Cambodia, part 3: Plastic-bag country

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We observed many handcrafts in Cambodia: producing and coloring silk then weaving scarves, carving Buddhas out of marble, making traditional pottery “freehand” and on a wheel, making of small fire ovens, piggy banks in elephant form and gathering and cooking of palm sugar.

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Instead of hiring a car, we made our daily tours by tuk-tuk (which was very convenient) and covered longer distances by bus. Bus tickets are quite inexpensive (about $5), but you have to pay the full price even if you travel just a short part of the entire bus route. This was quite annoying, since we always traveled relatively short distances, and the explanation that for each booking they keep the seat free for the entire trip hardly made us any happier. You can get out of the bus anywhere along the route, but you can only get in at official stops, so a few times we had to improvise a bit.

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When we traveled from the floating village Kampong Luong (somewhere on the Tonlé Sap lake far away from the main road) to Battambang we were a bit late and somewhat concerned if we’ll manage to get to Pursat on time to catch the bus. We’d already bought the tickets two days ago, so now we needed to take a boat to the mainland, a pick-up to Krakor and then find some way to get to the Soraya bus station in Pursat. We hadn’t even completely stepped off the boat and already 10 people wanted to take our backpacks and bring us to Krakor on the back of their motorbikes. Normally we would agree, but remembering the dirt road with all the holes and the thrilling drive on the previous day, we decided to call the pic-up guy from the day before. Ten minutes later he was there and after half an hour we were standing on the side of main road Phnom Penh – Sisophon. In less than 10 min we were sitting in a minivan together with 12 locals (one family, four generations) grinning and smiling at us all the time. That was only the second time I’ve hitchhiked, and I remember my mom telling me I should never get in the vehicle of a stranger, but sometimes you just have to trust in friendly helpful people. The guy drove fast and without any honking and we got to Pursat earlier than expected. We were able to board an earlier bus, and three hours later we got out in Battambang. Once again we were surrounded by friendly tuk-tuk drivers wanting to show us hotels and take us to explore the area. 🙂

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The driving rules in Cambodia are quite easy: bigger vehicles have the right of way. Here is the order in more detail:

  1. cows
  2. trucks and buses
  3. pic-ups and vans
  4. cars
  5. tuk-tuks
  6. motorbikes
  7. bicycles
  8. pedestrians

Poor pedestrians and bicycles…

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From the bus window we got a good impression of the landscape. It didn’t change much and consisted mostly of flat rise fields interspersed with coconut and palm trees and some bushes. Even though the palm were green, almost everything else was dry, and we decided that out next Asia trip will be during the rainy season. Yes, we’ll have to deal with the daily downpours, but we’d love to see the fields green and all of nature vibrant and alive.

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Another very exciting topic we haven’t written anything about yet was the food. We tried many different dishes and with only few exceptions everything was quite tasty. In fact, I’ll never forget those grilled banana leaves filled with flavored rice, meat or fish. Some of the food, mostly offered at the bus stations and on the more authentic markets, looked quite “foreign” — we couldn’t even identify the basic ingredients: vegetables, tofu or meat. And — shame on us — we didn’t try any fried cockroaches, spiders or insects, nor grilled chicken feet, pig snouts or frogs… Perhaps next time?!

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As a vegetarian you’ll have a tough time in Cambodia –apart from rice eaten all day long with (almost) everything, virtually all dishes are seldom with meat or fish. On the other hand you can buy loads of exotic fresh fruits on the markets and elsewhere. We truly loved the ripe yellow mangoes, pineapples, coconut and sweet little bananas, for ridiculously low prices compared to Europe. 😉

Oh and what I least expected but appreciated very much: you never have to worry about having enough to drink during the hot days. Ice and thin tea are served everywhere and to my great astonishment there were little shacks every few hundred meters, where we could buy water, Coke and other soft drinks from large orange boxes filled up with ice blocks.

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Everything, and I mean everything in Cambodia is sold in a plastic bag: souvenirs, fruits, vegetables, rise, cooked food, sauces, soups, deserts, drinks… And many of those plastic bags end up on the side of the street. Here we are, drinking freshly pressed sugar-cane juice served with ice and a straw. Perfect timing in the heat:

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P.S: Many of the younger and more modern women wear tons of make-up and check themselves in the mirror for hours…

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