Myles Harrington

Just In The Kip Of Time

In Cambodia, Laos on November 16, 2010 at 1:12 pm

As the end of another visa approached we were at our last destination in Cambodia, Ban Lung in the Ratanakiri province. The dirt off the track for the last four hours of our journey covered everything in a think layer of red dust, just like how you’d imagine Mars to be, or a tropical Devon. On the mini bus we met a British couple who we befriended and both stayed in the Star Hotel. That evening we invited them to join us on the hotel’s balcony for a few Mekong whisky and Cokes, after that ran out we sent the girls down to try to gather more supplies from the mama who looked after the guesthouse. They came back twenty minutes later with a bottle of the Isle of Skye’s finest Talisker whisky, aged 10 years for a mere $10. That’s one great thing about Cambodia, they import all of Europe’s finest spirits through Singapore and sell them tax-free for cheaper than you can get them in the EU. Absolut, Gordon’s and Scotland’s best whiskies all for Asda smart prices, even though the $2 Mekong stuff actually tasted better.

 

 

The prince and the pauper

 

We’d arranged to be up early for a day on motorbikes with Matt and Cheryl and just as I’d finished throwing up the remains of the night before’s beef and green pepper and spirits, Matt knocked on our bedroom door. We struggled downstairs and eventually we were on the road to Ban Lung’s most spectacular natural wonder, a perfectly round crystal clear lake that the locals say was created 700,000 years ago by a meteor strike. A dip in the chilly water soon cleared the hangovers and we drove down some treacherous unsealed and slippery tracks to a couple of Rattanakiri’s other natural wonders; waterfalls.

 

 

Underneath waterfall number one

 

 

In front of waterfall number two

 

 

The day came that we had to hop over the border and I was to return to Laos after leaving two months previously. According to the blokes we bought the combined bus and boat ticket off it would take eight hours to reach our destination of Don Det on one of Laos’ famous 4000 islands. In reality if we’d gone straight there you could probably do it in four, but as always in Asia the minibus also doubled as a courier service and the driver stopped for lunch about three times in the first four hours. Half way there at Stung Treng we got off the minibus and were told we had to wait for two and a half hours. We were rather relieved that the quoted eight-hour drive time included this stop off so we used it wisely and went to the bank to change-up the last of our US dollars in to a more useful and impressive bundle of Laos Kip. The bank staff looked at me as if they’d never done a money exchange transaction in their lives and it took them a lifetime to do it too, we were out an hour later and 320,000 kip richer.

 

 

The queue to check out of Cambodia

 

After becoming $39 poorer at the border ($35 for the visa and $3 in add-on stamping services) we were finally in Laos as the sun set. When we reached the dock for the short ride across the Mekong river to the island, we were informed that our expensive bus ticket didn’t actually include the boat. We tried to argue but it was futile, there was nothing we could do but pay the extra $5, we knew that and they definitely knew that. We still don’t know if it was the Cambodian guys or the Lao boatman who ripped us off.

It was the next morning that we realised we were in money trouble. After getting over excited by side orders for our curries the night before we were down to about $20 between us. There was obviously no ATM on the remote island and stupidly that didn’t cross our minds when we were on the mainland. Luckily I had 570 Thai Baht left over that I could exchange at a poor rate on the island so we managed to have a nice couple of days before having to quit island life to head back to the bank filled mainland.

According to the island ticket salesman we would arrive at our next destination, Champasak, at 1.30pm, giving us plenty of time to get to the Laos Development Bank which could hopefully give us a cash advance on our Visa cards.

 

 

Shubes loved the bike ride round the island

 

Once again we were late to arrive and according to our three-year old guide-book the bank would shut for the weekend at 3.30pm. We didn’t realise we weren’t going to be dropped off in central Champasak and only discovered we hadn’t been when we tried to navigate using the guide’s map and asking some bemused locals, that we were actually over the other side of the river. It was 2.45pm and the clock was ticking, we had 13,000 kip left (£1.10) and had a ten minute boat ride and 2km to travel on the other side to get to the town centre. Luckily we managed to charter a speedy make shift wooden catamaran to take us for 10,000 to the other side and from there just needed to get a friendly tuk tuk driver to take us the last 2km, or run. The only driver around couldn’t understand our panic and we tried to explain we could give him more than 3,000 once we got to the bank. He looked at the Visa card as if it was some kind of new foreign currency. Eventually I found the Laos word for bank in our book (thanaakhaan) and he finally twigged. At this point we still didn’t know if the Laos Development Bank even did cash advances, luckily they did and we were out of there ten minutes before close and the driver was 10k richer.

 

 

Bombing it across the Mekong on our makeshift catamaran

 

 

Modern technology comes to Laos

 

To celebrate our near miss of being stranded and kipless we had a well deserved meal out using the treat fund and went to a fantastic Italian restaurant. Tasting the food took me right back to Italy, the quality of the ingredients was incredible, even more amazing is that it was recreated thousands of miles away in a house kitchen. We had grilled garlic aubergines, a massive lasagne, lardo crostinis and ravioli, all washed down with a crisp dry Italian white and it was still far cheaper than back in Europe. We concurred though that our favourite part was the balsamic vinegar and olive oil blend. Simple pleasures take on so much more significance when you‘ve been deprived.

 

Just one of the delicious dishes

5k remaining: £519.20

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  1. The food looks delicious. I am hungry now.

  2. That magic figure of £0 is inching ever closer my friend.

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