To Siem Reap

To Siem Reap
Prasat Bakong, Cambodia

Prasat Bakong, Cambodia

An early start, though with a delay. My bus was at 7, so I was due to be picked up from the hostel and taken to the bus at 6.30. Nothing by 7, Anna explained to me but I didn’t follow. Hopping onto the back of a motorbike – backpack on, case stuffed in front of the driver – I pieced it together; something from the university had caused road closures. This after the driver had had to check where we were going, taking a phone for security and hadn’t been able to start the bike. It didn’t inspire confidence when he had the phone out within a minute, though he didn’t use it – it was in case he got lost rather than because he was. We went through a barrier and, seemingly at random, met a tuk tuk driver. He took me to the bus, which wasn’t far away, and after a short wait, we were off. I had spotted time keeping could be a bit approximate yesterday when chatting to an American who was waiting for a bus to the beach, so was kind of prepared.

Grand gate with a high, ornate decoration over the top
Gates like this are interspersed on the landscape.

The bus was a bit shabby but worked well enough, as did the tv and sound system, banging out some Bollywood number – talking dubbed, songs subtitled-at first and then several episodes of a Cambodian comedy. The bus rocked to the sounds of laughter up and down the aisles.

It took 20 minutes or so to be out of Phnom Penh. One toll took us to a road that was maybe slightly more of a highway. We paid a second toll and pulled onto asphalt. Briefly, then a dirt track work in progress. Houses lined the roads, suggesting this would never be a major motorway. In a petrol station, two men sat at a desk, for all the world as if occupying a commentary position.

“Well, Brian, he’s got to be unhappy with that”
“Yes, in the final third there he’s tried to overtake a bus in a tuk tuk, and that just won’t work even if you’re not carrying a shop’s worth of beer”

A market set up, small houses behind
Market time.

Much of the next few hours was the same, and I snoozed fitfully, waking up at a stop to realise that the lack of bouncing poor-road motion was what had allowed me to sleep. At around the time I expected us to pull in I spotted a sign that showed we were only at Kampong Thom, still miles away. I hoped my lift was still there, but I needn’t have worried – as we pulled in, a couple of hours late at around 3.30, I saw a sign saying ‘Mr John, pickup service’ and threw him a thumbs up. But, oops. That doesn’t have the hostel name on, surely their driver would use that and just as I gave the first man my bag, I spotted him with a better sign, Siem Reap hostel, welcome John. The first, then, was the friend of the driver who’d offered to set me up with a man who could ‘show me a hotel, if you don’t like it, go elsewhere’, which sounded like a waste of time. I’d obviously not been definitive enough in claiming my hostel (which I booked after our initial conversation) was going to pick me up. He insisted I talk to his friend so I did, feeling guilty. We got away, hostel bound. And the place is stunning. Cheap, but with all mod cons, pool table, cinema room, bar, restaurant – it really is, as they claim, like a hotel. Except that I feel old, but I can deal with that. I also keep spotting tall English scouse youngsters with a beard, but have at least realised that I don’t know them, they just remind me of Sal’s brother, Owen. They aren’t him.

A small structure, yellow and green roof
One of the views from the hostel.

Later, I ran. Finally my legs have unkinked enough to let me go. Technically, probably junk miles, 7.30s not quick enough for a tempo not slow enough for an endurance run, but it felt good. Very good. And surprising – I thought I’d overcooked the first mile in my joy and that I’d slowed but the third was nearly 10 second quicker. The last couple might not be so pretty when I check. Checking the web for ‘Siem reap running’, a search I do with most cities, I found a blog. Her father ran with her, and his description is perfect:

“I felt like I was running with, around, and from cars, bikes, motorbikes, trucks, people, and dogs.”

Oh boy, yes. The dogs were a bit of a concern for a mo, as I had got in late, grabbed a snack to ease my lack of food and water through the day and then not run till 5.30. I thought it was darker later here but no, so I did a loop west through the very pretty old market and round the river to a natural stop (couldn’t go any further by the river) in the light, and the same loop in the gloom and then dark. Previously mildly barking dogs then decided I was fun or a target, one becoming two running with me and do they have rabies here? To my surprise, either the shouted “down” (‘**** off’ is what I prefer back home, hoping the owner hears and understands the implied anger, even threat, but English abroad=simplification) or the finger pointed down immediately calmed them and they dropped off (…my amazing pace). I object to any idea that I should know how to handle dogs in order to cope with them doing anything other than shutting up and keeping out of the way, but was very pleased with myself. And it was a good run.

Flooded plain, with a gate and tree poking out of the water
Possibly the rainy season.

I was even more pleased to finally have enough voltage to take my clippers from N64 controller levels of vibration to one which allowed me to cut my hair. Weak vibes had let me sort-of-trim it in Japan and South Korea, but now I cut swathes back and forth.

There’s a half marathon here that is now on my very tentative list of ‘that’d be nice’. December, so a definite ‘if ever I…’ rather than an impending destination, but it runs from here round several temples. That’s an idea. Probably not a good one, given my lack of direction, but I might get to Angkor Wat, at least.

Blog at Running in Siem Reap looks a good one.

Read: The Zap gun, Philip K Dick. Reading: A Reacher Novel.

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