World’s Least Romantic Cruise?
I knew it was now or never for a romantic cruise so I turned left and battled on.
I arrived in Phnom Penh early doors – 8am. I had slept about 4 hours in the last 2 days and it was 2am in the UK so I was feeling a tad jaded. This was probably a good thing as my mind was therefore too slow to be even remotely nervous and in truth there was absolutely nothing to be nervous about.
PP must be the calmest capital city airport in the world. That moment when you emerge from your world into the new world of your destination can be one of the most daunting moments of a trip. Hoards of people waving and shouting and jostling to see relatives or to grab you for a taxi or a hotel. I emerged in my jet lag haze to no crowds, no jostling, just a calm man asking me if I would like a tuctuc. I said yes and asked how much. He said 7 bucks. I thought that sounded reasonable. Off we went.
Arriving on a Sunday was probably a bonus. Not much mad traffic for my inaugural journey into the heart of the city. I have to say I melted right into it. I was beaming inside and out as we drove into town. “Oh Blimey – I’m in Asia” I kept thinking. It’s been 20 years since I was last in Asia. I remember that very first taxi ride in 1994 from Saigon airport into town and how I went straight to a bar for a beer as I had absolutely no idea what the hell I was doing. The first gang of people I chatted to were those real arsehole, competitive traveller types going on about how you just haven’t travelled properly if you haven’t been to India and had amoebic dysentery. That was a tad daunting for a green, fresh faced young lass like me. I remained routed to my seat and luckily a nice pair of Dutch lads started talking to me… about Manchester United of course! I had found my first travelling buddies and all was well with the world.
So what was the first thing I did after finding and checking into my backpacker haven in PP? Yup – order a beer. The guy was a bit shocked as it was 10am but I reminded him it was 4am for me so really it was as if I was out clubbing. He let me have it for free.
The rest of the day I pushed myself to keep going and fight the urge to drop dead and sleep on every seat or flat surface that I came in contact with. I made an offering for a friend at the Wat Phnom temple, had amazing expresso at the french style pavement cafes along the riverfront, floated through the central market with all female shopping genes asleep, squinted to focus on the names of the sculptures at the National Museum and dutifully had my photo taken with local tourists at the Royal Palace. It was 4 pm and I was at a crucial crossroads… do I go right and home to bed or left and push myself for a sunset cruise? I knew it was now or never for a romantic cruise so I turned left and battled on.
WOW! Now I’m not an expert on sunset cruises but I would wager this is one of the world’s least romantic sunset moments. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed it enormously but not probably in the way it is meant to be enjoyed. We sat on top of a large double decker boat on plastic chairs and off she goes. The previously muted music now ramps up… some wonderful local ballad… you know, Asian style with whining stringed instrument of some sort and wailing female voice… just ever so slightly out of tune. Yep…. that’s one to embrace to all you lovers out there. So we get going down the mighty Mekong River… past the long line of fishermen, the bars and hotels, the temple….. crossing in front of the unfinished huge monstrosity of a new apartment building? Hotel? Ahhhh the dulcet sight and sound of the dredging boats… about ten of them…. oops nearly mowed down the poor fisherman family in their small fishing boat… And phew! we made it across to the other side where the delicate overwater houses sit precariously and children wave and shout cheerfully. From here we can turn around and see the sun set and the temple rooftops silhouette and there is a moment of serenity before we head back. The point of return is communicated to passengers in a change of music. We are now all informed to stop being romantic and start to party as the out of tune crooning turns into hard core dance music at full pelt. As if fired up by the drum and bass music our captain appears to begin racing the dredging boats now laden down with muck and looking as if they will sink any minute. He seems desperate to get ahead of them only to then turn in front of them and duck into port. The sunset cruise was not what I expected but I have to say I loved it. In a short time and distance I had gained a certain feeling of just how hug, great, brown and powerful the Mekong is. What an array of people live from it and activities take place on it and aside it.
I rode home on the back of a moto-taxi. Essentially some bloke who had said ” oi you fancy a lift home for $1.50?” It was so much fun. We start off going the wrong way down the oneway street until we can get to a suitable crossing point. I lived in Guatemala for a decade, I gave him 10 points for manoeuvring skills. I tried not to hug him too tightly in case he got the wrong idea but I sensed he had done this before and was not bothered by some 40yr old bird – half asleep from jet lag – hanging on for dear life as we weaved our way home.
I was back safe and in bed by 6:30pm. I felt I had done well for my first day back in the saddle and looking forward to what tomorrow would bring.
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