which had a restaurant/lounge area playing reggae music with lanterns for funky lighting. We asked to see a room and were shown a bungalow that was far superior to the one we had – nicer bathroom, bigger balcony looking out at the ocean, fancier bed linens and some art on the walls. It just felt more homey. The whole place had a really nice vibe so we bargained a weekly discount of $13 a night.

I was hungry (since bugs and spiders aren’t my thing). We had our pick of beach-front restaurants and picked one called the Moon Shack. One thing we’ve learned from our travels is that the best restaurants are usually the busiest ones. We weren’t disappointed with the food or the location. We were on the beach literally 3 feet from the waves lapping at the shore. We both ordered the bbq barracuda on the recommendation of a fellow diner and it was delicious. Served with bbq potatoes and a small salad for the whopping price of $3.50! And guess how much pints of Angkor beer were? 50 cents!

As we were enjoying our second pints, some local kids came by collecting empty cans from the tables. There were three of them ranging from about four to eight years old. The little one took two almost empty coke bottles from the table behind us and immediately started drinking the remaining coke. The kids passed them around, sharing their found treat. They then asked a couple who were finished their meals if they could have their leftovers and happily took the plate off to the side and devoured it.

On our walk back to our guesthouse we were approached by a small child selling bracelets who couldn’t have been more than five. She was so small and it was quite dark that we didn’t even see her until she was right in front of us.

There are so many children in Cambodia who aren’t in school, who are out trying to make money at a very young age. There are others you see collecting bottles, and still others who follow their parents around begging, learning how to beg themselves. It makes it really special when you do pass a school ground full of kids in their uniforms out playing in the grounds, knowing they are getting an education.

You don’t want to buy jewelry or postcards or other assorted things from these kids because you don’t want to send them the message that it’s okay not to go to school because they can make their money selling stuff to tourists. Most of the kids selling things on the beach are not poor by Cambodian standards – and by the looks of them, they are not spending the money they earn on food or other necessities. They are well dressed, wearing “blingy” jewelry, watches and hats. In most of what you read about Cambodia, they advise against contributing to this vicious circle.

The kids out collecting empty cans are the ones who look really poor – and we are more than happy to give them our empties – and delighted when they say “thank you” (not all of them do). And relieved to see that they haven’t started begging.

But sometimes it’s hard to look at their little faces and listen to their little spiels and not want to help them out. I don’t know what the answer is to this problem, I just know that it’s there. We personally, have made it a policy not to buy anything from the kids and try to talk to them about how great it is to go school. Because when we say, “no thank you” to buying their bracelets, they always ask “Why?”

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