First off, a few sections from LP which I couldn't fit in properly beforehand:
Landmines - Cambodia is a country scarred by years of conflict and some of the deepest scars lie just inches beneath the surface. The legacy of landmines in Cambodia is one of the worst anywhere in the world, with an estimated four to six million dotted about the countryside. Landmines are not just weapons of war, but weapons against peace, as they recognize no ceasefire. Although the conflict ended more than a decade ago, Cambodia's civil war is still claiming new victims: civilians who have stepped on a mine or been injured by unexploded ordnance. The first massive use of mines came in the mid 1980s, when Vietnamese forces (using forced local labour) constructed a 700km long minefield along the entire Cambodian-Thai border. After the Vietnamese withdrawal, more mines were laid by the Cambodian government to prevent towns, villages, military positions, bridges, border crossing and supply routes from being overrun, and by Kmer Rouge forces to protect areas they still held. Lots more government mines were laid in the mid 1990s in offensive against Khmer Rouge positions. Today, Cambodia has one of the world's worst land mine problems and the highest number of amputees per capita of any country, more than 40,000 Cambodians have lost limbs due to mines and other military explosives. Despite extensive mine risk education campaigns, an average of about 15 Cambodians are injure or killed every month. This is a vast improvement on the mid 1990s when the monthly figure was more like 300, but it's still wartime carngae in a country officially at peace. To make matters more complicated, areas that seem safe in the dry season can become dangerous in the wet season as the earth softens. It's not uncommon for Cambodian farmers to settle on land during the dry season only to have their dreams of a new life shattered a few months later when a family member has a leg blown off. A number of groups are working to clean mines. Between 1992 and 2008, 820,000 antipersonnel mines, 20,000 antitank mines and 1.77 million UXOs were removed from 486 sq km, but another 4000 sq km still need to be cleared. When travelling in the more remote parts of provinces, you're likely to see de-mining teams in action. Some sage advice about mines: In remote areas, never leave well-trodden paths. Never touch anything that looks remotely like a mine or munition. If you find yourself accidentally in a mined area, retrace your steps only if you can clearly see your footprints. If not, stay where you are and call for help - as advisory groups put it, "better to spend a day stuck in a minefield than a lifetime as an amputee". If someone is injured in a minefield, do not rush in to assist even if they are crying out for help - find someone who knows how to safely enter a mined area. Do not leave the roadside in remote areas, even for the call of nature. Your limbs are more important than your modesty. In 1997 more than 100 countries signed a treaty banning the production, stockpiling, sale and use of landmines under any circumstances. However the worlds' major producers refused to sign, including China, Russian and the USA.
The politics of disaster relief - The Cambodian famine became a new front in the Cold War, as Washington and Moscow jostled for influence from afar. As hundreds of thousands of Cambodians fled to Thailand, a massive international famine relief effort, sponsored by the UN was launched. The international community wanted to deliver aid across a land bridge at Poipet, while the new Vietnamese backed Phnom Penh government wanted all supplies to come through the capital via Sihanoukville or the Mekong River. Both sides had their reasons - the new government did not want aid to fall into the hands of its Khmer Rouge enemies, while the international community didn't believe the new government had the infrastructure to distribute the aid - and both fears were right. Some agencies distributed aid the slow way through Phnom Penh, and others set up camps in Thailand The camps became a magnet for half of Cambodia, as many Khmers still feared the return of the Khmer Rouge or were seeking a new life overseas. The Thai military convinced the international community to distribute all aid through their channels and used this as a cloak to rebuild the shattered Khmer Rouge forces as an effective resistance against the Vietnamese. Thailand demanded that as a condition for allowing international food aid for Cambodia to pass through its territory, food had to be supplied to the Khmer Rouge forces encamped in the Thai border region as well. Along with weaponry supplied by China, this international assistance was essential in enabling the Khmer Rouge to rebuild its military strength and fight on for another two decades.
We're on the road to nowhere - Taking a ride on a tuk-tuk is not as easy as it looks. Drivers who loiter around guesthouses, hotels, restaurants and bars may speak streetwise English and know the city well, but elsewhere the knowledge and understanding required to get you to your destination dries up fast. Flag one down on the street or grab one from outside the market and you could end up pretty much anywhere in the city. You name your destination, and they nod confidently, eager for the extra money a foreigner may bring, but not having the first clue of where you want to go. They start driving or pedaling furiously down the road and wait your instructions. You don't give them any instruction, as you think they know where they are going. Before you realise it, you are halfway to Sihanoukville or Siem Reap.
