‘Thunder is the sound of the clouds banging together’ – Auroraman, Hotel Cara, Phnom Penh

Our trip to Phnom Penh in Cambodia was our first attempt at flying while Ram was on crutches. We were expecting it to be a nightmare journey as we tried to cope with our insane amount of luggage. However it turns out having crutches can be quite handy when facing airport queues.

The staff were always rushing to us to try and help me with the luggage and we were put in fast-track queues for customs and baggage checks. The only mini nightmare we had was queuing behind a man who was checking in a whole basketball team (Kuala Lumpur if you’re wondering).

The flight to Phnom Penh was nice and quick, while looking out the window we pointed out the fields after fields that were flooded from the recent rainfall (the news was reporting Bangkok was in the path of floods sweeping though Thailand).
– Embarrassingly, we later realised these fields were rice fields, the flooding was purposely done.

Another sight worth mentioning was a monk on our flight. Not only did he have an iPod around his neck in a Liverpool Football Club case, but he spent the whole flight chatting to a female passenger. After repeatedly being told as a female I couldn’t make eye contact with monks, I found this to be very confusing.

Arriving at Phnom Penh it’s self was very much like when I previously arrived in Thailand eight years ago. I must note at this point, although our experience of Thailand was very limited due to Peg Leg Jim, I was still able to notice the improvements made to the county since my last visit. I’m not sure “improvements” is the right word to use, it was certainly more westernised, whether that’s a good thing or not I can’t be sure. From a personal opinion, I preferred the old Thailand – who wants to visit South East Asia only to find it similar to the western world you left behind. Also, the exchange rate this time round was RUBBISH compared to my last visit! On a serious note though, it was a relief to notice the amount of beggars had decreased significantly – I’m hoping this is due to more employment and programmes to get people off the street.

Okay, lost myself there. Arriving in Phnom Penh was very much like my first visit to Thailand. On leaving the airport we had to fight off mobs of men trying to take our bags to their taxis – nothing aggressive, just very persistent. Once we decided upon a car to use, we set off into dusty Phnom Penh. One of the first sights we passed was a small temple, very much the same style as the grand Thai temples, but dustier. The roads were a chaotic tangle of cars, trucks, motos, bikes and mopeds – and yet it was as if each vehicle was a magnet of the same polar property, coming close to each other but magically never colliding as if it were impossible. Each lane of traffic had its own two way system, we very quickly had to learn to relax if it seemed we were going the wrong direction down the road – it was expected here, so other drivers would always be ready to avoid you should they need to.

Our cab driver was very friendly and chatty despite limited English. At one point he stopped for some petrol and a moped carrying a small child pulled up next to us, the girl delighted in waving to us through our window the whole time we were there – this was a small example of how lovely and friendly the Cambodian people were going to be to us for the rest of our visit.

Speaking of small children and manic traffic – the popularity of transporting whole families on single mopeds was quite a bit to get used to. Children as young as new-borns would be pinned between parents, or sat between the driver and the handle bars (usually slumped forward fast asleep, unphased by the situation).

We had booked ourselves in at Hotel Cara http://www.hotelcara.com/ for the first night, as it had a lift – this was our first experience moving from place to place with Ram in crutches. The room had a balcony overlooking some night clubs of Phnom Penh, it was getting dark by this point and we could see a very big storm in the distance. We stood with our arms around each other watching Phnom Penh change as the night progressed.

There were some pretty amazing purple lightning bolts flashing in the distance every couple of minutes. I remarked how unusual it felt to see the lightening so clearly yet not be able to hear it at all. Ram remarked “yeah, the thunder hasn’t started yet”. Puzzled I turned to him and said “what do you mean? They happen together”. Ram then laughed in my face, literally. “Don’t you know how thunder is made? Why do you think you see and hear them separately?”
“umm, because of the difference in speed and sound? Thunder is the noise created by the electric bolt….?”
“NO! Thunder is the noise of the clouds banging together”
I looked at Ram, stunned into silence, a couple of seconds later I found my tongue “are….you….joking….?”
Ram proceeded to laugh directly at me, he wasn’t joking, and he thought it was hilarious that I didn’t know this fact.

Instantly we forgot all about the romantic moment and fought each other through the balcony doors to our laptop that had free Wi-Fi. Ram won the race. He started the computer up and went straight onto Google, hiding the screen from me as he typed – already he was starting to doubt himself… It turns out neither of us were right, but one of us was a lot more wrong than the other! (In case you are wondering, Thunder is the sound made by the gases in the air around lightning, which are quickly heated and expand when a strike occurs).

Ram did make a good point though, there are some things you learn though kids’ books and cartoons that are not factually correct, but makes for a good story. You can live your life never questioning it until you say it out loud, poor Ram made the mistake of saying it out loud to a girlfriend who loves to repeat it at every given opportunity (sorry Baba xxx).

In the spirit of treating ourselves to a hotel (a habit that we got a bit too accustomed to doing over the following weeks) we then treated ourselves to the posh Japanese restaurant downstairs http://www.hotelcara.com/fusionsushi.html . We proceeded to order the two cheapest things on the menu. Despite being cheapskates, we were given a free selection of starters and free pudding, it ended up being a banquet for pennies – we almost felt guilty, but the full tummies and wallets distracted us from that.

That night Ram stayed up to watch a football match in the early hours of the morning on the room’s TV. I’m a very light sleeper and really struggle to sleep soundly with the TV on. Once the match was over, Ram went on to watch a movie from start to finish and then an episode of How I Met Your Mother. What we watched on telly is the kind of detail I’d forget when recalling a situation, however, these programmes were keeping me awake and lying there with my eyes closed I was building up a grudge to hold against Ram for as long as possible.

Once the telly went off Ram fell fast asleep right away, a skill I don’t have. As I lay there appreciating the silence and winding down into sleep, the clubs outside started blasting out dance music into the street at unbearable levels for what felt like hours. The grudge I had built up against Ram was now equally shared between the club for playing the music and the hotel we were staying in for letting us have this room. I am still holding that grudge, Ram had a lucky escape!

S+R xxx