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I chose to reach Cambodia by route, a long and dusty bus trip of almost ten hours to cover the approximately 400 kilometres that stand between Bangkok and Siem Reap, the small town just next to Ankor temples. A trip that goes beyond a border crossing and becomes a passage from the civilized world of Thailand, made of long highways to the wild world of Cambodia, where streets disappear and become dusty and uneven lanes that rain transforms into muddy rivers.
Arriving from Thailand the first taste of Cambodia is Poipet, the border town where you have to wait hours long for long custom clearances that are then nothing more than a stamp on your passport done by a drowsy employee that hardly looks at you. While waiting I look at the scene that surrounds me, a universe made of yelling kinds hanging to tourists to get pens, bubble gums or anything else with a western look; men trailing loaded carts behind, women preparing supper at their threshold. A truck heavily loaded passes by and I notice some passengers at the top: I wonder how they reached over there!
In the end all passengers of my same bus have their passport stamped and we can proceed but soon our trip comes to a stop again: heavy rain got streets worsen so we have to wait for a smaller bus that can drive along these muddy and narrow lanes. The new bus arrives but drives so slowly I wonder if it would be better walking on our own! Cambodia stretches out of the window, huge fields with some farmers working on their plough pulled by oxen; it seems a schene taken from an old movie but it’s real Cambodia, a world apart from mine. Along the road we pass by many wooden huts from which a crowd of kinds come out and follow the bus asking for pens and candies. They’re so many that the bus is often forced to stop waiting for their enthusiasm to calm down.
A bunch of dark eyes look at me, eyes that have the same joy amazement I can read in western kids eyes, but there kinds belong to another world: I wonder if they will ever go to school, get a jog, see a big city, the ocean, the mountains. I wonder if this country will be able to give them a future. When it gets darker it’s becomes more difficult to proceed. The bus stops and the driver informs us that the bridge in front of us has collapsed, we’ll have to cross it on foot and on the other side there’s another bus waiting for us.
I get the heavy backpack on my shoulders and look at our guide doubtful, I’m afraid I could slip and fall in the river below but I have no choice. I cross what is left of the bridge, which is nothing more than a wooden narrow board, when I reach the other side a guy reaches out to get my hand with a warm smile on his face; Cambodian people accept the unexpected with great calm. If you live in a country where there are no streets, a bridge that falls can’t drive you crazy! Eventually we reach the guest house, I get into my room and immediately fall asleep, exhausted. I wake up early, take breakfast and then visit the market on the other side of the road. Siam Reap is a village made of small houses, huts and dustry streets, full of tourists thanks to proximity to Ankor, the huge temple complex which has become one of the most important archaeological site of Asia. The markets hosts many stalls with fruit, vegetable and artisan objects. I get struck by the people faces, serene and friendly; they have nothing yet they have the most important thing, a huge smile on their face. An old woman smiles at me and shows me her stall, beautiful wooden and painted jewellery; she hands me out some bamboo bracelets, they’re so beautiful but what strucks me is the woman’s face, marked by wrinkles yet so gracious and tender. I can’t ask her how much she wants since she doesn’t speak a word of English so I hand her some coins; with the skinny hands she takes one single coin, than she delicately closed my hand and smiles at me: the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen, I won’t ever forget her face. I get back to the guest house and while crossing the street a bunch of bicycles comes towards me : these are the men and women going to their work on fields; in the dim morning light they become dark shapes moving forward in the surreal silence where you can only hear tyres creaking on the road. This is one of the most vivid scene I remeber from Cambogia. I get to the guest house and sit down to wait for my guide who will take me to Ankor, but this is another story and belongs to another post.