So there we were…..After 3 days of temple-ing at Angkor Wat and ingesting more than my fair share of extra happy pizzas, shakes and 50 cent Angkor drafts it was time to pry my very comfortable self out of Siem Reap. I figured it was time to separate the wheat from the chaff, get off the banana pancake trail and go look at some weird Khmer Rouge shit in Anlong Veng and go visit the 11th Century Temple of Preah Vihear. The Thai’s and Cambodians have been fighting over this temple for the last century and skirmishing as recently as 2011, lobbing artillery and automatic weapons fire on each other, resulting in a loss of life on both sides.
We roared into Sra Em aboard a pretty decent bus from Anlong Veng and were dropped at the crossroads where the bus company maintained a ticket office and a maintenance area that looked like an EPA Superfund site. As we jumped off the bus, the touts on moto-bikes descended on us like stink on shit. Par for the course…..I rarely give these guys the time of day and this day was no different.
As we quickly departed the chaos of the bus station we dodged the cows walking down the street but the persistent touts followed us on their moto’s and tried to steer us to the guest house 2 blocks from the bus station. We continued walking until we found another guest house which they claimed did not exist. My guess was that the place we stumbled upon did not offer a commission for dragging foreigners to their door. In retrospect it is quite possible that no foreigners have ever stayed overnight in this guest house.
I walked into the concrete block monolith and found an older lady to be in charge of the place, she eyed me curiously and waved me over to her kitchen/living/bedroom….the whole thing seemed a bit odd but this is Bum Fuck Cambodia….you just go with it. As luck would have it she didn’t speak a lick of English so we played charades. I dug into my pocket and pulled out some Riel and we started hammering out the price. She started at about $8 USD equivalent and I bargained her down to $6.75 USD equivalent. Victory on my part, hardly…it is pretty much expected that you will negotiate and I am sure I still paid more than a local, bottom line is I didn’t need to be viewed as a complete idiot.
We tossed our bags on the bed and did a quick look-see of the room. It was a real charmer. The amenity’s included a sink with a cold water spigot for filling the plastic bucket which was used to flush the squat toilet, a spray house for a shower and a public access comb sitting on the cheap plastic framed mirror dangling from the wall. The dust bunnies on the floor had formed around the hair of guests past which tumbled across the floor with each rotation of the death-defying wall mounted table fan. Visions of decapitation during sleep appeared but they were competing with hunger pangs. The window was a glass-less, screen-less hole in the wall covered by ill-fitting wooden shutters with a rudimentary hasp. It would have to do….might take me a few beers to put me out of my misery but it was home for the next two days.
We walked next door to a pretty decent but mosquito infested outdoor restaurant. I was immediately struck by the amount of Cambodian military guys in various states of uniform, as is the norm in 3rd world countries, drinking and eating as well as the number of Toyota Land Cruisers parked outside with Royal Cambodian Armed Forces License Plates. My guess was that this backwater town at the crossroads had become a military boomtown given the recent events 19 miles up the road at Preah Vihear. The food was decent and the beer was cheap but it had been a long day and I was ready to hit the rack and wash off some road dust.
As night fell we walked back to our hovel, I noticed the distinct glow of pink and blue neon lights emanating from a shadowy alleyway directly across the street from our “guesthouse”. There were folks milling about and the side of the road was filling with moto-bikes. It looked like a karaoke bar to me. Well, if you spend enough time in South East Asia you know that Karaoke bars are often little more than a brothel. So I thought, large military presence, karaoke bar….entrepreneurs.
Later in the evening I went outside for a couple of cigs before calling it a night. I watched the show unfold across the street while the ladies were waving and calling me over in Khmer. A steady stream of traffic was coming down the road from the direction of Preah Vihear and this little karaoke joint appeared to be a goldmine.
After visiting the Temple of Preah Vihear the next day we spent the afternoon walking through town and taking in the sights of this small but busy hamlet. As one would expect, the heat generated a helluva thirst and I walked to the little storefront across from the guesthouse and sat down in one of those plastic chairs built for midgets and had a beer. The 30something Khmer gal spoke a bit of English and we started chatting. In addition to the gas station that she operated out of a 55 gallon hand cranked drum she also owned the Karaoke bar.
After a bit and a few beers, I told her that the bar was pretty busy last night and she smiled. She said the Cambodian Army was a very good customer. She explained to me that the entrance fee/table fee was $25 USD for group and was good for 2hrs and a case of beer and singing with the girls. She was quick to note that anything else was up to the lady and smiled.
Having been at the guesthouse for almost a day I noticed that there were no other signs of life there other than the old lady running the place, her son and an old dog hiding from the sun for most of the day. Things were becoming a bit clearer to me……
Up early the next morning, 0500 or so. We were dragging up anchor and had to catch a 0800 bus to the Nam Pen. I went outside to watch the town come to life as the sun came up and do some nicotine therapy. In the span of about 10 minutes, doors opened and a cacophony of clip clop clip clop was heard, 5 Khmer girls and their patrons exited the guesthouse and parted ways. The guys went north on their moto-bikes and the girls wobbled south on the asphalt in their high heels and short skirts hoping to make their destination before the town roared to life…..oh the walk of shame!
The look on the ladies faces when they saw me standing outside as they exited the guesthouse was priceless. The smirk on my face after realizing that I just spent 2 nights in a short time hotel………equally priceless!