Anth in Phnom Penh

Friday, August 04, 2006

Road Rage

Last weekend we took my lovely, project funded pick-up truck out into the Provinces for a weekend ‘daleng’ to escape the increasingly suffocating Phnom Penh. Not that it’s that hot at the moment, it’s quite cool. The suffocation element came more from the rigmarole of work, eat, sleep, work…

We left midday Saturday and drove up to Kompong Cham. I am getting pretty used to driving in Cambodia by now and actually find that in some ways driving in Phnom Penh is less stressful than on the open road. In Phnom Penh, I tend to stay in second gear and slowly glide in whichever direction I want to go whilst a sea of motos and other vehicles make their ways around me. If I go slow and steady it seems that everything simply adjusts itself in my midst. Relatively simple. Outside of the capital though, it is another story. Heading towards Kompong Cham we were overtaken by a convoy of corpulent, black four-wheel drive Lexus’ being driven at obnoxiously high speeds. The standard 4WD driver seems to either drive painfully slow (as they are talking on their mobile phone) or dangerously fast. Perhaps to make up the time lost when talking on the phone these cars will at any given moment speed up and overtake any vehicle in their path, irrespective of oncoming traffic; foot flat on the accelerator and hand firmly on the horn. The car shook as the wave of black Lexus screamed past, racing to make an urgent karaoke appointment in Kompong Cham for Saturday night perhaps?

Despite our more timid speed, we made it to Kompong Cham in perfect time for sunset drinks and byo whisky by the Mekong, overlooking the Kompong Cham bridge. It seems that they are re-constructing the river front area, with flattened dirt lots where make-shift huts and people used to camp. The tiles were all pulled up along what used to be the promenade so we sat on plastic chairs in the dirt and took it all in.

wat nokor entrance

Perhaps we have been in Cambodia too long? gripped by the crossword at Wat Nokor...

It was a short weekend trip due to work commitments in PP so on Sunday we headed back home via some temples and wats. Our first stop was Wat Nokor which is a popular temple just out of Kompong Cham town. It’s a really interesting site, as it has a ruined Angkorian structure with a modern, active wat in the centre. You walk through the blackened stone entry-way created by the Angkorians and end up in a new, brightly painted wat filled with monks and begging children.

wat nokor inside

Our second stop was ‘Phnom Pro Teat Phnom Sray Teat’. This is not the more commonly visited ‘Man Mountain Female Mountain’, but a different complex which was further out of town on the road to Phnom Penh. We managed to find the two hills fairly easily but confounded the monks on top of the mountain by scrambling up the steep mountain-side rather than taking the conventional (and much more moderately sloped) staircase entrance. This was not really an act of informed choice, we simply hadn’t found the staircase given that it was down a dirt road, in front of a banana plantation. Stupid foreigners.

Phnom Pro Teat

On top of the hill was a small wat complex where the monks and nuns live and a temple. The temple was painted silver and had quite a few brightly coloured cement animals frolicking around it. We sat down to have a sip of water and an elderly nun told me that if we followed that path we would see an elephant. So we traipsed along the indicated path and there was a large, colourful, cement elephant. Interesting and random and probably not a place that a lot of foreigners visit.

the elephant

Our next stop was Tuk Cha, which is a huge dam area, which provides a popular picnicking and swimming spot for locals. Right near the dam is an area dotted with pre-Angkorian ruins, around 400 temples. Given that we were off the main road and that Tuk Cha was further west and also off the main road we decided to take the overland, scenic route. This might have been a good idea if our map had been a little more detailed. Very quickly we found ourselves cruising down dirt roads surrounded by beautiful, picturesque rice fields with the wet season rice at varying stages of growth. Ofcourse, we got lost. We tried asking for directions, but found the provincial Kompong Cham accent particularly difficult to decipher. After much to-ing and fro-ing, which enabled Bec to take a substantial number of rice paddy shots out the car window, we made it back onto the main road and eventually found Tuk Cha. It seemed our luck really had turned though, because as we pulled into a wooden, rest area overlooking the dam it started to rain. It was also getting rather late. Moods were starting to fray; I was already starting to tense up at the thought of the insanity that is Sunday afternoon traffic and Mr B had to do something approximating a 50 point turn to get the car turned around and onto a small bridge to exit. We made a cursory attempt to see the ruins, which were interesting although in a fairly dilapidated state. In the spirit of Wat Nokor, we spied one ruined, single roomed structure which had been converted into a modern house with the stone walls being used, reinforced by newer brick walls. A resourceful use of materials lying around, I suppose.

somewhere in Kompong Cham province

After a brief stop for snacks, we hit the road and after an hour or so we found ourselves in the thick of the dreaded Sunday afternoon congestion. It is times like this where you think that that you have seen the height of human stupidity and recklessness and then five minutes later someone else commits an even more spectacularly risky maneuver. We weren’t moving particularly fast and there wasn’t really much concern for our safety. We did see a lot of short calls with motos and other vehicles due to the short-sighted aggressiveness of many cars. I always seem to get this leg of the journey, perhaps because I am the more placid tempered. Mr B at times, can barely contain himself, sometimes reaching over and honking the horn at a particularly impudent vehicle whilst I am driving. My three passengers contented themselves with rolling down their windows and screaming out “Lop lop” (‘idiot’) at notably irresponsible vehicles as we cruised back into town.

It was a fun weekend, and I think everyone was glad to get out of town. It makes a huge difference to be able to drive and go wherever you want, although this does complicates matters when you don’t really know where you are going! Anyway! this post is dedicated to the Australian taxpayer. Ta for the car!


  • At 12:35 PM, Blogger J, The said…

    Hi Anth. I love that photo of you two doing the crossword surrounded by local natural beauty. That's fantastic. Keep up the good work.

  • At 1:17 PM, Anonymous Mr B Senior said…

    "Mr B at times, can barely contain himself, sometimes reaching over and honking the horn" - can't say I'm thrilled. Next time slap his hand!


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