Friday, October 28, 2011

Pol Pot’s Clippers

Entry for the contest "Indochina in your eyes"!

Holidays can be really hard work, so after a fairly busy week and a big day at the temples I am about ready for a day off to relax, do the laundry and get a haircut. Around the corner we find a laundry and drop the washing in making sure we settle on a price which was fair at $2 a kilo. Just down the road is a barber shop with an old dude cutting hair and I think this is the spot for me, it should be nice and cheap. I walk in and do the sign language for a head and face clip and asking the old barber how much? He just smiles and gently pushes me towards the chair, I ask again how much and he just smiles and wraps the apron around my neck. I look at this man in the barber mirror and see the wise old smile on his face and get the distinct feeling that this man understands more than he makes out and I am going to get fully stitched up here. He pulls this old pair of hand operated clippers out of a drawer and proceeds to start clipping my hair clip, clip, clip, bit by bit. These clippers are that old I am sure he must have cut Pol Pot’s hair with them 40 years ago.  After about an hour the clip is finally finished, he brushes me off, unwraps me and as I stand up he sticks his hand out and says with a smile“ that’ll be $10 thank you” in perfectly good English.

Jo and the kids who have been sitting in the shop the whole time are laughing their heads off. We all know that I have just paid this wily old barber 2 days wages for a 1 hour haircut. But I figure because I haven’t paid for a haircut in over 15 years I am in front anyway. I also say that hair is overrated at the best of times, if your not paying for a haircut or shampoo or something you’ve gotta wash it, comb it, brush it and look at it in the mirror. So obviously hair is a complete waste of time and money. 

Jo and the kids decide that they want to explore Siem Reab by pushbike on our last full day in town so we organise some bikes through the hotel and they are set to go. Now I like 2 wheels but they must have a motor between them so I do some research and come up with a Honda XR 250 for $25 a day hire, I pick up a map which looks like it has pretty good detail and plan a day ride to the north.

I head out of town to the East in search of a turn off to Anlong Vang. The turn off turns out to be about 10 times further from town than the map states but here is the road and a sign so north I go. It is about  110 klm to Anlong Vang and my map says it is a dirt road from about halfway  but I eventually arrive and on bitumen all the way. My google search of Anlong Vang quotes a filthy little dirt poor village in the middle of nowhere with no amenity at all. Upon arrival I find not a bad town for somewhere that really is in the middle of nowhere, with plenty of small industry and pretty good buildings. I’m starting to get the feeling my map isn’t very up to date but I press on regardless.

My main aim of the ride was to find Pol Pot’s gravesite and the Thailand border, both being to the north of Anlong Vang. Twenty klm later I find a sign and the exact spot where Pol Pot was cremated, this area was where Pol Pot lived in exile until the authorities finally caught up with him and sentenced him to death in 19__.  This is truly a filthy dirt poor village with rubbish everywhere and pigs and dogs everywhere. I am a very rare sight indeed to these people as very few tourists venture into this remote part of the country. The Thai border is just around the corner which is much further south than what my map states. The Thai government has been creeping the Thai border south, into Cambodia for many years now and this is a continual sore point between the two countries.

With the border moved to the south the road marked on my map to the west is now non existent so I head back south and try and ask directions from an official looking bloke at a checkpoint.  It doesn’t take long to realise this will get me nowhere because he cant understand me, I cant understand him and he cant even understand the map and he’s a bloody local. A bit further south there was a cross road  with a dirt road heading west so I go there and stop for a while to try and decide whether to take it or not. It was about now that I discover my right boot has a thin film of oil coated over it. A quick look over the bike reveals a slight oil leak from the kick starter shaft. The signs don’t correspond with the map but there is a bit of traffic coming and going so I head west anyway. The dirt road is a pretty good surface and nice and wide so my confidence is high for at least 30 klm.

 After a while I start to have second thoughts, I seem to have been going for a while now. Up ahead I spot a sign and pull over to maybe get some information, the sign states that this area has been thoroughly cleared of land mines in 2008. I realise that the craters in the paddocks are from exploding mines and there are heaps of them. I am at the point of no return and must turn back now to make it back to Anlong Vang or keep going forward to an uncertain outcome. I don’t know where I am, I’m heading along an unmarked and unsigned dirt road, I can’t speak the language, my bike has a worsening oil leak, I’m in an old minefield and I’ve  been ripped off by Pol Pot’s barber!!!  What could possibly go wrong?

So I am keep heading west along the dirt road but there is a huge smile on my face. What a great feeling to be in a foreign country and at the mercy of the circumstances. To know that if I have a problem I will have to solve it, if my bike breaks down I will have to fix it, if I get lost I will have to find a way. This is the true challenge, the freedom, the adventure, danger and a bit of stupidity thrown in.

 After 2 hours and much to my relief a village is on the horizon and I pull up at what is an outback service station in rural Cambodia. This is a rack with rows of 2 litre coke bottles full of petrol for sale but no oil. I sign language to fill my bike up and buy a cold drink to wash the dust away. The people here can’t speak or understand any English and I am quite a sight in my rally cross bike gear a big boots. This place is well off any main road and a westerner is very rare indeed so I am a very unusual sight for the locals.

My direction is clear to me now as the road turns left here which is obviously south. The locals at the village could not even point out their village on the map, it just wasn’t there. I have now decided the map must have been from the same era that the barber’s clippers came from; from at least 30 years ago. More land mine signs and bomb craters in the paddocks show that the war must have been everywhere but this dirt road is a like a good development road linking rural Cambodia to the main highway. Oil is now all over the place so I back the pace off to about 80 klm per hour and ride on regardless as there is nothing else to do but hope she doesn’t blow up.

About 100 klm and a few villages later I finally come to a place called Kralanh. This is a good size town and I find a bike shop stall and put a full litre of oil in the XR. Once again I am in awe of these unstoppable Honda 250 motors. Here I turn left onto Highway 6 which is the main road from Eastern Thailand to Siem Reab and onto Phnom Penh. Thankfully this highway is bitumen, as my arse is so sore from 200klm of dirt road that I am only sitting on one cheek at a time so the other side can have a rest.

By Andrew Faulks, Australia

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