Moving through the city on a large bike is daunting. Five lanes of seething disorganised traffic all heading in various directions is no place for a fledgling driver. I am glad I am on the back of the bike, and very glad that my partner, Armin, knows what he is doing. We head out of the city. Destination for today, Kampong Tom.
Rain catches up with us less than 30 kilometers out of the city. Roads quickly transform into shallow rivers cleaved in two by slow moving determined motos. On the porch of an unused building we take a break. Children come out to make full use of their impromptu swimming pool. Tropical rain, is something you can’t explain to someone who has never been crushed by it. It comes for you. It finds you. It leaves nothing untouched.
What seems to be a setback for us, is shaping up to be a brilliant afternoon for them. Their disarming smiles are infectious and soon I’m on my feet. Maybe you can fly away in a five dollar poncho. We get back on the bike, damp and starting to get cold.
Port City of the Great Snakes, Kampong Thom, is a sleepy one street capital and also the birthplace of Pol Pot. Without a connection, we’re left with a charming anachronistic map made of paper (real paper) and an offline map.
We check into a dismal little hotel. I am glad to be off the bike. Relieved. Overwhelmed. My hair, a disaster of tangles. Delayed anxiety catches up to me in a sudden wave. I burst into tears. I am swept under, dragged along by an emotional undertow. I surface, salty eyed into safe arms. Patient hands put me back together again. Knotted hair is unknotted faster by two.
Night time once again. Kampong Thom is a tiny village of 30’000 inhabitants. Roadside stalls are the standard. Anything with a roof and air conditioning is an event. Arunras, the sort of restaurant that you find in upwardly striving outposts around Asia is a confusion of waterfalls and horses pouring out of wooden frames, aimless feigned opulence and oversized TV screens.
Each page on the menu is the same as the one before, and the one after it. The only thing that changes is the style of cooking. Fried, deep fried, steamed. Rice on the side. We have our first meal since leaving the capital proper.