Dinner time came and I didn't feel like eating alone. I passed a restaurant where a guy was sitting by himself, and a guy with a suit, alright! not a backpacker! I remembered Cassidy's comment back in Bangkok when she said that if I like a guy who sits by himself in a restaurant and I have nothing to grab onto, I should just approach the table and ask him if it's ok for me to join him. What guy would say "no" to a girl?? And that's exactly what I did. It's not that I liked him, I just didn't want to eat by myself. I sat at the table, he looked at me and asked me "Who are you?" :)) Then his friends came and for 2 hours we had a nice dinner though he was always very skeptical of the true reason of my presence :) They all work for the UN, and talked about work a lot. I didn't mind as it was different to a backpacker talk of "How long are you travelling for? Where have you been?". Although I still don't understand, why if you work together for 8 hours a day, do you have to talk about work after work?? After finding out that I'm a programmer, one of them asked me if I had all the money in the world what kind of software I'll create. I thought about it for a bit and said that I'll build a chip or something that you put in the ear and it will translate whatever somebody says to you to your language of choice. He told me that he thought of exactly the same idea. I guess people who travel share the same mindset :)
Went to the south of Cambodia again (don't ask me why) :) passing through beautiful Laos like scenery, a bunch of green rice fields, small bamboo huts, cows and mountains in the background. It's sunny and beautiful and when I arrived, I was jumping through puddles. What's going on? Apparently I just missed one of the biggest storms in ages. It rained like crazy for 2 hours, huge trees feel down, hotels got flooded, and I missed it??? Aaawwwww :((((
In the evening while walking around, I looking into one restaurant and couldn't decide if I want to eat there or not. A guy sitting on the terrace asked me if I'm looking for something and if I need help. I looked at him and said no, and that he looks very familiar. He said that I look familiar too. After some game of "clue" we remembered that he was the guy who gave me a ride in Tat Lo in South of Laos 3 months ago, when I forgot my swimming suit. Cool huh? :)
Signed up for a tour of Bokor national park without knowing anything about it. I love surprises! Sometimes I feel very bad that I have to read LP to see where I want to go, it ruins the experience a little. I wish that at times I'll just be taken to places without knowing what's there. But the tour was actually quite boring ... maybe it's good that I read the lonely planet after all :) We saw some old church and a temple and a building, all in decaying state, but with cool orange moss. The scenery was beautiful, but it's just as beautiful on the bus. Then we went to a waterfall where we spent 3 hours relaxing, and then had a sunset tour ... boooooring!! There was one Russian couple on the boat and again they don't speak any English. Time and time again I see that people are travelling from all over the world, and the only 2 nations who don't speak English, or very little of it, are Russians and French. Both of these nations are quite arrogant, so it doesn't come as a surprise. "Why do we have to learn English? Maybe it's the world who should study French!" I'm thinking what they're thinking.
Took a tour of the countryside on a motorcycle. The road is red, and in most cases not paved. I had sunglasses all through the trip, even when it wasn't sunny. When I got back, the patches around the eyes were white, and the rest of the face was red :) We ate at a local restaurant. My driver said it was beef soup. It was a beef soup, but it didn't have any beef meat that I'm accustomed to. It had intestines, tongue liver, blood jelly, but it looks worse than it tastes :) I asked the driver if he's even been to Angkor wat, and he said no, that it's expensive. We started calculating: 2 buses there and back, a guest house, food. All together it would cost $30. He said that he doesn't have that kind of money, and that he can't save it because if he doesn't work a day, he spends the money that he saved the day before.
Next day I rented a bike on my own and went to another town for the famous crab market. Man, the roads are in bed condition! Time and time again I find myself in a red dust cloud from passing tracks. The crabs were ok. I ordered a large portion thinking that the crab would be bigger, but it was just more crabs with green peppercorns. If it wasn't for rice and the shake, I think I'd still be hungry. Then I Went to the cave. The kids wanted to look after my bike, I said no, then they said that I need a guide, I said no, nevertheless 3 of them followed me into the cave. They were all under 12 and had excellent English. It turned out to be good that they went with me, because we crawled through very narrow paths with their flashlight, where I would never have went by myself. It was slippery it was pitch black dark, it was dirty, narrow, there were jumps, it was great! :)
In the morning when I went to eat, my stomach started grumbling and hurting wishing for food. I applied the "talking to myself" principle again and told it that I'm looking for a restaurant now and that I'll eat in 10 minutes, so relax, and in exact same second, I felt how the pain went away. Yeeippi !! Weird stuff is fun! :)
Took a 4 hour bus back to Phnom Phen - for the 4th time I'm back in Phnom Phen!! There I bought a night bus ticket to Bangkok. It's a 17 hour sitting bus, well that's gonna be fun! I went to my favourite blue pumpkin and waited there for 4 hours relaxing on the bed with hot chocolate and blueberry cheesecake. The bus was so small, I kept bumping into my neighbour who was a local guy, and certain poses were certainly not comfortable. It's 12 am and the music on the TV is just getting louder and louder. All the video clips are pretty much the same of lost love and usually involve a guy cheating on a girl and then she's all in tears. I look around the bus and everyone is sleeping or trying to sleep. When my neighbour opened his eyes, I told him to go tell the driver to turn the TV off. He was sitting there with his hand in his mouth thinking it over. Why are people so afraid? Of what? Why did nobody go to the driver beforehand? Why tolerate things when just opening your mouth can solve most of the problems? I don't understand!
The bus stopped at the border. One guy almost yells at the driver "The ticket says Bangkok, this is not Bangkok!!", all shaking, and scratching himself. "You have to cross the border sir!" the driver said. Why are people so afraid? What's the point of being nervous and stressed out? It doesn't serve any purpose at all. You just follow the crowd, people will always direct you the right way. If you won't be able to find the bus and it will leave without you, maximum you'll get another bus, and at the end lose $5, what's the big deal?