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23 Sep 2010

Tea (and coffee)

My obsession with tea (tai) continues in Cambodia although I'm having to learn to live without my Earl Grey and my massive mug. There are some bonuses to tea in Cambodia: there are different varieties of tea and sometimes it's free!!!

Free iced tea in the local 'haang bai' (rice shop)

Delicious lemon and lime iced tea from the haang kafe (coffee shop) near our language school where we spend our break times every morning.

Free Cambodian tea (sadly in very small glasses although you shouldn't complain about free tea...)

And when you just can't handle not having milk in your tea any longer, there's the not-so-local resturant down the road for a good old English cup of cha! (it is a charity run by buddhist monks to help street children in Kampong Cham get off the streets so I think it's only fair to support it)

PS. A note on coffee (from Sam)
While there's no such thing as a free coffee, the standard of what you get for $0.50 varies considerably from a large mug of nescafe gold blend to a small cafetiere with fresh milk.
One of the perils of ordering coffee is that the words for 'with milk' and 'on ice' are very similar so my first experience was a large iced coffee with milk (condensed, so no need to add sugar!).
The phrase that pays is 'Ca-Fe, Tuk Dos-Koh', literally coffee with water of cow's breast, mmmm!

22 Sep 2010


"It'll be an amazing experience" was a line I heard a lot just before making my way to join Gilly in Cambodia.  That hasn't been the half of it with every day so far filled with multiple events and stories, so here are some highlights from the journey and first few days...

Bye bye Blighty

Sadly my usually meticulous preparation feel down at the first hurdle which was checking in at Heathrow.  Having left Lloyds TSB and cut up the card I booked my flight with I was told there was no way I could board the flight without it.  The emotional side of leaving (or not, as seemed to be the case) boiled over and there were tears at the Thai Airways help desk.  (In Cambodia this would amount to me losing face in such a public display of emotion.)

Following counsel from my brother and Gilly I forked out for a brand new ticket, ate a healing fry-up and boarded.  I'm now in the process of trying to claim a refund on the original.  (I think that my initial ordeal in checking in led to them overlooking my bag weighing in at 29kg when the limit should have been 20kg - no hand luggage only for this trip sadly!)

So Saidai Cambodia!

The flight consisted of Karate Kid (Jackie Chan version), Prince of Persia and the new A-Team film, broken by periods of light sleep.  Following a brief stop over in Bangkok I was no sooner on the next plane than it was pulling into Phnom Penh airport with views of the Mekong river.

As with all arrivals in the tropics it was the heat and smells that hit me first and it was great to have a VSO staff member, Soklain, to ease me (at no cost) through my visa and customs process.  After some food, a shower and a cup of tea at the VSO office I was aboard a tuk-tuk and headed to the bus stop for the (supposedly) three hour bus ride to Kampong Cham to meet Gilly.

Seat number 16 on the bus was next to an old boy with a few gold teeth and he seemed chuffed to have a 'barang' (foreigner) coming to sit with him.  This led to my first experience of the Cambodia language, Khmai.  The conversation went something like this:

Old boy: "Anglais?"
Sam: "Oui, vous parlez Francais?"
Old boy: Shake of head, no.

I had read somewhere that some older Cambodians, of which there aren't many, can speak French because it used to be taught in schools.  What I didn't know was that the Cambodian word for English is exactly the same as the French and so he was basically asking me if I was English but in Khmai rather than in French.

This initial impasse didn't stop us communicating and we were soon exchanging signs and smiles which covered topics as diverse as: the Mekong river getting narrower as we headed away from Phnom Penh; the bus going more quickly once it had got through the gridlock caused by the visit of some Indian dignitary to the capital; the good taste of my fruit skittles (interestingly he sucked his rather than chewing so I finished the pack before I could offer him seconds!).

We got to Kampong Cham a little later than planned because of the earlier traffic and there was just enough time to freshen up before a healthy portion of fried rice and fish.  I'm not much of a fish man back home but over here it is part of about half my meals and it's very tasty.  I got a lie-in on my first full day while Gilly was off at her language lessons and then spent the rest of the day taking it easy in the early afternoon heat before hitting up some volleyball in the evening and having a few beers with the other assembled volunteers.

Hit the road [father] Jack

Day two consisted of a 7-hour, 50km, cycle ride in the heat of the day which has been covered extensively (with photos) by Gilly, Paul and John on their blogs.  After this I was completely whacked and very grateful that I was spared any sunburn due to my early morning purchase of a wide brimmed hat in the market ($1) before setting off.

Days three and four have been dominated by language lessons and I now have a private tutor which is helping me to catch up with the rest of the group who have been learning for almost two weeks now.  It's really tough to learn, especially because almost no words bear any resemblance to English or French (ca-fe and carrot are rare examples of easy words).

