So here I was on the Phnom Penh quayside, ready to embark on a 250km journey up river, staring down at what appeared to be a barge. A BARGE! I'd bought my ticket and was assured that this was the correct vessel, so I went aboard. It was 6:30 am after all, following a fairly harrowing night, so I was consequently tired and not in the best position to be overinquisitive.
The thought of spending however many hours inside the barge was less than a thrilling thought - even at 6:30 am! The seats were tiny, being designed for deminutive Khmer bottoms, and even the bottom that was attached to my sparingly framed physique had to sit lozengelike in order to fit in next to my ever-smiling neighbour. I tried to nod off, but the constant chatter, bustle and intriguing goings on kept at least one of my eyes open. The cockpit (because that was what it was) was incredibly tight. It accommodated more people than could possibly ever fit into it (yes I know that makes no sense, but look where I am - in a bloody barge in Cambodia, set to plod the 250 km up the Tonle Sap River and Lake). Not only was it ridiculously overcrowded, but each person seemed to have enough livestock to fill the average farm; chickens, pigs, sacks, wives - how many were going to St. Ives? Sorry, got carried away there!!
Eventually, after I'd had some couple of dozen strangers sitting on my knee (some of whom I'd have been more than happy to remain there), the vessel shoved off. It chugged out into the middle of the river and then did something wholly unexpected - it leapt forward as if it had a couple of massively high-powered engines, which actually it did have. I've no idea what kind of speeds that little beauty achieved, but Christ did it shift! I christened my mode of transport the "Power Barge". It kind of summed it up.
After a few minutes, I ventured to extricate myself from my seat in order to pop my head out of the cockpit hatch and enjoyed the gloriously refreshing blasts of wind caused by the power barge's swift movement across the water. The heat inside had already risen past 'sweaty' and was bordering on 'melt', so this was very welcome indead. As i looked around, I noticed that there were passengers on top of the power barge. So many in fact that some of them seemed to be hanging on rather precariously. I'm sure that no-one was in any danger of tumbling overboard, but even so...
Pretty soon I became something of an obstruction, so I reluctantly "flowed" back inside and regained my seat (other cheek prominent this time) next to Mrs Grin. It was around this time that the two TV screens crackled into life - both at the front of the cockpit, and both relatively tiny in comparison to the size of the "auditorium" that they were due to serve. The in-flight entertainment was about to begin.
Now what happened next was a little - no, a lot strange. A karoake film came on. It was very definately Japanese, it had Korean subtitles, and it was dubbed into Khmer. It was aweful! I'm face to the floor when I utter that word, eyes screwed shut, and I'm shaking my head at the same time! Wait, I was the only one who thought that though. All of the locals sang along and seemed to be having a gay old time. It was excruciating! The film lasted around half an hour . . . and then started again!!! It played on a loop until I got my jibbering arse out of there. The journey lasted for eight hours. "I'LL TELL YOU THE SECRET PASSWORD . . . Just stop - pleeeeeease!"
Next time: disembarkation to Dead-Fishville, tuberculosis scare, and just where is "The Red Piano"?
And I promise it won't be as long a wait as the last time, honest :o)
PS. Don't worry, Alan's tale is still to come.