Apr 8, 2011

Leave It To The Tuk Tuk Drivers

You know when you get one of those ideas that seems good at the time?  Well, we had one of those the other day while in Battambang; in retrospect, what were we thinking??!!!  We got more than we bargained for in the end, yet accomplished less—but of course, a lesson learned!

The idea was born of this:  we’ve been increasingly frustrated at how much we’ve been spending on tuk tuks for sightseeing while in Cambodia.  Normally, in Thailand for instance, we’d just get around to the sights either on local ‘metropolitian’ buses, by shared taxi, or on the LRT (in Bangkok).  But we’ve been finding that in Cambodian towns and cities such as Battambang, these options do not exist and you are mostly left to negotiate with the throngs of tuk tuk drivers vying for your business. Moto drivers cost half as much, but they are only an option for people travelling alone as it entails you just riding pillion passenger on the back of a motor scooter ‘taxi’ for a fee.  So on top of the $80 USD that we spent on 2x 3-day passes for Angkor Wat, we also spent another $35 USD (in total, not to mention time and patience haggling) for the tuk tuk to take us to all the temples which we saw.  (A documentary on Angkor Wat stated that the entire site covers an area similar to Manhattan!)  Okay-- that might not seem like a lot of money, but it certainly adds to our daily expenses in a BIG way.

Getting Around Angkor Wat via Tuk Tuk

As I wrote in an earlier post (‘More Batttambang’), there is quite a lot to see in Battambang, but 98% of it lay outside of the city.  After spending $10USD on a tuk tuk on our first day of sightseeing, we got a (crazy) idea to rent a motor scooter and do it ourselves, in spite of the fact that we already noticed that the roads are all poorly marked, there are a gazillion roads branching off here and there and no road signs exist!  But hey, a newish 125cc Honda scooter only cost $5US per day to rent, petrol was relatively cheap and a scooter cheap to run, and if the locals can fit a family of 5 on a scooter, we could certainly fit us 4!  And our proposed itinerary seemed so straightforward on the map (yeah, right!).

So off we went—except we went in the wrong direction from the word ‘GO’!  We somehow got it in our heads that we were meant to head south, despite the map clearly marking our destination as ‘north’.  Our first suspicion that something was wrong was that the road soon turned to dirt (as most of the roads outside of towns are) and we were under the impression that our route was meant to be ‘sealed’.  Unfazed we continued on, following the river (as the map indicated), stopping often to ask locals which crossroad to take.  Second hint that something was wrong:  the first local we asked seemed puzzled as to our stated destination and indicated that it was in the opposite direction to we were heading!  We thought it was just a misunderstanding, and carried on to the next person, who pointed us differently.  On and on this went, for over 1hr, through bumpy dusty dirt roads, at one point we feared that it was impassable due to a near wash out over the river.  Finally we saw a temple rising out of a hilltop ahead of us—yayyy, our destination at last!  But wait—this is strangely familiar....we were here YESTERDAY—Wat Banan!!!  And it was at least 22km SOUTH of the city and our original destination was meant to be only 14km NORTH!!!  Having spent nearly 1.5hrs travelling at speeds of up to 30km/hr, and nothing to show but sore bums and a near empty tank of petrol, we headed back to town (on the more direct sealed road) to ponder our error and to feed our tummies.  Yasmine even manged to fall asleep on the way back, sandwiched between Jim and I!

After lunch and 2 scoops of ice cream (at .25cents a scoop!) each at the Fresh Eats Cafe, (a NGO initiative for streetkids) having realised where we went wrong, we again set out in the heat of the day to accomplish our day’s itinerary, again full of (misplaced) confidence.  We were headed for our original destination Ek Pronom again, the pre-Angkorian ruin, but wanted to first visit the abandoned Pepsi-Cola plant and the crocodile farm which were supposedly along the way, then Wat Somrong Knong (Well of Shadows) afterwards.  Despite following the directions exactly, we somehow missed the first 2, and ended up at Ek Pronom.  (In fairness, the directions were a bit incomplete!).   After a look around the ruins, we were advised to set out for the Wat and then we could loop around to catch the Pepsi factory and the crocodile farm on the way back.  Except of course, it just wasn’t so straightforward.  Although the Wat was only a few kilometres from where we were, it took many wrong turns before we eventually made (which was well worth it).  By now it was 3pm and we were hot, covered in dust and sweat, and our bums were beyond sore.  So after a sober look around the Wat, which was used as a prison by the Khmer Rouge and the adjoining fields as their ‘killing fields’, we called it a day and headed back to Battambang. Yasmine of course fell asleep again.

Ek Prohnom

Wat Somrong Knong (Well of Shadows)

So—lesson of the day:  Leave it to the tuk tuk drivers!!  Better to pay the extra $$ to be driven around and to actually get to where you are wanting to go!  But it wasn’t a total loss.  We had a great adventure—the girls loved it and never complained of any discomfort.  We saw great scenery riding through the villages at times on tracks where a tuk tuk could never go.  And we gave it a go!  Next time though, we just won’t do it if we’re actually trying to get somewhere specific, not in Cambodia anyway.

One of the Bas-Reliefs on the Monument

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