Between classes yesterday I took a stroll with Gilly and fellow volunteer Dave to pick up a replacement barrel of clean drinking water.  I was taking in the market scene and breathing in the smells when I got the shock of my life.  My right leg had landed on a wobbly man hole cover and landed me up to my thigh into the hole with the swinging cover wedging me in.  Gilly and Dave came to my rescue, managing to remove the boiling hot concrete cover so that I could ease my now heavily grazed leg away from whatever might have been lurking down there ready to pounce on my bloodied limb.  Despite the humidity it has fortunately scabbed up quite nicely and I reckon it'll heal fully within the week.

Today I have the day off from my language tutor so have been catching up on email, the blogs and football results (mixed emotions after a late equaliser at Sunderland but then spanking Spurs on their own patch in the cup).  Gilly will finish class in an hour or so and then we'll get lunch in the market before the 1-3.30pm rest period.  As you can imagine I am loving the early afternoon siesta time and can't wait to move into our house and hang my hammock for just this purpose.  On Sunday we'll get to visit where we'll eventually be living before three more weeks of training ahead of moving there proper.

So far, so great, just beware the wobbly manhole covers!

20 Sep 2010

Cambodia so far...

This is my very first ever blogging experience and Sam has informed me it should be interesting, short and sharp (apparently he has seen my emails where I waffle too much), so here goes! I've now been in Cambodia for nearly 3 weeks and so much has happened already.

For example, people in Cambodia actually think I'm quite musical!!!

There are 16 of us in total now that Sam has arrived, including 4 accompanying partners. As it is September there are mostly education volunteers but also some health and livlihoods. Here's a picture of one of our many meals together (though we're not all there).

Me, Sam, Paul, Danny, Ingran, Dave, Kath, Jan

On the subject of food, so far Cambodian food is delicious although they do eat rice for every meal. In fact they love rice so much that their word for breakfast/lunch/dinner has 'rice' at the beginning: rice morning/rice noon/rice night! We found a Cambodian delicacy (see picture below) in the Phnom Penh market but so far I've held back! Apparently people started eating anything they could get there hands on during the Khmer Rouge time and the years afterwards and so acquired a liking for fried spiders and insects!

Yum Yum

To welcome Sam to Cambodia, we decided to take him on a long bike round around Kampong Cham province on our day off last Sunday.

We started late due to various faffing around and a small mechanical problem with Sam's bike which ended up taking an hour and a half to fix but only cost $2 so you can't really complain.

We cycled past these amazing floating villages.

We then cycled past rubber plantations, temples, women selling corn on the street, houses on stilts and other Cambodian countryside sights. By this time it was 2pm and we'd been on the go for hours in the boiling sun (we later found out we'd cycled 35 km) and I suddenly felt very faint and had to lie down on the side of the road. Did I mention that we really hadn't prepared for this journey at all and had had very little to eat and not enough water? Also it's so hot here during the mid day heat that everyone 'rests' between 12 and 2pm. Not us though, we were on a mission to see the sights on our day off. We were wearing appropriate head gear, however!

Paul, Me and Dave are wearing traditionl Cambodian scarves called 'krama' while Ingran is sporting a dishcloth all the way from London.

I ended up having to get a tuk tuk back with the other volunteers and abandoned the boys to another 20 km of cyling and island hopping in canoes with their bikes in order to get back to the town. We were all very exhausted and quite sunburnt by the time we got back to the hotel and celebrated our safe return (with only two casualities: me and Paul, who fell off his bike and scraped his knees and hands) with beers by the river.

This outside 'bar' is opposite our hotel and we spend quite a lot of time here in the evenings drinking beer, watching the volleyball games and aerobic sessions and the river traffic.

6 Sep 2010

Gilly Lands

Thanks to everyone who joined us to give Gilly a proper send off last week, there were beers and tears all over.  I've spoken to Gilly a couple of times since she arrived last Thursday and, according to this photo, things have picked off in Phnom Penh just as they finished in London!

Gilly tells me the journey went very smoothly which is reassuring for my turn next week, and she also had an empty seat next to her on the plane.  She's just written a quick note about the experience so far which was cut short because there was no fan beside the computer she was using and it was too hot to write any more...

" far am having a great time. Phnom Penh is pretty chilled out as Asian capital cities go and VSO is taking good care of us. We've started our training which is going to be quite intense as there's so much info to learn. I'm quite eager to start language training next week which is going to be a lo more difficult than I thought. So far I've braved the crazy roads on the back of a motorbike and on a bike. You have more space than in London but there are a lot less rules, noone indicates and they often drive up the wrong side so it's easier to turn off - very crazy and apparently the number one cause of injury in Cambodia. I've also been to visit the museum of Genocide which was pretty harrowing."

[Gilly also texted today to say that she had a great haircut for just $4 so anyone planning to visit while we're there should bear this in mind and time it so that you can use the savings to put towards the cost of the flight...]

As for me it feels a little like I'm now just waiting to leave.  This is nice in that I still get to see people and celebrate my birthday but inside I really just want to get started.  My flight is next Thursday and judging by how quickly time has flown since we found out we were going to Cambodia I'm sure I'll be feeling the heat myself in no time.

PS. I've now updated the contact page of this site to give our postal address and skype details for keeping in touch while we're there.  You can also add comments to each entry on this blog if you want to share your message with everyone.